What Business and Teaching are All About

Tiffany Rech is a Senior Manager, Global Professional Development at Bain & Company. She is currently leading her first apprenticeship class at Citizen Schools.

I have to admit that when I signed up to volunteer as a Citizen Teacher, I was convinced that this group of 18 middle school students in Dorchester, Massachusetts just wouldn’t be interested in learning about business and entrepreneurship. I am thrilled to have been proven wrong….

I’ve always had a passion for teaching and developing people. After years as a consultant at Monitor Group and Bain & Company, I am now part of the global training team at Bain and I have two young kids. While I enjoy writing curriculum and training our consulting staff, I was looking for a way to combine my love for teaching with my emerging passion for working with kids.

Students on Field Trip to Robin's Candy

Students on Field Trip to Robin’s Candy

I talked to a colleague at Bain about the organization Citizen Schools and learned that we had a long-time partnership. When she told me about the apprenticeship opportunity — a chance for professionals to teach middle school students about real-world careers — it was exactly the sort of volunteer opportunity I was looking for!

I signed up to teach a class on entrepreneurship that I call “Be Your Own Boss.” The objective of my ten-week long class is to teach 6th and 7th graders how to start and run a business. Each week they learn a new element of starting a business – from coming up with a business idea, to understanding how to fund the business, to creating a business plan and a ‘pitch’ for investors. At the end of the apprenticeship, they will put it all together in a practical way: they will come to our Bain Boston office to present their ‘pitch’ to experienced business people (i.e., the ‘investors’) in our boardroom.

When I first arrived on campus to teach my first class, the kids seemed a little hesitant and wondered what this apprenticeship was going to be about – especially when I used words like ‘entrepreneur’ and ‘financial plan’…what?! I quickly learned two lessons:

The first lesson I learned is that lecturing to the students about the elements of business was not going to work. Instead, I structured my lessons around having them arrive at the learning themselves through activities. For example, for my lesson on innovation, I wanted them to discover the meaning of innovation so I divided the class into 3 groups, each with an industry to focus on – communication, transportation and entertainment.

Students on Field Trip to Robin's Candy

Students on Field Trip to Robin’s Candy

Each group had to come up with a product or service (past or present) that changed our lives, and explain to the class why it was important. As the transportation group was preparing their presentation, it was fun to see the enthusiastic debate among them on planes versus cars – both sides giving convincing reasons why theirs was a bigger, more important ‘innovation’!

The second lesson I learned is that by taking the time to really get to know them and their interests, the students became much more engaged. One student in particular stands out to me. Early on, I asked the class to brainstorm ideas for a business and he was quick to say that he didn’t have any good ideas. A few weeks later, I took the kids on a field trip and on the bus I saw him sketching these really cool hats that he had designed.

As he introduced me to his incredibly creative designs, I told him that this could potentially make a great business, and we began discussing how that could be. He was so happy that he could make a business out of something he liked to do, and I was thrilled that he applied this passion to what we were learning in class.

My Citizen Schools teaching experience has been such a revelation to me: if you give students the tools they need and relate it to their own experiences and interests, they will get the wheels turning on their own, fostering some memorable learning. My students have such potential to be great, all they need are the right resources to encourage their success. In the end, isn’t that what business is all about?