Q&A with an educator: It’s all business, and beyond, in the classroom

  • Jen Massey teaches business at Pittsfield Middle High School. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 12/28/2020 5:41:53 PM

For Jen Massey, one of the best parts of teaching is seeing students expand their learning beyond the classroom, to projects that turn them into young entrepreneurs.

Massey has been teaching business at Pittsfield Middle High School for the last 10 years, after a 20-year career in accounting. She teaches classes that include personal finance, accounting, careers and marketing, and is an advisor to the student council, the Yearbook Club and the Future Business Leaders of America Club.

Since Massey began teaching, the participation in the Future Business Leaders club has grown from four to over 20 students, and the club has started several businesses, including a school store, a coffee shop and a clothing line called “Panther Shirts” that makes school apparel. The money from the businesses goes to fund community projects.

“The kids will come to you and say, ‘this is what I really want to do,’ ” Massey said. “Sometimes it’s outside of your actual classroom and outside of the actual learning, but we are always willing. The administration is great there, they will let you go with things.”

Massey lives in Epsom with her husband. She sat down for an interview with the Concord Monitor recently, to discuss teaching business at the high school level, and the challenges of teaching during COVID-19. The following interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

What do you enjoy about teaching business?

Business is the backbone of all industry. Business is everywhere. What I enjoy most of all is personal finance. Personal finance affects everybody. I always get a student that will come back and say, “I have an emergency fund and I opened up an investment account just from the stuff that we’ve been talking about.” All the other courses that I teach, accounting and business math, careers, those all kind of relate to one another and they affect everybody. You can’t come in and say, “I’m never going to use this again in my life,” because you would be wrong when you take one of my classes.

What can business education do for middle and high school students?

I think [students] all expect that there is just one path they can take for their career, when there are just so many different paths. They need to see that there are so many different ways to get a career. When they are given time to think about it – which is what happens in my class – you’re given time to think about what it is that you might want to do, and what’s the plan to get there, what kinds of subjects can you take in high school, and is it okay to change my mind a hundred times? They need to know these things are all okay, and it’s okay if you’re not on a traditional track. What’s important is you have a plan and you have a way to carry it out, something in mind that you want to do. I think it affects everybody and it is very important for high school kids.

What has been the biggest challenge of teaching during COVID?

I think most teachers will say engagement is a really tough one. [Students] need the structure that the school brings, and you can see them get so overwhelmed because they’re not in school, they’re not seeing their friends, they don’t have that normalcy. Sometimes when you turn on the screens and you’re talking to the kids and it’s all black screens because they don’t turn on their cameras, that’s a hard one. You have to do a lot of one-on-ones now because they are having so much trouble. If you were in class, you could stand right over them and you could give them the one-on-one attention that they need, but if they’re watching a video of yours and emailing you, it’s much more difficult to get that attention. And even though we are all here and available, for some reason it’s harder to reach out and email you and say, “I need help.” So you’re not always sure if they need help.

What kinds of extracurricular projects do your business students get involved in?

We focus a lot on the Pittsfield community. The Pittsfield community is a great little community and a lot of Pittsfield people are very giving, they’re just great people. What I want [the students] to do is focus on being a business leader within their community. We always have some kind of initiative going on. All of our little businesses inside the school fund our community projects. We haven’t gotten to a lot of them this year because of the COVID situation. But there was one student, he came to me and said, “I have a project and I really want to do it and I think FBLA should do it.” The elementary school is right down the hill from us, and he said, “we aren’t really going to get Halloween this year, so let’s put on a Halloween party for them.” I said that’s a fantastic idea. I always let them take the reins, I sit back and coach a little bit but I let them take it because I want them to learn how to be leaders, how to take control, how to organize. He did a fantastic job. I had so much fun with what we did that I said we need to make this an annual thing. The little kids had a great time.

What inspires you as a teacher?

The students inspire me. I have put together so many fun projects with students. And when a student comes back to you and they say, “I really enjoyed your class, and I am doing this now because of something that I learned in your class.” Or they message you on Facebook and say, “this really meant something to me.” I have one that calls me every so often from the military, just to tell me how he is doing. It’s when you hear back from them, just to let you know where they are. Some of them even come back to help us because they had so much fun when they were in high school.

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