A career switch led this teacher to helping students build businesses of their own

A teacher wearing a purple shirt and jeans stands in front of a high school classroom.
Meredith Bryant switched careers three years ago to become a teacher. Now, she’s helping students start their careers as entrepreneurs. (Courtesy of Walker Career Center)
How do teachers captivate their students? Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we ask great educators how they approach their jobs.

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Meredith Bryant wanted a change.

It was 2020, and she was working from home due to the pandemic. Bryant had been in marketing for eight years but felt like she was missing her sense of purpose.

So she decided to become a teacher.

For the past three years, she’s worked as a business teacher at Walker Career Center at Warren Central High School. This year, she’s teaching and leading a new program centered on entrepreneurship.

Interest in entrepreneurship was growing among high schoolers at Warren Central, so the school created a new pathway where students can launch their own businesses. Plus, they earn up to 16 college credits — roughly a full semester of classes.

Indiana education leaders are pushing to improve access to postsecondary education as the state’s college-going rate for high school seniors hovered at roughly 53% for the class of 2021, the latest data available, after years of decline.  That includes efforts to reduce the cost and time it takes to earn a degree. Dual enrollment programs, where students can earn high school and college credits at the same time, are among those efforts. 

For Bryant, leaving marketing for teaching proved to be an exciting decision. Her days now are filled with hands-on activities and helping students apply business lessons as they create their own companies and start to build their futures. 

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

How and when did you decide to become a teacher?

I decided to become a teacher during 2020, during the pandemic, when I was working in marketing for a local credit union in the investment department. I wanted some way I could be helpful and decided to go back to school, which turned into me doing a transition-to-teaching program. 

I needed more of a challenge and something that was going to give a better-served outcome. Now that I’m three years in, I absolutely love what I do and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. I just wish I would have done it sooner.

Why start the new entrepreneurship program at Warren Central High School? How will it impact students?

Entrepreneurship used to be an elective, but when students started showing more of interest in the topic, they wanted to try it as its own pathway. This program will help students launch a potential business so they can graduate owning something of their own. I have four seniors who will hopefully be ready to launch their business ideas into the community by May. The other students, juniors, will have me for another year to finalize and work on their budgets, investments, and financial planning. 

A “pathway” is essentially an area of expertise, like declaring a major in college. We have over 30-plus pathways that the students can choose from, and entrepreneurship is the most recent one.

As of right now, the classes are all taught by me and students have to pass with a C or better to pass the class. If they pass the Principles of Entrepreneurship, they will move on to the next class, Small Business Operations, and then the capstone.

What’s your favorite lesson to teach and why?

Every Wednesday, we do “workshop stations,” where the students go around to different areas of the room and complete an activity. 

Recently, we did “Adult Day” where the students learned how to tie a tie, sew on a button, read paychecks, and write professional emails. These are not only fun for the students but for me as well because I get to engage with them on a different level than just a teacher-student relationship.

Overall, my favorite lessons to teach are hands-on activities. I learn better when I see it visually so doing hands-on projects is where I really shine as a teacher. 

What’s something happening in the community that affects what goes on inside your classroom?

Job loss has hit some of my students and even their families. It has been hard to keep their motivation when they see their community laying people off. 

When circumstances like this happen, there are a lot of resources we can offer students, but I think with having this class, they have come to realize they can break that barrier. They can use this class to change their environment and better their situation.

What has been surprising about the program so far?

The ideas that the students have come up with so far has really shocked me. I’ve had students that have already launched their apparel business, and they’ve started gaining that experience.

This year as part of the new pathway, students are still in the brainstorming phase of the process but have come up with amazing ideas so far. 

One student didn’t want to wait around and jumped into his business and is already making sales. He wants to start his own apparel line but, for now, is working with a manufacturer to design and distribute zip-up hoodies. He’s done very well so far.

Tell us about your own experience with school and how it affects your work today.

I was a three-sport athlete and a good student academically. I think having that discipline at an early age has carried over to me as an adult and how I run my classroom. 

For example, every week we do a Mindful Monday exercise where students watch a motivational YouTube clip and reflect on it in their journals. After they are done, we talk about it and allow some to share their experiences. 

I had a high school teacher do this and being the student I was, it helped pick me up and remind me why I was there, and what I’m working towards. I hope to do the same for my students with these reflection days.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and how have you put it into practice?

The struggles and challenges that are given to you are put in your way to see how you will react to them. Will you overcome them or let them tear you down? It’s always your choice! 

I tell my students every day that their attitude when they walk through the door will determine how class will go.

MJ Slaby oversees Chalkbeat Indiana’s coverage as bureau chief. She also covers access to higher education and Warren Township Schools. Contact MJ at mslaby@chalkbeat.org.

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