Jeff Bunting teaches high school now, but at the height of the Great Recession, he was helping “six-figure-salary guys” navigate unemployment.
“We’ve got folks with master’s degrees and 20 years of corporate-level experience that can’t find work and are having to step back into mid-management,” he recalled of that time.
That shuffle pushed 30-somethings back to entry-level jobs, while college grads were returning to their old summer jobs. That gave less room for high-schoolers to prep for the real-world.
“I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’” helping these executives, when young people have no clue how to get started? “So, I decided I’m going to help these guys if I can,” Bunting said he vowed. “I’m going to teach kids financial management if it kills me.”
He started at Indian River High School in the 2012-2013 school year. Now, Bunting has been named IRHS Teacher of the Year for 2019-2020.
Business students learn about balancing checkbooks, the stock market, accounting and insurance. Younger students learn the “soft skills” of speaking clearly and shaking hands, while the older ones are stepping into advanced corporate accounting. One day a year is dedicated to tying a necktie, for both boys and girls.
“What I commonly hear from my students [is] ‘Wow, you’re actually teaching me something I can use!’” Bunting said. “The product of public education is consumed by the private sector, by academia and by the military.”
Students recognize that he’s teaching them to identify and solve their own problems.
“The moment that I stepped into the classroom as a timid freshman, I knew that I would be prepared for the real world come [graduation day], and I have Dr. Bunting to thank for that,” wrote student Brooke Weaver.
“He’s always there,” said student Josue Lopez. “He’s a mentor. He guides us, and he’s good at what he does.”
Bunting grew up in Selbyville and attended Worcester Preparatory School in Berlin, Md. He joined the corporate world after college, working in New York, Colorado and Pennsylvania, in areas ranging from product development to tech. Before Bunting worked with teens, he created The Scribery to coach people to their dream job.
He was certified through the Alternate Route to Teacher Certification (ARTC), which allows professionals in various fields to teach their subject. Bunting has also earned a bachelor’s degree of political science from University of Delaware; master’s degree in public administration from Wilmington University; and recently, his doctorate in business administration from Wilm U.
Like many teachers, Bunting said the first year was “brutal.” He took night classes while writing lesson plans, still always striving to improve the material.
“I know what the private sector is looking for. … I look at what we’re teaching in the classroom, and there’s a big gap,” he said. “We have to find ways to provide additional opportunities” to teach resilience, self-reflection, professionalism and financial literacy.
As of April 1, top business students are running their own satellite branch of the Del-One Federal Credit Union inside the IRHS cafeteria. As bank tellers, they’ll help other students and staff with transactions, but also teach financial literacy. Bunting has overseen a year’s worth of planning, construction and training, plus ongoing day-to-day operations in a new secure location.
“That’s above and beyond what he’s required to do as a teacher,” said Principal Mike Williams. “He could probably just do the curriculum, and the kids would find success,” but “he takes his job very seriously and he gives 110 percent. A lot of teachers do, but it’s nice to see it pay off with him.”
This is Bunting’s first Teacher of the Year award.
“It’s a humbling experience [to have] students and colleagues and administration recognizing the effort that I am putting in. … I don’t necessarily believe I’m doing anything extraordinary. I think teachers should be committing this level of attention to the students on a daily basis,” he said, although he admits it comes at a loss of personal time.
“I think there’s a misconception about teachers and what we do,” said Bunting. School days are for instruction, so “all the grading and planning that happens occurs on the evenings and weekends. Teachers take home homework every night.”
Bunting has two elementary school-age kids at home and volunteers with Little League and Pop Warner. He has served on boards for the teacher evaluation system; state testing of financial literacy; and the state Business Professionals of America (BPA). He’s also mentored novice teachers.
“This is a team effort,” said Bunting, adding that he’s grateful for ambitious students, supportive administrators, hard-working colleagues and the IRHS support staff who keep the school running. (“These guys are the unsung heroes of the educational world. … You cannot run an office without paperclips and without somebody emptying the trashcans.”)
“Teaching’s hard. I had a lot of preconceptions and misconceptions” about education, he said. After seeing how hard some students work, despite life challenges, Bunting realized that education is more about the human component, not just test scores.
“It’s a privilege to be here [and] work with these young people,” he said.
He was nominated by multiple students and staff on the BPA team. After Indian River School District honors all 16 Teachers of the Year on April 30, Bunting will hop a plane to join his BPA team at the national conference in California.
Bunting advises the IRHS BPA squad, which routinely qualifies numerous students for the national conference and has won national awards, too.
“When we’re here in Frankford, Del., area, measuring up with students across the Unites States, that’s when you … know it’s a top-notch program,” said Principal Williams. “Something’s going right, and a lot of that is because of teacher we have leading it.”
By Laura Walter