If you’re wondering what any of that has to do with educating today’s youth, ask Mike Rowe.
Today, Rowe is a host of the popular television series “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” but not long ago, he was a high school senior in his guidance counselor’s office, face to face with an “inspirational” poster that read: “Work smart, NOT hard.” Though it was meant to motivate students to attend college, the poster left a bad taste in his mouth; even as a teenager, Rowe recognized the words as detrimental.
Imagine a world where everyone is afraid of hard work. Where no one wants to break a sweat or take on a challenge or try something new. Unfortunately, teachers are seeing this every day in our classrooms: “Will this be on the test?” “Can I program that into my calculator?” and “Should I write that down?” are certainly not new, but are indicative of the widespread belief that easier is better.
Career & technical curriculum used to largely exist only in the special education classroom; the theory behind the design was that students who lacked the capacity for academic growth could contribute with a skill or trade. Today, combining the two–academics and trades–into the mainstream classroom gives teachers the tools to reach the unreachable student, giving those kids opportunities to explore, to research, to do. These kinds of classrooms have been dubbed “Classrooms that Work.”
Teaching generic skills alongside the classics just might be the answer to engaging our students. Four must-haves for successfully marrying the vocational and textbook approach to teaching are:
1. Establishing workplace-related attitudes.
2. Designing the classroom to mimic the workplace.
3. Varying teaching techniques, specifically giving students more independent learning opportunities.
4. Keeping the school context in mind.
When students are held accountable for their own learning, and are encouraged to make it personal, it has more meaning which is a much bigger motivator than a poster! To create authentic workplace attitudes in the classroom, we have to establish clear expectations, provide a solid foundation of training, and then back off!
Mimic the workplace:
Most classrooms are no longer arranged with desks in single rows, restricting collaboration and group work. By clustering desks, allowing students to work together, encouraging on-demand communication, and providing students’ opportunities to immediately seek answers to their questions, a classroom can be transformed into a successful place of employment.
Teach Then Leave:
Okay, don’t literally leave, but step back and watch your students grow! Successful innovators and entrepreneurs are impressive with their big salaries and freedom from the traditional workplace, but the fact that the skills they use to make that big money are the same ones taught in our English classes–critical thinking, reasoning skills, and creativity–makes quite the impression, too. Lay the foundation then let the students build.
Keep your community in mind when creating career skills lessons. Is there a pressing need for a particular trade in your surrounding area? Traditionally, what are the graduates from your high school doing? Allow your current students’ needs as well as your former students’ successes to inform your lesson planning. By nature, different schools leave different legacies, and that legacy is dependent upon various factors: socio-economic status of the community, the district’s policies, a school’s mission statement, etc.
English teacher Stephanie Jankowski loves words and has a penchant for finding the funny in everyday life. Find more of Stephanie on her blog WhenCrazyMeetsExhaustion.com, on Facebook or Twitter @CrazyExhaustion.