Should We Infuse More Career Education Into the Regular Classroom? One TV Host Says Yes

It’s a great way to engage students in their learning!

Ever trudge through a sewer, up to your bellybutton in human waste?
Have you scraped sun-baked carrion off of blacktop?
Any interest in castrating sheep, where you–well, that one speaks for itself.

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.

Too many students remain uninterested and disengaged in their classrooms. Why? Is it lack of experienced, talented teachers? With today’s high standards and demanding educational requirements, not likely. Is it, then, not enough resources and tools to spark curiosity in our learners? In some cases, maybe. Overall, though, the far reaching issue seems to be that education is a blanket term that doesn’t cover varying interests and abilities. One possible solution is infusing career & technical education in the traditional classroom.

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.

Workplace attitudes:

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.

School Context:

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.

Mike Rowe’s advice to work smart and hard lends itself nicely to all aspects of life, but if our goal as teachers is to churn out successful young adults who contribute to our communities, melding career & technical education with a traditional one is a fantastic way to update our instructional and light a proverbial fire under our students.

English teacher Stephanie Jankowski loves words and has a penchant for finding the funny in everyday life. Find more of Stephanie on her blog, on Facebook or Twitter @CrazyExhaustion.

Posted by Stephanie Jankowski

English teacher by trade, smack talker by nature, Stephanie Jankowski loves words and has a knack for finding the funny in everyday life. A mother of three in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Stephanie subscribes to the mantra: “Life is too short, laugh!” Visit her site,, for more!

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