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I have two college-aged children, with my third a sophomore in high school. My husband and I, both teachers, planted the seed of ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ in all three of them early on. I remember playing blocks with my oldest and constantly saying things like, “Architects build!” or “Engineers create!” All three of our kids grew up knowing that college was a given and that they needed to be developing a plan as to what they were going to do with their lives to contribute to the world.
The longer I teach, the more I notice that this is not the norm.
More and more parents are leaving the seeds with the teachers or school counselors to plant, and it seems that the garden spot is getting smaller and smaller.
Teachers are already exhausted with the day-to-day workload and counselors are so busy with disciplinary issues coming from the overabundance of students put into classrooms that there is little time to really focus on career choices. Couple that with the lack of knowledge about the ever-changing career programs offered in trade schools, colleges and four-year universities and we have students who may be academically college-ready, but don’t have the skills, or knowledge, about how to even apply for college, let alone scholarships and financial aid. Kids who are in the proverbial middle of the road aren’t equipped early on with the skills they need to plan their future. National Merit Scholars and those students who score exceptionally high on the ACT and SAT may have colleges and universities seeking them out of the mix, but most of these kids still lack the guidance necessary to make the best decision for their next step.
We spend so much time talking kids into taking AP classes and preparing them for their ACT and SAT and spend very little time actually walking them through the steps of what is available to them. Students need to be preparing for life after high school at an early age. They need to be learning about basic career fields from the time they are playing in the sandbox in preschool all the way up to that anatomy class they take in high school. We can’t start throwing choices at our students their junior year. They need to have had experience with what is available to them on an ongoing basis.
So how can we put that know-how in the hands of our students?
Early childhood and elementary teachers need to start implementing a career component into their subjects. It could be as simple as starting a bulletin board that is thematically related to the topics that will be taught that month which highlights careers that involve those topics. Biographies of all kinds should be readily available in classroom non-fiction libraries. Career awareness should be talked about on a daily basis.
Middle school teachers could implement college and career readiness through outside assignments that pertain to topics that are being discussed in class. Media centers should have materials ready for classroom presentation. Counselors should be on hand to contact kids throughout middle school, forming relationships and providing insight and career assessments based on the students’ interests and strengths.
High school counselors are already bogged down with checking senior credits. Districts should look into assigning the responsibility of senior credits and college prep to several specific counselors so relationships are established and counselors are able to focus only on preparing students during their junior and senior years for not only the ACT and SAT, but also educating them on available scholarships and filling out paperwork for trade schools, colleges and universities. High school teachers could also implement college and career readiness modules in their classrooms. Many states require a financial literacy module, so why not add college and career awareness in there as well? There are also several reputable websites that offer lists of available scholarships free of charge and most large companies have monies available if students will just apply. Federal assistance should also be applied for, and especially followed up on since parent information needs to be filled in. Teachers can also post this type of information in their classrooms. Many high schools host a ‘scholarship night’, but those kids who are supporting themselves or whose parents don’t keep in touch with school activities will once again fall through the cracks and won’t show for such an event.
If we want our students to be successful, we need to be following up with all students, especially the ‘high risk’ kids and helping them in all ways possible.
How do you help your students be career aware and college ready?