In part one of the CTE overview, we provided a short history of career and technical education along with some examples of pros and cons for students and schools when it comes to implementing CTE courses. The real power of CTE, in my opinion, comes when career preparation and college preparation are not independent, but when they work in conjunction with one another.
So, what is one example of this? A high school freshman might take biology as their entry-level class for the CTE pathway. This biology class can prepare the student for many different options within the health services career path. The second course they may take might have something to do with zoology, botany, or human anatomy and physiology. Finally, at the junior or senior year, this same student might take an internship or work-based experience to help them learn more about a career path within each of these different segments. For example, the student that has completed the zoology pathway could shadow a vet, work at a feedlot, or breed dogs.
Supporting Deeper Learning
This sounds like a typical CTE pathway in a high school, but as I stated earlier, the power in this sequence of courses goes beyond just preparing the student for a career. The cross-curricular aspect of this learning is where the real potential lies. How can the student’s math course or writing class help to support this same transition and pathway?
In trying to unpack this more, let’s think about the different ways that CTE courses can support deeper learning. Here are some examples of when CTE works best:
- When it’s cross-curricular: It is easy at times to group teachers into “CTE teachers” and “everyone else” in a high school. The CTE teachers have more paperwork to do, but probably also have a lot more fun toys to use in their classrooms. CTE is not just for one teacher to teach—when it’s done well, CTE can align an entire school and their curriculum for the specific skill set that students could need and use for future careers. Think of how technical and communication skills can be embedded into the content in the career-oriented classes. There is real power in that kind of learning.
- When teachers collaborate about the pathway: The cross-curricular idea is great, but it sounds pretty daunting. How do we pull that off? The key is time to plan and collaborate together. Finding this time can be hard in some current high school models, but the impact is well worth the logistical struggles to make it happen.
- When students are able to use industry-standard tools to prepare for a career: It’s great to get them drafting on a computer, but if they aren't using the actual software that will be used in industry, they may not really understand what that career is all about. The offshoot of that is by gaining this experience, students can move more quickly into their next level of education, whether that be an associate's degree or some other certification. CTE lends itself to allowing students to have authentic hands-on experiences.
- When there is workplace experience: We know that students need employability skills along with their academic skills to be successful in life. CTE programs work to provide the academics along with the workplace skills that students need. This is really the ultimate “application-level” situation for students. When their reading, writing, and speaking skills actually matter in a real-world situation, the learning becomes that much deeper and more important.
In the end, we really don’t want to pigeonhole our students into a specific career field. Research tells us that our students will probably change careers multiple times throughout their lives. In the broadest sense, we hope to prepare students that are critical thinkers, problem solvers, and who can make connections to continue to learn in the future. Cross-curricular CTE courses capture all of this in the deepest way possible. Students learn skills for a trade, but they can also transfer that learning to other disciplines in order to deepen their understanding of those subjects. This kind of application-level learning is hard to replicate in a core-context classroom, but it becomes much easier with the support and resources of CTE pathways.
With some time to collaborate, a cross-curricular attitude, and technical tools that are up to industry standards, students can prepare themselves for both a career for the present and a career of the future.