This year I heard about something I had never heard of before, the South Dakota Association for Career & Tech Ed!
One of my Twitter friends & fellow SD educators, Lenessa Keehn (@lenessakeehn) told me about the conference, helped me register and was a great mentor for the entire event.
For the past three years I have taught educational technology courses and most recently, STEM courses through Project Lead The Way. However, I don’t know very much about CTE. I am very thankful that my administrator allowed me to attend this conference as it was an amazing experience.
The educators that I met while attending the conference were helpful, kind, and passionate about providing students with a quality education. The conference provided quality sessions for educators. There was a keynote from Dave Burgess (@burgessdave) as well as a breakout session. Additionally, there were industry tours scheduled throughout the Sioux Falls area. I was able to attend a tour to a facility that ties in directly with the new Energy and Environment course I will be teaching this year. I also spent some time with the Trade & Industry group, where I learned about SkillsUSA for the first time. While learning about the organization I also received a lot of free resources to use in my classroom.
While I was at the conference I spent time talking about ways to improve my teaching, how to connect with other educators in my own district as well as across the state, and how to better connect with industry leaders in my local area and state.
Then I started to reflect on the bigger ideas from the conference….
One of the thoughts that keeps coming to mind, is that we need to do a better job of listening to our students. While attending the conference there were stories shared about students who went on to 4 year universities and received a degree that they never used, only to go into a skilled job that they enjoyed. The reason they got a 4 year degree? They were doing what their parents, teachers and school counselor told them they should do.
I think education is important. I also think there are many types of education. Yes, we need people who get 4 year degrees, who go on to graduate studies or doctoral work. However, we also need people who get 2 year degrees, who go on to do skilled work. One of the big problems in our country right now is student loan debt, I know this is a personal problem the I struggled with and continue to pay for.
In our own state we have outstanding technical institutes that provide quality education programs for students. Not only do they provide quality education but they offer competitive prices, scholarship opportunities, and many students can start taking courses or earn credit in high school. While at the conference I learned about the current need for skilled work force in the US. There is a high demand for skilled work, many areas are facing shortages. There are even some companies offering to help pay for the schooling needed to get quality employees in their field or business.
So here we have this opportunity for students to do work they would enjoy, to have a more affordable option for school, to receive funding assistance for school, and to have a higher chance of being employed upon graduation in the field they want.
I wonder if we are listening, with an open mind, to our students who tell us that they want to be electricians, plumbers, cosmetologists, construction workers, or chefs? Do we provide opportunities for students at all age levels to explore careers and post-secondary education in all areas? I know that when my students have done career projects before we almost always focus on 4 year degrees. We also spend a lot of time talking about colleges and being ready for college and skills for college…
I also wonder if I tend to ‘push’ the idea of a 4 year degree because that is what I did… I need to be more aware of the messages I send students as well as the opportunities I provide them. I should be talking to my students about their interests in careers and education and trying to share with them just how many opportunities are available to them.
One final message that I took away from the conference was how important interpersonal skills are. Things like, empathy, showing up on time, responsibility, integrity. Right now, employers see a lack of these skills and have a difficult time hiring people without those skills. Students can identify that their generation struggles with these skills but often say it is their friends who struggle with the skills, not themselves.
Instead of just complaining about this problem, what things can we do to help our students develop these life-long skills?