We can learn from teachers like Stephanie Avery how to be a better CTE teacher.
What's the best tip you ever got about teaching CTE? I guess I have Dick Carlson's post about being a better teacher running through my brain.
She was just a really good teacher
My best teacher had high expectations of her students and of herself. She was always a teacher, never a friend. But she was a friendly teacher. She was strict yet kind, authoritative yet human. She had rules like "no passive voice" and wouldn't accept any paper that contained any (she'd kill me if she read this). She pushed me, a better than average student but by no means setting the intellectual world on fire. She all but dragged me into her AP English class with all the kids that took AP everything. I felt I had no business being there, and I'm pretty sure my classmates felt the same way. But as it turned out, I had little difficulty keeping up. In fact, I thrived.
But how did she know? I didn't know. And, as I mentioned, it's not like we had any particular student/teacher bond. No, she knew I belonged in her AP English class because she was a really good teacher. She was also my teacher for English during my sophomore year. From reading my essays and papers, observing my participation in class, and scoring my tests and quizzes, she knew that I belonged in her class senior year. She hunted me down and asked me why I wasn't registered for her class. Honestly, the thought had never occurred to me. I'd already been "placed" with my fellow better than average but by no means setting the intellectual world on fire classmates. I'm forever grateful to her and her fantastic teaching abilities.
Tips for being a better CTE teacher
I'm sure every person you ask will have a different opinion about what makes a CTE teacher exceptional. I thought I'd go back over some conversations I've had with some of our best CTE teachers and share with you what I think makes them the best...
1.) Help students achieve their dreams
I recently interviewed Sean Plake of Stratford High School in Spring Branch ISD. I asked him, "What has been your greatest success in your classroom?"
Here is his response: "My greatest success in the classroom over the years has been watching the students becoming successful after high school and achieving their dreams that were just notes on a piece of paper during their sophomore and junior years. I have had students become teachers, soldiers in the military and athletic trainers (my passion and the other half of my school responsibilities). Also, hearing that student come by and say “hi” or “thank you” is the biggest achievement as a teacher."
Helping kids achieve their dreams?! Yeah, I'd say that makes a teacher rock. What a simple gesture...have students write down their dreams...then help them work towards achieving it. Brilliant.
2.) Understand the workplace environment where your students are heading
When I interviewed Lynn Huggins from Merrill F. West High School in Tracy, CA, she impressed me with her passion for getting her students more than adequately prepared for the workplace.
She explained that her goal was to prepare her students “to have a viable career and also have the skills when they get to the employer, the skill sets they need for employability.” She went on to say that she needs to make sure that her students "will have the skills to hold down a job and have the skills that industry is telling us you absolutely have to have or they have to choose someone else.”
Another CTE teacher, Karen Chirillo, a Health Assistant instructor at Greater Johnstown Career and Technology Center, expressed the same passion. Getting students prepared for employment and for higher education is what drives her. “I want graduates to be ready to be employed immediately. Even if they are continuing with their education, a part time job is nice. Why not have a good part time job paying more than minimum wage while you continue your education?” Chirillo explains. Chirillo blends textbooks, lectures, and online tools like HealthCenter21 into her classroom to drive students toward that end.
3.) Be fearless (even when you're shaking in your boots)
I really enjoyed talking to Joni Brand of Washington Network for Innovative Careers, or WaNIC. Joni Brand was starting from scratch last fall. Although a 30-year veteran R.N., Brand is a self-described “novice” in regards to teaching.
She described how students “fought her tooth and nail about doing presentations.” She explained to them, “When you’re a nurse, you are part of a team, working with doctors and other professionals, which can be intimidating. You are not even a nurse, yet, but a nurse assistant. You need to learn how to have your voice heard. And part of that is going to be knowing the material well and knowing what questions to ask and what you need to tell someone.” At the end of the course, she surveyed students and in their feedback they shared how much the presentations had helped them and that they should have done it more!
So move forward fearlessly with new ideas, even in the face of adversity. It could turn out to be your best idea yet.
4.) Know thy students, trust thy instincts
I think my English teacher probably falls into this category. So does Stephanie Avery from Father Patrick Mercredi High School in Alberta, Canada. In an interview, Avery described how she blends several tools into her lesson plans. But she was clear on what her students needed and when they needed it. She uses a truly blended approach to teaching and learning. She mixes online learning using HealthCenter21 with workbooks and activities that she’s developed. And there is lecture. With her students ranging in age from 15 to 18, Avery emphasizes, “I need to teach. Some of the more complex content requires more than just one touch with online learning.”
Know thy students!
Are you doing these things in your classroom? The impact of CTE teachers is growing exponentially as employers and students are increasingly recognizing the value and necessity of CTE education and its graduates. Go forward fearlessly as you prepare students for employability and help them achieve their dreams.