Coming from a family of educators, Brad knows both the joys and challenges of teaching well. Through teaching experience of his own, he’s experienced both firsthand. As a writer for AES, Brad’s goal is to help teachers empower their students through listening to educators’ concerns and creating content that answers their most pressing questions about career and technical education.
Educational conferences are an excellent opportunity to learn more about teaching from others working in your field. Recently, members of the AES team attended the Texas Health Occupations Association (THOA) annual conference in College Station.
THOA is a teacher-driven professional organization dedicated to helping CTE health science teachers succeed in the classroom and prepare students to pursue exciting careers in the health sciences. Through THOA, Texas teachers and administrators can discover new and important trends in health science education to address the everyday challenges they face as educators.
The number of Texas health science teachers who have joined THOA has grown every year. Once a small organization with just 50 members, THOA now counts over 500 members among the 1800 health science teachers in the state.
At this year’s conference, THOA members discussed some of the most pressing issues facing health science teachers today.
Here are three of the most significant insights and trends from THOA 2021:
Teachers want more support to build exceptional programs
Changes to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)
Health science teachers want to move away from exclusively digital/online curriculum
In this article, we’ll look at each of these trends in depth. After reading, you’ll have a better idea of the major trends and ideas affecting Texas health science teachers today.
1. Teachers Want More Support to Build Exceptional Programs
As a teacher, you always want to do your best to support your students and foster an excellent learning environment. You may be concerned that you are doing everything you can to set your students up for success. But you can’t do it alone. More and more, health science teachers are finding they need support to help them be successful in their classrooms.
In addition to their everyday teaching, planning, and grading, teachers face increasing demands on their time as they build and maintain a quality learning environment. Texas teachers are encountering extra paperwork and certification requirements related to their instruction. Many teachers face added pressure when students do not pass certification tests or opt-out of the examinations entirely. Because of this, teachers often wonder what others are doing to balance these demands while growing their programs.
To manage increased demands on their time and energy, some teachers are turning to blended learning solutions. At a recent THOA conference, Sherita Harmon, a Texas teacher at Alief ISD and a 2020 LifeChanger Award recipient, shared how integrating blended learning resources in her classroom has helped her contribute to a thriving health science program.
It’s becoming critical for teachers to build relationships with administrators, counselors, colleagues, and peers to gain their support to run an exceptional program.
At THOA 2021, teachers and education professionals shared many ideas to help build these relationships, such as:
Meeting with counselors ahead of the school year to make sure their students are genuinely interested in health science before starting class, resulting in better retention and examination rates.
Building relationships with administrators helps instructors receive the funding and support they need for long-term success.
Communicating with colleagues online helps teachers work together to solve everyday problems in their classes and build a network of support with others in similar situations.
Professional organizations such as THOA are also an excellent resource for teachers to gain the insight and support they need from other professionals.
Creating an exceptional health science program requires participation from all stakeholders. When teachers receive the support they need, they can focus on providing the best possible experience for their students.
2. Changes to Health Science TEKS
Many teachers shared concerns and some confusion over the newly adopted changes to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which all Texas educators must follow.
TEKS are the official curriculum standards for the state of Texas. TEKS standards are set and modified by the Texas State Board of Education, which regularly reviews and revises existing state standards.
In 2015, the Texas State Board adopted TEKS standards which accounted for 14 unique classes in the health science CTE pathway. These courses included 13 one-credit courses along with a two-credit practicum in health science and have been the prevailing standards for instruction since their adoption.
The biggest changes are an increase in the number of health science pathways offered and a similar increase in the overall number of courses available to Texas high schoolers.
Whereas the previous TEKS standards provided a single educational pathway for students interested in careers in health science, the new TEKS updates now distinguish six different pathways for students under the health science umbrella.
The Texas Health Science Career Cluster now include these six pathways:
Exercise Science and Wellness
Each pathway includes set requirements for courses for students that will ultimately lead them to industry certification in a field of their choice and the opportunity for postsecondary education.
In addition, the number of Texas health science courses has more than doubled from 14 in the 2015 standards to 33 in 2021.
The increase in courses primarily accounts for the need to provide specialized instruction for students in each of the six new pathways in the health science career cluster. Nevertheless, there is still substantial instructional overlap between the paths. Most health science students still start the pathway by taking Principles of Health Science during their first year. Medical Terminology, an essential prerequisite for working in the field, remains part of most programs during year two.
Teachers should note that several new pathways feature an additional “Principles” course that discusses fundamental content within that subject area. For example, the Exercise Science and Wellness pathway includes a Level 1 course on the “Principles of Exercise Science and Wellness.”
Overall, the new TEKS standards provide additional opportunities for students in the health science career cluster by increasing both the number of courses available and the number of different career pathways from which to choose.
Texas school districts will soon need to decide which courses they will offer in line with the updated TEKS. Since educational standards have changed frequently and will continue to do so, teachers should look for curriculum resources that are both flexible and comprehensive to meet changing needs.
3. Health Science Teachers Want to Move Away from Exclusively Digital/Online Curriculum
Perhaps the most prominent trend teachers shared at THOA 2021 was a desire to move away from exclusively digital instruction methods whenever possible.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic brought about drastic changes to the educational process. For many teachers and their students, the challenges of a global health crisis forced classes online. Throughout much of 2020 and 2021, many teachers have been instructing their students in exclusively digital environments. In these virtual classrooms, the entirety of a student’s instruction, interaction with teachers and peers, and assessment has occurred in an online setting.
For many health science educators, technology has been essential to allowing instruction to continue amid challenging times. Unfortunately, some teachers have found that teaching in a strictly virtual setting has brought about new challenges in keeping students focused, engaged, and learning.
As more students return to traditional classroom settings for some or all of their instruction, educators at THOA hope to move away from spending all of their time teaching online. Instead, many are opting for a blended learning approach.
In a blended learning environment, learners can receive the most significant benefits of a digital curriculum without the drawbacks of prolonged technology use. Blended learning allows students to complete the bulk of their content-related learning in a digital setting while using valuable classroom time to discuss key concepts and issues and collaborate with classmates on projects and activities.
Teachers have found that blended learning allows them to maximize class time to ensure their students get the most out of the course material while saving time on planning and grading.
When implemented successfully, blended learning can transform the health science classroom by integrating the best elements of digital learning with the much-missed benefits of in-person instruction and collaboration.
THOA 2021 Trends: Opportunities to Inspire Learning
Each of these three major trends from THOA 2021 amounts to new chances for health science teachers in Texas and beyond to inspire learning and create excellent educational opportunities for students.
Changes to TEKS bring about additional opportunities for students to engage in the CTE health science pathway and receive quality instruction designed for their specific vocational interests.
Networking with administrators, counselors, and fellow teachers helps instructors build a learning environment where they and their students are supported and receive the resources they need.
The trend to move away from online-only instruction to a blended learning model helps teachers make the most of their class time while retaining the benefits of a digital curriculum system.
If you are interested in learning more about how other teachers have successfully used blended learning approaches in their CTE classrooms, download our free guide. When you read this resource, you’ll learn about four strategies teachers like you use for successful blended learning.