By Kristilyn Oda
“Focus on what you love to work on, your strengths, and which group of people you want to help,” I summarized for my fourth graders. Our school counselor had just offered a bite-sized piece about narrowing future career options in preparation for Career Day. I created a visual anchor as they reflected.
“What about money?” A student requested an adjustment to the Venn Diagram. “Can we add another circle and overlap the other three?”
Students nodding, we revised our graphic organizer to include monetary compensation as one of the determining factors guiding a career choice. I wasn’t too surprised considering the first line the students composed in their collective “We Are” poem from the first quarter (more on that process in my previous Medium blog from January 2019).
After college, by and large, graduates are expected to self-advocate for opportunities in the workplace. Adults become responsible for owning our paths throughout our entire income-producing years. Even after two decades in the education field, I still find ways to move forward in my career. I love attending conferences for the opportunities to grow my practice and team up with like-minded colleagues. For many teachers, the road forward through their careers is fuzzy.
When I became a Hope Street Group State Teacher Fellow, I learned that educators are seeking career pathways aligned with their strengths, that don’t take them directly to administration and out of the class. In the fellowship, we stretch ourselves professionally and engage in collegial camaraderie, joining together to move mountains. Through focus groups led by Fellows, educators statewide dreamed freely and formalized their ideas on advancement and began pioneering leadership opportunities while remaining classroom teachers. The Hawaii Career Pathways Report amplifies four key recommendations where local teachers who have thoughtfully given a voice to the direction of growth opportunities and valued recognition.
How can educators, who are assessing their own career pathways, model this lifelong learning and exploration mindset with their students? It doesn’t start with picking a college major anymore. Nor does it begin with college applications or choosing a secondary school academy track. Engaging in career ideas starts from early childhood.
Students are not asked to pick their ultimate career choice. Instead, exploration and self-awareness are encouraged to clarify interests and identify strengths. Educators open discussions to understand aspects of jobs beyond family networks. We value and encourage personal dreams of the future and plant the seeds of goal-setting. Educators break down barriers blocking the way of identifying career pathways.
At my elementary school, counselors integrate career education through our Spirit Week celebration with school-wide dress-up themes, such as College Day and Career Day. Career awareness is also developed through assigned Home Lessons. First and fourth graders interview family members or research the specific responsibilities, strengths, and educational background of their choice and present findings to the class. The class learns about a multitude of occupations and are immersed in authentic presentation literacy and purposeful uses of media, which are cornerstones for career readiness today.
In addition, science and social studies are catalysts for purposeful career discussion, within project-based learning. For example, when my class designs a restraint system for an egg passenger vehicle, they form small “companies,” declaring their vision and taking on the roles of Project Manager, Head Engineer, and Public Relations. As safety inspections occur, any materials left out are subject to a fine. Moreover, when the company communicates a novel design feature, they win Innovation Grant money. The company quickly learns to look out for their inventory and one another.
Career Week is yet another means of opening a window into various fields of work. Fourth through sixth graders rotate among three career sessions where parent volunteers offer their firsthand perspectives. Students ask questions and make notes, thrilled to hear the experiences of their classmates’ parents. Community workers include chefs, nurses, military personnel, business owners, actresses, and computer programmers. A very popular offering is the College Session, for students struggling to figure out the benefits of attending or in the case that their ideal career choice is not offered.
Because Hawaii schools have begun strengthening the college outlook from foundational years, secondary students have responded with enthusiasm. In high school, the number of students taking dual college credits has dramatically increased. With an earlier start, graduates now earn associate degrees along with their high school diplomas. The future becomes clearer as one takes steps along a well-defined, purposeful path.
As educators struggle to design the next steps of career advancement, we become aware that if we succeed, the future generation in the profession will have that much more clarity and commitment. Whether it is a child who is sampling career criteria in elementary grades, or an adult desiring an avenue to contribute meaningfully with a supportive network, it is essential to empower the one who steps forward to guide the discussion. A well-chosen livelihood is not just what we do, it is largely who we become.
Kristilyn Oda is a fourth-grade teacher, Hope Street Group Hawaii Teacher Fellow and 2003 National Board Certified Middle Childhood Generalist. She launched the first NBCT Policy Summit in Hawaii and teamed up to plan the first regional and school-based ECET2 in her local area. She values student voice, teacher leadership, innovation, place-based projects, and tech integration to benefit learning. Follow her on Twitter @kristioda and join in the #808educate conversation that networks private, charter and public school educators.