8 Things CTE Teachers Want You To Know

The need for high-quality career and technical education teachers is rapidly growing. There are a wide array of job opportunities for industry professionals in every career cluster. One of the challenges facing educational institutions in search of CTE staff is how to lure content area experts away from highly skilled-high wage positions such as health care, engineering, IT and manufacturing. Actually, it's difficult to lure them away from any profession. You see, in order to hire a great, new CTE teacher, they really need to have significant work experience in their industry, be good at their job, and be willing to walk away from what is likely a higher salary in order to answer the call of becoming a teacher. But it does happen, and when it does, man, it's a great thing. These educators bring real world, hands on experience into the career and tech classroom. There really isn't a better teaching tool. At times, I have heard it said, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." At one time, maybe that was true, but that's certainly not the case anymore. As these highly successful professionals make their way into classrooms across the country, they have a desire to give back and a voice.  A voice that needs to be heard.  Throughout this summer as we made our way through various professional development conferences we were provided with an opportunity to speak with career and technical education teachers.   Here are a few things CTE Teachers really want you to know:

1.  They're educated. CTE teachers have spent countless hours studying and perfecting their trade. They are coming from positions that required a mastery of difficult tasks and retention of knowledge that the average core academic teacher likely doesn't possess. They may or may not have a college degree, but don't judge them by that. Just ask a high school cosmetology teacher to throw a few questions at you from the rigorous written exam required for licensing. I'm willing to bet that the majority of campus and district administrators won't be able to answer successfully.  In the past, you might have found an English teacher that didn't have success in the classroom or with standardized testing moved into a CTE position.  After all, CTE courses are just electives, right?   Not anymore!  CTE courses are aligned against rigorous industry standards.  Many classes conclude with a certification exam. These aren't exams designed for high school students.   These exams are the very same exams that a 35 year old career changer would take.    

2.  They're dedicated. The majority of CTE teachers that enter the education arena do so because they want to give back to the industry they love. The passion they hold for their craft or profession drives them in sharing knowledge with the next generation of professionals. I personally know a long list of CTE teachers that were actually recruited by their school from the field because of their record of excellence. It's not something they are going to talk about much, because if they did, there would likely be a revolt by core academic teachers.  However, because of their area of speciality and the high demand for the knowledge they possess, sometimes they are told to "name their price". Their expertise is needed in shaping the next generation of welders, building trade and IT professionals, just to name a few. Even public school districts are willing to pay for their knowledge and dedication. 

3.  Successful CTE Teachers possess a life-long love of learning.  Many CTE Teachers are credentialed or licensed in different areas outside of their teaching certificate.  The majority may have additional continuing education requirements outside of what is needed to renew their teaching certificate.  2+2 will always equal 4.  The facts presented in History classes probably won't change much.   Sure, all teachers may changethe delivery or rigor of their lessons, but some of the answers and facts won't ever change.  CTE Teachers in the areas that include rapidly changing technology, IT, Automotive, Architecture and Health Science, just to make a few, must stay informed and current.   If they don't, their students will struggle in their chosen career pathway.   The name of a CTE class might stay the same from year to year, but the teacher could find themselves teaching something completely different in a matter of one year.   

4.  CTE classes are a completely different animal than core academic classes.  Yes, we understand that school schedules are difficult to maneuver around.  There are required classes, lunches and bus schedules that have to be dealt with.   When a school district hires a Content Area Expert to build a CTE program, they really need to listen to their new hire when it comes to important things like the amount of time an average student will need to master a skill,  what supplies are needed to offer the career pathway and what pre-requisite knowledge a student needs before being scheduled in the course.   Additionally, if the CTE course requires a practicum or on the job training, the CTE teacher needs to be provided with the time and support to find placements for the students and to monitor them in the workplace.   The school district, campus, teacher and the CTE program will be building a reputation in the community.   Good or bad really depends on doing things the correct way.   Which brings up another important point...

5.  If you're going to do it, do it right.   If a district is starting a new program, they really need to hire early.  Even if this means hiring during the construction phase.    You can easily locate school districts that have spent thousands of dollars implementing a program in a space that isn't functional, lacks necessary storage and equipment and is just plain poorly planned.  Having involvement during the planning process will ensure that schools aren't spending money on unneeded and irrelevant equipment.  If a school district is going to cut corners in the construction or equipment purchasing phase, then why do it at all?   Equipment and materials in many CTE programs will have to be replaced every few years in order to remain current and prepare students for the workplace.   Planning ahead is essential to becoming successful.  

Keeping with the spirit of doing it right, CTE class schedules may need to be a little different than academic core classes.   Some certification programs have a contact hour requirement.    I believe it is so very wrong for a school district to schedule a student into a program that can't be completed because there isn't enough time in the schedule to do so.   Think outside of the box! Maybe the CTE course will need a zero period or an extended day.  If it does, pay the teachers to be there!   In Texas, if it were a football coach, a school district wouldn't hesitate to pay a little more to win a championship.   CTE certifications are a "championship" for our students.   A good CTE program has the ability to produce a large number of job-ready students.  How many career football players can one state championship team produce?   I don't really know the answer to that question, but please, by all means, don't set students up for failure.   

6.  CTE programs keep students in school.  If you're able to assist a student in indentfying where their passion and skills lie early on, you will have engaged successful students who wouldn't think of dropping out prior to graduation.   All students have to complete core academic courses to graduate.   Their CTE courses are the subjects that they are interested in.  This is what they come back for day after day, year after year.   This foundation may take them immediately into their chosen career after graduation or into a post-secondary education setting.  Additionally, I have been witness to a countless number of students who begin to excel in their core academic courses once they are scheduled into their choice of CTE program.  

7.  Hiring CTE Administrators who don't have any experience teaching CTE is silly.   Yes, leadership is important.   Politics are important.  At least having the knowledge that politics are definitely at play when it comes to hiring a CTE administrator is important.   I personally don't believe that an administrator that initially pursued a career as a junior high English teacher and then completed a M.Ed with a Principal Certification is the best candidate for a CTE administrator.   That's not to say that there haven't been some excellent choices with that background.    But, if they are in fact excellent, it's because they sought out the knowledge and information they need.   Usually, that isn't the case.   CTE Admin needs to have basic knowledge of what a CTE teacher does every day.    Why not promote from within the CTE department?  A school district's best resource for  quality, knowledgeable CTE Administrators are usually in their very own CTE classrooms.   

8.  CTE is the future of our Country.  Budget for it like your future depends on it.    I grew weary of hearing that the funds weren't available.    Work some magic, cut corners somewhere else.  But if a school district is concerned about our Nation's economy and keeping jobs in the U.S.A., then they need to support CTE programs in the same manner they do athletics, fine arts and core academics.  Make no mistake, a large number of districts already do so.    All of them need to follow suit.   

F.A.C.T. Education's mission is to promote the advancement of Career and Technical Education.  "It's a F.A.C.T...CTE Changes Lives."