Test-Driving the Future
By Christopher O. Gaines
/School Administrator, August 2018
WHAT DO YOU
want to be when you grow up? It’s a question students hear from the time they set foot in a classroom until the day they graduate from college. When they are young, their answers are rarely the same year to year. The sky’s the limit.
Many of today’s teachers were different. They “played school” as youngsters and developed a passion that never waned. They mean it when they say, “I always wanted to be a teacher.”
I don’t think many, if any, young people have answered “what do you want to be” with “a superintendent.” Except for me, but I was kidding. When I was in high school, the scoutmaster of the Boy Scout troop also served as our school superintendent and his office was in our gym complex. He often came into the gym to visit. One day, for a reason I don’t recall, I was wearing a jacket and tie. When he asked why I was dressed up, my quick retort was that I was going to be superintendent someday. We all had a good laugh and never discussed it further.
A career in education never entered my mind when I was a teenager. I planned to be an attorney and a politician. My real interest in education came later when I realized my strengths were in math and science, and that I enjoyed teaching scouts as a summer camp counselor.
Career surveys indicate that the majority of undergraduate students change their major at least once during college. Some prepare for one field, but end up working in something completely different. Why is this the case? Did their interests simply change? Or had they not been allowed to explore possible vocations during their high school years?
As part of their focus on college and career readiness, schools are doing an increasingly better job of giving students the opportunity to explore career options. That exploration can lead to undiscovered passions or help students identify what they do not want to pursue.
High school students in Mehlville School District in St. Louis, Mo., have an opportunity to participate in the MyPath program, which allows them to create their own program of study that includes academic classes as well as hands-on experience in the world outside the classroom. Several students are spending time in the elementary school to try out an interest in education as a career.
More than one MyPath student has changed her or his career direction after discovering that what they thought they wanted to do was not a good fit. This realization will keep them from investing time and money preparing for a career path they won’t pursue.
As school leaders, we must ensure our school curricula and student support services encourage career exploration. We also must clearly communicate to students, families and the community the wide range of choices available to students as they determine their future path, including vocational-technical schools, internships and experiential learning.
One path, the Center for Advanced Professional Studies Network, is designed to provide rich and meaningful experiences for students. Students in high schools who partner with the CAPS Network have the opportunity to work with and be mentored by industry professionals while developing their skills and using industry tools to solve real-world problems.
The Mehlville School District is in its third year of the STL CAPS program, and it has grown each year. Strands include global business and entrepreneurship, engineering and advanced manufacturing, healthcare and bioscience, and technology solutions. Students are able to test-drive their future.
Kindergarteners starting school this fall will graduate high school in 2031. I think about how much technology has pushed us forward since I first became a superintendent in 2001 and can hardly imagine the opportunities that will be available to young people in 2031 and beyond. It is our responsibility to prepare students for whatever their future may hold.
is AASA president for 2018–19. Twitter: @paddlingsupt