Throughout this journey as Pennsylvania Teacher of the year, I realized that I have a voice and am capable of focusing my energy and attention on a specific area of public education that needs some assistance. Over the past several months, I have been using that voice to express my interest in the focus on students becoming “future ready.” While this sounds like something we already do as educators, I quickly realized how many issues accompany this topic.
When students are young, we often ask them what they want to be when they grow up. The problem is that they truly do not know their options. They know the professions they see in the media or perhaps what their parents do for a living, but they don’t know how to best expand their understanding of what is truly out there. The other issue is, the world is changing, and public education must keep up with it. There will be jobs in ten years that we haven’t even thought of yet. So how do we make our students “future ready” if we don’t know what the future holds?
After doing a great deal of research and working with professionals who are considered leading experts on this topic, I have come to the conclusion that we cannot predict what the future holds, but we can do something else to help further the future of our students. We can invest in them in a new way. By allowing them to explore various careers and skills at a young age, perhaps they will gain a greater picture of what may present itself as an opportunity in the future. If we as educators, can invest in opportunities for students to learn the liberal arts, math sciences, but also learn about and possibly earn an industry credential along the way, they will be far better prepared for functioning in their near future.
The problem remains in the way we have prepared our students for hundreds of years, not just here in the United States, but also around the world. We attempt to create scholars, but often undervalue certain trades and other components of learning. All learning is valuable. All intelligence is valuable. Often times the intelligence we value in the United States is university level intelligence. However, not everyone needs a four-year degree in traditional studies to achieve in life. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. By allowing our students to explore a variety of other means to learning and eventual financial achievement, we are storing value in other ways of exemplifying learning. We are also demonstrating that we can be malleable towards progression in what we value as a country.
If we allow students to begin career exploration early, we may eventually create a new society of learners and educators. We may very well develop students who are more diverse in their thinking and more creative in their ability to earn money. This attempt could eliminate many financial issues that young people face today after finding themselves in serious student debt post collegiate education. University education is still extremely important, but we should also value students that want to pursue a secondary credentialing opportunity and foster other career exploration ideas earlier in education.
While I deeply value the humanities and traditional core subjects, after all, I am a teacher of history, psychology and sociology, I also value other ways of learning. I hope to learn more about this topic and explore the possibilities of a shift in thinking about what the diversification of paths to education and success. The beauty of human beings is that we are all different and creative in many ways. As educators, I hope we use our voices to promote and foster those differences and find a manageable way to allow young people to explore a variety of opportunities.