Thursday, October 15, 2009

An Appalling Mandate by Margee Greenfield

So I ask you, what career were you considering when you were 12 years old?

I ask because the commonwealth of Virginia has decided to require all seventh graders, to create an academic and career plan—including career goals based on academic and possible employment interests. Students, parents and school officials must sign off on the plan.


Having spent 25 years as an academic and career advisor and as a current middle school teacher, who teaches a career exploration class, I am appalled. Seventh graders are 12 years old! Their career choices are typically based upon the careers of their parents, relatives, or real or fictional heroes – with almost no consideration given to their as-yet-undeveloped skills, interests and values. There are a gazillion careers of which these students have never heard. There are a gazillion more that don’t exist right now but will exist by the time they graduate.

Here’s my own mind at work on this, at 12-years old. I grew up in a city with a famous Shriner’s hospital for children with physical disabilities. Every year, the city held a 24-hour fund-raiser telethon for this hospital. Local celebrities performed, and many of the children that had been helped by the hospital, were brought to the stage by physical therapists, to be interviewed, as the monies poured in. At age 12, I volunteered backstage, helping with the children. I met a physical therapist who was young, perky, and funny and all of the kids from the hospital loved her. I decided, at that moment, that I wanted to be a physical therapist: you get to play with really cute little kids AND you get to be on television.

From then on, when anyone asked about my future, I proudly said that I would be a physical therapist. Then, my freshman year in college, I had a head-on collision with a course called Medical Anatomy and Physiology. And I didn’t want to be a physical therapist any more.

But I’d never considered anything else.

So, please, let’s not ask our 12-year olds to commit, even tentatively, to a career. Instead, let’s include a career EXPLORATION component in courses at a variety of grade levels. Employers today are pretty specific about skills they want to see in hirees: Oral communication, written communication, technology, and team skills. Let’s make sure our students understand and acquire these skills. Let’s make sure they leave high school launched on a career training program or working toward a college major that they will love. Let’s NOT have them make and potentially lock themselves into an immature decision.

When students feel that they finally have an answer to that eternal question, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” the blinders go on. There is no more motivation to continue to explore options. Let’s, instead, teach them to be open to serendipity – to be available to that exciting, unexpected opportunity that might be waiting just around the next corner.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmmm. Sounds appalling, indeed. Anyway to turn the exercise of creating an academic and career plan into a creative or exploratory endeavor? How accountable are you as teachers to this mandate?



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