3 high school teachers talk CTE
To succeed in today’s increasingly knowledge-based, technology-driven economy, business and education experts agree students need to graduate from high school ready for postsecondary education and training. What many don’t realize is that career and technical education (CTE) programs are doing just that.
High-quality CTE programs across the state are increasing student engagement through the integration of technical and academic skills in hands-on, real-world learning experiences. These programs align with workforce needs and offer clear pathways to industry certifications and postsecondary credentials. Also vital to high-quality CTE programs are work-based learning opportunities and career and technical student organizations, which help students develop essential skills and gain valuable work and leadership experience. In Iowa, CTE programs prepare students for a wide range of careers, including agriculture, business, computer science, advanced manufacturing, engineering, education, health care, and culinary arts, among others.
In recognition that February is CTE Month, we asked a few teachers from across the state to tell us how they came to the profession, share ways their CTE programs integrate core academic subject matter, and discuss why these programs are important for students and the state. Here is what they said.
Steve Kehoe, Agriculture Teacher and FFA Advisor
Southeast Valley High School, Gowrie
How did you become interested in teaching agriculture?
I started out in agricultural business when I was in college. At some point, my college advisor started talking to me about my options and told me that a degree in ag. education would provide a lot of opportunities. I decided to do that and then when I did my student teaching it clicked. The rest is history. I started teaching in 1983 and this is my 36th year of teaching.
How has the field of agriculture changed since you first started teaching?
The biggest change has been the technological advancements. The agricultural field relies heavily on technology and the industry offers many career pathways. The way farming is done with computers, GPS, aerial imaging and site-specific crop management has changed the skills required and the jobs opportunities available. For instance, all that technology requires more technicians and service people to keep it all running.
The field of agriculture continues to grow and we need people to enter into it. Business, industry, colleges and secondary schools have to work together to ensure programs are aligned to workforce needs and that students gain the necessary skills to advance. This work is being done through our regional planning partnerships. In addition, I also serve on Iowa Central Community College’s agricultural advisory board. Business and education are key partners.
How do CTE programs prepare students for college and careers?
It goes back to relevancy. The hands-on opportunities that they are receiving reinforces their understanding of careers and get them motivated. Kids need to understand why we do the things that we are doing and CTE does a wonderful job of doing that.
I utilize Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (AFNR) and Natural Resources and Ecology (NRE) curriculum. They promote science, technology and math in the curriculum so students really understand how the subjects integrate with the field of agriculture. I also have a science endorsement and two course I teach, soils and natural resources, earn science credit as well. Because of this integration, each year I pull in students who wouldn’t otherwise think of agriculture. After they try it, I often get them back in other classes. CTE instructors have a different connection with the students. A lot of times I will have these kids for three or four years and I can see and measure the growth. It is rewarding to see them succeed.
Amanda Odegaard, Business Teacher and DECA Advisor
Bondurant-Farrar High School, Bondurant
How did you become interested in teaching business?
I actually have a bachelor’s degree in marketing and I went right into the workforce. My first job was with a transportation company and I knew immediately that I didn’t want to sit in a cubicle behind a desk all day. I decided to go back to school and worked full time during the day and was a full-time student at night to get a degree in secondary education.
How does your program integrate core academic subject matter?
I incorporate core subjects like math, social studies and writing into the classes I teach – general business, entrepreneurship, person finance and marketing – to make learning relevant for students. For example, students are required to write a comprehensive business plan in the entrepreneurship class. Math concepts are used all the time, especially in the personal finance class where we cover money management, financial security, credit management and risk management.
People often fail to realize the relevancy of history and social studies to business. For instance, in marketing, we talk about different generations – Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Gen Z. We talk about the differences between them, what makes generations consistent, and how that plays a role in communicating with different populations. These generations exhibit similar shopping and motivational preferences because they experienced similar trends at approximately the same life stage and through similar channels. History is definitely relevant to the way businesses reach, inform and influence different cross-sections of the population.
How do CTE programs prepare students for college and careers?
Students who take the general business class are going to use something that I am teaching regardless of the field that they enter. We go over interviewing, how to give a good presentation, resume writing, and how to present yourself in a professional setting. Any field that you go into, regardless of the industry, will have some form of business involvement, be that marketing, management, accounting or finance.
I am also the DECA advisor at our school. I highly encourage all the business students to get involved because it provides a great leadership component to the program. They take things that they learn in class and apply them in real work scenarios. I am taking 17 students to state this year and they learn a lot through working in teams, presenting their projects, and interviewing with judges. Our DECA students also manage and organize our winter formal. They do everything from planning and promotion to setup and take down. It allows them see all the working parts, how they are connected, and what it takes to conduct a successful event.
CTE is a necessity for college and careers. Not only are they learning technical skills, but they are learning life skills that will be used throughout their lifetime. CTE is hands-on learning where students see the relevancy of their coursework and how it relates to their college and career goals.
Curt Cornelius, Automotive Technology Teacher
Perry High School, Perry
What types of courses do you teach?
I teach small engines, electricity as well as several automotive classes. Next year I will also be teaching dual-credit classes at the Des Moines Area Community College’s Perry Center where students will earn college credit and gain the skills needed to start working in a dealership or continue into postsecondary education. I usually have a few students each year who go enroll in DMACC’s automotive program after graduation.
I used to work for General Motors and worked for several years sat Shottenkirk Chevrolet. I am a Perry graduate myself, and when the position was open I decided to get my CTE endorsement. I said I would give it three years and if teaching wasn’t for me I would go back to industry. That was 11 years ago.
How does automotive technology differ from the shop classes of our grandparents’ days?
The biggest change is the level of technological advancement. These are technical skills that get into engineering-level knowledge. My curriculum is always changing because the automotive industry is always changing. I have to keep up on my training and knowledge. This requires being highly involved in industry and education. I am on the advisory board for DMACC’s automotive department. I also stay in touch with industry contacts and keep up on new advancements. That contact is necessary so that our programs are aligned to industry needs and prepare students to enter into postsecondary education.
Over 80 percent of our students are on free and reduced-price lunch. It is important to show our students that there are multiple pathways to success that lead to rewarding careers and high-wage jobs. One of those options is the apprenticeship program offered by several area dealerships. It isn’t easy-- students have to interview with DMACC’s automotive program and they have to find a dealership to sponsor them. The program requires a semester’s worth of work in class, followed by a semester of hands-on training and education with the dealership. It is all about choices.
How does automotive technology help students become independent thinkers and problem solvers?
Diagnosing a problem is one of the main things required in the industry. Students have to be able to troubleshoot, make a diagnosis, and learn from mistakes. That is also one of the hardest things to teach. At first students in class will ask me to tell them what needs fixed, but I tell them they won’t have that luxury when they are on their own. We work on taking initiative and that failure is part of the process because that is how you are going to learn. It is so rewarding once they figure it out because they have that gratification of seeing their hard work pay off.
Students can also apply what they are learning through involvement in CTSOs – Technology Student Organization (TSA) and SkillsUSA. We get middle school students in involved in TSA and then by high school we get students involved in competitions through SkillsUSA. The competitions are intense. They have to apply their knowledge in real-life scenarios and be able to accomplish it in the time allotted. I had one student get 2nd in the nation in automotive and one get 1st in the nation in diesel. They both went on to work in the industry. One went into agricultural systems technology at Iowa State University, and the other is a mechanic at Karl Chevrolet in Stuart. One thing is for certain, this is a growing field and the industry is always looking for skilled workers.