CTE Month Educator Q&A – Kyle Kuhlers
Editor’s note: For February’s CTE Month®, we are featuring Q&A sessions with Iowa educators and students who are participating in career and technical education programs. Their experiences and perspectives provide a glimpse into the importance of CTE instruction for skill development and career exploration. Quality CTE programs help prepare students for future employment in high-demand fields and play an important role in strengthening Iowa’s workforce and economy.
This week’s session highlights Information Technology educator Kyle Kuhlers from the Waterloo Community School District’s Career Center. Kuhlers, an educator with 19 years of experience, teaches grades 10-12 and currently leads a variety of computer science classes such as Intro to Cybersecurity, Intro to Programming, database SQL, web development, game development and more. He also leads a student-run Cyber club that participates in many competitions. In this Q&A session, Kuhlers shares his insight on how CTE programs can positively impact Iowa’s students.
The journey to becoming a CTE educator can vary from person to person. How did you become interested in teaching CTE?
I started off working at a company in Iowa City and had advanced as far as I could without moving to the east or west coasts. Since I wanted to stay in Iowa and the parent company offered education opportunities, I decided to look into teaching. I received my teaching certification from Coe College and started teaching business classes at Alburnett High School. There weren't a lot of IT classes in the ‘90s yet, but as interests grew and computers became more prevalent, I became more interested in this area. I took classes on databases, cybersecurity and more to learn about IT, and I have continued my professional development each year to stay up-to-date with the latest technology, resources, trends and how students can benefit from IT. At Waterloo, I moved to solely teaching computer IT classes.
What things are important to have for a high-quality CTE program (ie – Advisory Committees, Work-Based learning, Regional Planning Partnerships, Intermediaries, access to regional centers, etc.)?
When arriving at Waterloo, one of the first things I did was to visit local employers. Spending time with them helps to know what software they use and what skills they are looking for. Work-based learning is priority number 1, in my opinion. Bringing employers into the classroom and putting them in front of students on workplace visits helps develop relationships. Waterloo really supports hands-on learning.
I want students to stay in Iowa to continue their IT career. I want them to see what IT jobs are available in Waterloo and the Cedar Valley. Many don’t know they can be a game designer in Cedar Falls. I’m here to make sure students know what is out there and what skills they need to develop. When students discuss IT, they will at least have a broad understanding of the terms used.
Nearly 70 percent of Iowa high school students were enrolled in a CTE program during the 2019-20 school year. Why is it important to encourage students to participate in at least one CTE program?
I think the number should really be around 100 percent. It would be great if schools required everyone to take a CTE class. It’s an opportunity for students to explore their interests and develop their career paths, whether they go into the workforce, a technical program, community college or four-year program. I always tell students that it took me five and half years to go through college because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. CTE can help students complete that first year or two of college during high school. They can then go on to have a more focused college experience or go straight into the workforce after high school. They have a better idea of what they need to be successful.
Why are CTE programs and CTE teachers key components for strengthening Iowa’s future workforce?
I think CTE teachers are vital for helping students not only figure out what they want to do but also how to be resourceful and find answers. CTE teachers provide valuable resources, ideas and creativity in the classroom to help keep them interested. CTE gives opportunities for juniors and seniors to stay engaged in learning. It’s been exciting to watch students take control of their learning. As a CTE teacher, I’m helping to guide them because they’re looking to me for support, confidence and to see if they could really do a job in this field.
Do you have a success story of a current or former student that you can share?
I currently have one student who was struggling in his core classes last semester. He wasn’t completing his assignments and was failing most classes. However, instead of prohibiting the student from taking CTE classes, like IT, Waterloo encouraged him to find his way, and the student has become one of the best programmers I have right now. His school counselor sent me an email saying his core classwork has also improved. He is completing assignments and doing well. CTE can lead the way for other courses. If a student has an interest and likes a certain subject, let them take it. They will be happier, and it’ll boost their confidence.
There is currently a shortage of CTE educators in Iowa, and professionals with experience in high-demand job fields can often make great CTE teachers. What would you say to encourage business and industry personnel to consider becoming CTE educators?
I would encourage all industry professionals looking to make a career change to explore teaching. Coming out of the industry, we bring a unique perspective and real-world experience to the table. It gives students a chance to see what life in that field is like, after high-school. CTE programs provide value, and many of its practices and how it connects to the workforce could be applied to core classes, too. CTE Is a pathway to the real world. As a CTE teacher, you’re training the future workforce. That person may take a job similar to what you had in the field. You can share your experiences and help develop their skills for success. If people from the industry are interested, visit a class. See what it’s like and if it would be something you’d be interested in doing. Bring the work world into the classroom.
I always invite former students now working in the field to come back and share their experience. During the first semester, I had five students come back and visit with my current classes about what it’s like to take college classes and work in IT.