All Articles 3 ways to align students’ interests, strengths through CTE courses 

3 ways to align students’ interests, strengths through CTE courses 

CTE instructors can help students see connections among CTE courses, their interests and the range of jobs that match.

6 min read

A garden specialist is teaching a group of students in a vegetable plot for article on CTE courses

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In middle school, my youngest son excelled in aerospace engineering and was a member of his school’s robotics team. He competed across the state with his friends and won several competitions. 

By taking a career and technical education course like aerospace engineering, my son discovered that even though he loved robotics, there wasn’t necessarily a career he wanted to pursue in engineering that matched his skill set. Instead, he took biotechnology courses, where he was interested in genetics, sustainability and research, with a focus on conducting a science project.

My colleague had a similar experience. In elementary school, he wanted to be an astronaut because he loved the solar system and studying constellations. Then, in high school, he realized how much math, science and physics were required to be an astronaut, which didn’t align with his strengths.

The key to ensuring students see success after they graduate high school is to teach them how to align their interests with their strengths. One of the best ways to do this is through CTE courses that highlight the depth and breadth of jobs within certain industries, giving students a chance to discover what appeals to them. Here are three ways school leaders can help students discover their strengths and how they can connect with their interests. 

1. Give students a survey to gauge interests and discover strengths

It’s one thing to build CTE programs of study, but it’s another to design them to include courses that interest your students, and that they can use and implement in their future. That’s why it’s important to ask your students for their thoughts and opinions. You can do this by sending out surveys, hosting focus groups, and engaging with your instructional staff to gauge what their students are interested in. 

The more you hear from your students, the better and more successful your CTE programs of study will be. To help, I’ve put together a few sample survey questions you can ask your students.

  1. Do you prefer to work alone or in a group? 
  2. After graduating from high school, do you plan to: 
    1. Go to college 
    2. Go to work 
    3. Work and attend college 
    4. Create your own business and attend college 
    5. Don’t know yet
  3. What activities do you like to do in your free time? 
    1. Read and write 
    2. Garden 
    3. Go to museums 
    4. Create and play video games 
    5. Draw and paint 
    6. Play a musical instrument 
    7. Help others 
    8. Other (fill in)
  4. What class do you like best? 
  5. How would you describe your personality? 

Additional survey questions can ask more activity-type questions. For example:

  1. Do you like to present in front of others?
  2. Do you like working with your hands?
  3. Do you like solving technical problems? 

Understanding what students like to do and feel they are good at, paired with their personality traits, can help you decide which CTE courses to offer. 

One of our students recently told her teacher that she wanted to be a veterinarian, but after asking her questions like, “Are you good under pressure?” and “Would you want to perform operations or give medications to animals?” she realized those weren’t her strengths. While she loves animals, her high empathy would make it hard for her to disconnect from her job. Instead, she decided to explore roles in agriculture, which may still involve animals but be better suited to her skill set. 

2. Utilize digital courses that highlight a variety of jobs

CTE courses can expose students to a wide variety of careers within industries while also teaching them important workforce skills like how to write their resume and have a successful interview. It’s critical to use digital CTE courses that highlight the depth of careers within an industry, framing the jobs in ways that help students understand if the field is something they may be interested in. 

Students may think, “I don’t want to be an accountant, so why would I take a course like Accounting Applications?” But digital courses and educators need to reframe how students think by highlighting the variety of jobs in the industry from entry-level to CEO like bookkeeping, tax accountant, compliance officer and financial analyst to name a few. Then, highlight the different job responsibilities, the level of education required, if an industry certification is needed and more.

For example, a recent student didn’t want to take our Digital Information Technology course because he was not interested in attending college. Once his school counselor showed him that there are entry-level IT jobs that don’t require a college degree and are high-demand and high-wage, he decided to take the course because he knew what was possible and how to attain the job. 

Our curriculum development team has also created resume-builders and interactive games and elements, such as chatbots, within CTE courses that help students discover careers that best match their personality traits. For example, we have interest inventory quizzes that ask students a series of job-skill related questions that prompt them to agree or disagree with a statement about how they like to work.  

The most important takeaway: Make sure students know all the opportunities available to them and how they can use their interests and strengths to succeed.

3. Encourage CTE courses, other teachers to work together

Recently, one of my colleagues told me how, in high school, her AP English and AP US History teachers worked together to deepen student understanding. While she was learning about the Roaring Twenties in her AP US history class, she was reading “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald in her AP English class. She said having the context of the book paired with the historical events allowed her to better understand the time period. 

This is just one example of how teachers working together across subject areas can benefit student growth and comprehension. To help students connect their future to what they’re currently learning, I recommend CTE teachers partner with English, math, science and other instructors to learn more about students’ interests. Often, these teachers will have more knowledge about a student and their likes or dislikes and can recommend courses to help them discover a potential career interest. 

For example, is there a student who excels in English and loves reading and writing who may be interested in taking a CTE course like Agricultural Communications, where they can read and write about the agricultural industry and create reports? Even better, could an essay they wrote in Agricultural Communications also earn students credit for an expository essay in English class? 

The more educators can find ways for students to complete meaningful work on topics of interest that also align with multiple subject areas, the better the experience is for the student. 


Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 


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