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Destigmatize CTE: 3 ways we can change perceptions 

Insights is a SmartBrief Education Originals column that features perspectives from noted experts and leaders in education on the hot-button issues affecting schools and districts. All contributors are selected by the SmartBrief Education editorial team.

6 min read


Happy teenager girl at home working on her laptop in her bedroom and doing her homework lifestyle concepts for article on destigmatize CTE

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When I was in high school, career and technical education offerings were limited, and to be honest, with courses like woodshop, automotive and cosmetology, there was a stigma that students in these courses were not college-bound and would end up with lower-paying jobs.

But my perception changed when I enrolled in a business course for my sophomore year, which I didn’t know at the time was a CTE course. I wrongly assumed that CTE courses were all hands-on and not for college-bound students. However, I enjoyed the business course and decided to take more, such as shorthand, business law, and Accounting 1 and 2. My overall GPA, inclusive of CTE courses, earned me a scholarship, setting me up for college success. I was able to destigmatize CTE for myself without even realizing it.

My story highlights the misconceptions surrounding career and technical education courses. CTE is a viable option for all students, whether they graduate high school and go on to a four-year college, immediately start a career or opt for vocational school. CTE is a path that leads to many roads, all of which are good for students.

If you’re wondering how to destigmatize CTE — changing the perception that these classes are only for students who don’t want to go to college — then I’m here to help! 

For the past seven years, I’ve led a team of curriculum developers dedicated to building digital CTE courses that expose students to more options for their future, equip them for jobs they may have never considered, develop their technical and soft skills, and help them discover new passions. I’ve learned what it takes to get students excited, parents invested and turn educators into CTE advocates. 

Tip 1: How to get students excited about CTE

The key to generating student enthusiasm for CTE starts with the teacher-student relationship. Digital learning gives teachers the time and flexibility to regularly meet with students individually. During these conversations, teachers learn what excites their students so they can recommend courses or certifications to meet their goals. 

One of our ninth-grade students, Bethany, is passionate about becoming a lawyer, learning about computer science and horseback riding. We know this because her Computer and Network Security Fundamentals teacher asked her what her interests were at the beginning of the course. This course is part of our Applied Cybersecurity Program of Study, and the last unit covers cybersecurity laws. Bethany learned about government acts like the Defense Trade Secrets Act and what can happen if someone obtains unauthorized access to a computer system. 

Once Bethany learned that law and cybersecurity go hand-in-hand, she was inspired to take more cybersecurity courses to become a lawyer who protects against cyberattacks. Through one CTE course, Bethany became passionate about a future career and learned valuable workforce skills, including real-world practice through labs that allowed her to envision what it would be like to work in the field. 

Bethany’s story illustrates the power of CTE — and one way to destigmatize CTE — which is why school leaders must ensure their teachers and staff have the time to build connections so they can help students prepare today for their future. 

Tip 2: Ways to get parents invested in the value of CTE

As a parent, I worry about my kids constantly. One worry is whether they are prepared for the real world. This is how I know that the way to get parents invested in the value of CTE is to educate them on the value of the courses by sharing success stories and statistics. 

One way to accomplish this is through marketing and communications efforts. With marketing efforts, you can destigmatize CTE for parents, educating them on the CTE courses you offer and certifications their children can take. Share success stories that show how CTE can give students a leg up when graduating high school and going into a career or applying for college. 

These two CTE statistics are powerful examples that could help sway parents:

  1. The US Department of Education reports that eight years after their expected graduation date, students who focused on CTE courses in high school had higher median annual earnings than those who didn’t. 
  2. There are 30 million jobs in the US that do not require a bachelor’s degree and pay an annual salary of $55,000 or more. 

Highlighting these facts on social media, through parent emails, your website and more helps build awareness among your audiences. Additionally, telling real stories, similar to the one I shared about Bethany, can be powerful ways to destimagtize CTE. Do you have a blog or a place to write these stories? If not, I recommend chatting with reporters interested in telling your students’ stories. 

Another way to ensure parents are invested in CTE is through in-person or virtual career fairs. A virtual job fair can draw more parents and students because the geographic barriers and time constraints are removed. Plus, it can be recorded for on-demand viewing, allowing you to work with even more companies and/or speakers worldwide. 

Career fairs allow students and parents to learn about internship and apprenticeship opportunities and the interpersonal skills, such as communication and time management, that employers look for. One option is to have breakout rooms where students can practice their interview skills, learn how to elevate their resumes or participate in problem-solving scenarios. Building these skills will be important in the future, and career fairs provide students with a safe place to practice.

Tip 3: How to turn educators into CTE advocates 

The first step to turning educators into CTE advocates is hiring teachers and support staff who are already passionate about it. They could be CTE-specific teachers or educators who have seen how it has benefited students and want to do more to build pathways that lead students to high-demand, high-wage careers. 

FlexPoint has a CTE coordinator, CTE curriculum specialists and CTE-specific teachers. Each plays an essential role in building our offerings and ensuring parents and students know the opportunities. Additionally, our CTE staff works closely with instructors who teach core classes, often partnering on student surveys to learn what students are interested in. 

Additionally, suppose you’re struggling to find teachers for your CTE courses. In that case, it’s important to note that, in some instances, teachers can earn a bonus if one of their students passes an industry certification exam. This fact could help you recruit and retain CTE teachers.

Finding ways to destigmatize CTE and get students excited about it is easy if you understand their needs and interests. Ensure your parents are invested in CTE by creating high-level talking points that show the value of providing real-world experiences to their children. Finally, turn your educators into CTE advocates by hiring teachers and support staff who are already passionate about it!

I hope these tips help you change the perceptions your students, parents, and staff have about CTE so that we can continue to prepare students for an ever-changing employment landscape. 

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own. 



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