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Online CTE and my good fortune

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February has been designated Career and Technical Education Month. Which career paths are you preparing students for after high school?

I’m lucky.

Every day, I have students who reaffirm my love for teaching and my commitment to career and technical education (CTE). One young lady that comes to mind, is a full-time, seven-course student at Harrell Accelerated Learning Center where I teach in Wichita Falls, Texas. She works hard on her studies, spending two hours per day with instructors and the remaining time on individualized, self-paced online learning. Then, after school, she rushes to her retail job and puts in up to seven more hours there. That’s work ethic my friends.

One of her classmates is a half-day student with a full-time desire for success. She plows through her core and CTE courses with admirable aplomb. Some she does within the school walls, other work she completes when her busy schedule allows, behind the screen of her home computer. She knows, as I do, that her CTE efforts will pay huge dividends in the great big world she will encounter after high school. The ability to be a 24/7 student was the big break she needs, learning when her full life allows the time to do so.

Even after 29 years at the helm of CTE programs in Wichita Falls, students like these keep me inspired. And there’s something else that fuels my fire too — education evolution. Seeing CTE evolve and adapt to what it is today makes me downright giddy! It’s National CTE month for heaven’s sake; lets make some hay!

Never before has CTE been more critical to citizen and employment-readiness in our global workplace. Never before has CTE curriculum had such a need to adapt and fast! Never before has a textbook been such a dinosaur. Never before have virtual projects and lab-based learning been so vitally important to students’ future success.

I’m lucky. I’ve been around long enough to witness these trends and develop a knack for staying on the leading edge of CTE. I even feel like I’m a step ahead once in awhile! My school’s CTE curriculum and technology providers help me do that. The trick is to pick the right partners. For online curriculum, I turned to Odysseyware, which offers dozens of CTE career clusters, in areas of great interest like STEM, agriculture, hospitality, and more. When looking for a CTE partner, be sure to consider the following: Are diagnostic tools offered? What are the course customization capabilities, adaptability and professional development support? Whichever partner you choose, be sure they support your entire vision for career and technical education.

Naturally, no educational tool is of much use if students don’t like using it. I’m lucky, again, because my students took to my CTE curriculum like ducks to water. If you’re a teacher, you’ve seen that look of drudgery on students’ faces when they crack open a textbook. With online learning, because these kids are such digital natives, there’s a refreshing eagerness about diving into the work. The curriculum, though rigorous and challenging, is engaging, inviting and I dare say: fun! Plus, my students intuitively know that with CTE, they’re learning real-world skills that can and do pay off in self-fulfillment — and pay checks! If they doubt that for a second, believe me, I remind them.

For educators, no teaching tool is ideal unless it’s adaptable. What exactly do I mean by that? Well, four main things: First, the online CTE curriculum you use must be adapted to the here and now. This happens at the provider level. They MUST deliver the most timely, relevant content available. This is especially critical in information technology, health science, business management and other career clusters tied to technology and rapidly changing business and legal practices. You can’t teach yesterday’s news!

Second, adaptability needs to be tied to whatever region in which you teach. For example, here in Wichita Falls, the oil and agriculture industries are key employers. So, having access to course clusters in agriculture and STEM clusters is extremely important to my students’ and our community’s futures. Let’s say you teach in Missouri near Branson and Lake of the Ozarks, where having a solid hospitality & tourism course cluster would be imperative. Of course, no matter where you’re preparing students for the real world, there is always a need for IT, business, administration, health science and human services.

Third, whatever online curriculum you choose, it must be adaptable in terms of customization. After all, isn’t one of the rewards of teaching about taking ownership of what you’re instructing? With the curriculum I use with my students, I can mix and match lessons, projects, virtual labs, DLAs and more from a comprehensive palette of core and CTE courseware. By customizing courses, I can mold content to help each individual student adapt according to their career goals and proficiencies. Never before has true, individualized CTE learning been so easy and achievable. What luck for my students (and me)!

Finally, look for blended learning with online curriculum and the opportunity for hands-on experience that is adapted to each student’s unique schedule, setting and set of challenges. One look inside any classroom will illustrate the diversity therein. Special-needs kids, gifted students, alternative education pupils, teenaged mothers, and the list goes on. For these students, having the ability to learn CTE 24/7/365 at their own pace to prepare for life after high school is monumental.

It’s National CTE month, what career paths are you preparing students for?

John Prchal has taught business and marketing at the Harrell Accelerated Learning Center in Wichita Falls, Texas for29 years, earning him titles like “dinosaur” and “crazy old uncle Jethro.” A graduate of Dickenson State College in North Dakota, John received his business/marketing certifications from North Texas Sate and has a rich background in aviation, communications and IT. In 2005, Prchal initiated the school’s “Virtual Lab” which has been open to students 24/7/365 ever since.