Helping students figure out a future that fits

By Elizabeth Brownlee

Figuring out what you want to do with your life is difficult for a 30-year-old adult, so you can imagine teenagers have a tough time with it.

House Bill 5, passed in 2013, increased the pressure for our students to plan for their future careers at an earlier age.  All ninth graders are now required to select one of the following endorsements:

  • Arts and Humanities Endorsement 
  • Business and Industry Endorsement 
  • Multidisciplinary Endorsement 
  • Public Service Endorsement 
  • STEM Endorsement 

An “endorsement” is a series of courses that are grouped together to support a particular career path. To implement this requirement successfully, schools have had to expand career exploration opportunities for students, and also start the career exploration process sooner.

At Connally ISD, one of the major ways we help our students find their future career path is through the Connally Career Tech Early College High School.  Our campus is completely focused on students working towards their chosen future careers.  We help them get started on their career path and get experience in their chosen fields before they graduate.  As the counselor of Connally Career Tech I spend a lot of time with students trying to help them create plans not only for high school, but for their futures once they graduate. It may seem unrealistic to ask a fifteen-year-olds to plan out their future career paths and expect them to stick to it, and maybe it is, but getting them to start thinking and talking about a path is important.

For me helping a student choose a career path is all about building a relationship.  I know in education we constantly talk about test scores and grades, but when it comes to being a counselor, you have to build relationships with your students.  Getting to know my students and their interests helps me guide them along their career exploration path. I am constantly trying to get to know my students.  I try to see them in their element, whether it’s while they’re in study hall, in the classroom, or just talking to their friends. I talk to parents about their student’s interests.  Parents have insights into their student’s likes and dislikes that I may not see. 

My relationship with a student is my most important tool for helping them.  I need to know what’s important to them.  Without the relationship, I wouldn’t be able to have those important, hard, honest conversations when their goals and their interests don’t seem to match.

Sometimes a student will want to study for a particular career path because an older sibling really likes it, when in reality he/she has no interest in that career.  He/she is just unsure of what to do in the future.   I never try to force a student in a certain direction. I give them an idea and tools to help them research it to see if it’s something they are truly interested in pursuing. If possible, I have them speak with someone in the field or someone teaching in that field. 

I find a lot of students want to go into a career field because that’s all they’ve been exposed to growing up.  We’ve all heard of doctors, lawyers, police officers, teachers, and similar careers.  We see them all the time and they are all great career choices, but they don’t fit all students.  

Each year when we have our College and Career Fair or our Recruitment Night for Connally Career Tech, I bring my students to speak to specific tables or programs that I know fit with what they want to do in the future.  By encouraging a student talk to someone from a field they don’t automatically think about, I help them get exposure to new choices.  While I want them to go and talk to every program or table that interests them, I want to make sure I help them see what they wouldn’t normally choose.

We also try to take our students on field trips that cover multiple career fields.  This helps expose our students to different careers they may not think of right away. It is my goal to help my students find out about the lesser known, sometimes behind the scenes careers they don’t always know about.  Many times I get to go with them and observe their reactions. This helps me guide them in their career choices. Students will come back from a field trip and begin to have conversations about what they saw, what they liked or didn’t like.  Then we start moving forward with career planning based on what they tell me.

My students and I spend a lot of time talking about their career goals for the future and how their high school choices are helping them get to that career. Sometimes a student settles on a career choice, but then they get to experience a little bit of it.  They may come and tell me that it’s not what they thought, or they didn’t realize everything that went into that career and they want to change.  That is probably one of the best parts of our program. Students get to experience at least a little of what a particular career is like before they graduate from high school. They don’t have to wait until after high school and waste money and time working towards a career that they end up not enjoying. I want them to be able to make well informed decisions about their future career.  For many students, the experiences we provide help them do that.  I’ve seen too many students graduate from high school unsure of their future. I make it one of my goals to help my students have a plan or a vision for their career path before they graduate.  

Elizabeth Brownlee is in her 4th year as the Connally Career Tech Early College High School Counselor and her 10th year in education.  She has been married for just under a year.  She and her husband have two pit bulls and chihuahua.  In her free time, she enjoys crafting, running, and anything outdoors.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

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