Looking back, I consider myself very lucky to have taught through an era and in a school where Careers Education was valued, supported with funding and timetabled as a discrete subject. I also had access to outside agencies who provided, at reasonable cost, support with business links and impartial advice. We had a good work experience programme, events targeted at each age group, mock interviews, one-to-one interviews and workplace visits. How times have changed.
If you have now been tasked with guiding young people with regard to careers, you may feel alone and confused. You may be left to just ‘get on with it’ and feel that you have neither the expertise nor the knowledge to do the job well. My daily blog posts during National Careers Week 2014 will hopefully give you some ideas and make the role feel more comfortable. Let me add at this point – I am not some amazing Careers Education guru – just a classroom teacher who was thrown in at the deep end and had to learn to swim very quickly.
My own experience was in secondary schools. I loved careers teaching and make no bones about the fact that it was the total freedom to do what I liked that made it so appealing. One morning, I gave Year 11 some Plasticene to play with. It was just meant to be a starter activity. It was a gamble, as they could have seen it as infantile and thrown it at me. But they didn’t. In fact, they loved it and begged me to let them keep ‘playing’. They used the Plasticene to create a picture or a model of what they hoped for in their future. It was hugely successful and we photographed their creations for a display (well, we photographed all except the one created by the boy whose career aspiration was ‘to be a porn star’). I loved careers because there were no tests to groom for, no rigid plans to stick to and very little interference from outside the classroom. That’s not to say I could forget accountability, of course. At the end of each year, I had to provide information for the school SEF, showing that progression was good and that the numbers of NEETs were falling. I’m pleased to say that during my tenure, both of these improved year on year.
I did have lesson plans, but if someone asked a good and relevant question during the lesson, it was fine to go off track and pursue that topic. After all, the important thing was that students wanted to know more and it would be very wrong to plod on regardless with the planned lesson at that point. The unexpected nature of these lessons was what thrilled me most and kept me going in what was a highly challenging role.
Careers teaching is rather different now, sometimes being covered by class tutors with no real experience other than their own career history. I have known many teachers who groaned as they saw their new timetable and realised that they would be teaching careers. It might be bundled into Personal and Social Education or be hidden away in some other subject or even be the responsibility of every subject area. It may not even be there at all.
So, where are we now? This article from The Guardian is rather useful in summing up and highlighting the changes that have taken place in recent years:
Without that contact, guidance, information and impartiality, how can young people possibly make the best choices for their future? Who will give them the advice they need? Parents? Friends? Naturally I am biased and believe that they really need the right person to turn to for advice and guidance with their careers questions.
If you have been charged with this duty and feel a little lost, I hope that my experience will help you this week and make you feel some of the excitement that Careers teaching can bring to yourself and those who rely on you for guidance. Tomorrow’s blog will look at getting started.