Multiple Pathways to Success: The Importance of Career and Technical Education


You graduate from high school, and you go to college. My mom’s words still reverberate through my head today. I can recall my excitement as I reported to my new high school to decide what my courses would be.

As I sat down, looking over the offerings, the counselor interrupted my thoughts and asked me, “Do you want a college prep schedule or a general education schedule?” I had no idea what to say. Were there really only two choices for me – college prep or a general prep schedule? I wanted more of a voice and a choice as to what my future should look like.

Today, in the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), we are in the implementation phase of the College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS) this year in both the areas of Math and Literacy. We are also in the process of writing new standards for Career and Technical Education (CTE) for grades 9-12, which should be complete by school year 2017-18.

In the past, when people would hear CTE, they would think about wood-shop, automotive, and/or cosmetology; however, CTE encompasses so much more than those classes through the career clusters, such as human services, marketing, manufacturing, and information technology, just to name a few of the 16 that encompass CTE (Advance CTE, 2017). The CTE focus is a necessary component of the “career” in College and Career Ready Standards. Dr. Schanna Smalls, a school counseling specialist and an advocate for CTE education, stated, “Through CTE, students take ownership in their career development by engaging in career specific activities that either heighten their interests, or propel them into a career they had no previous interest in”. Camille Jones, 2017 Washington State Teacher of Year, also understands the value of CTE as a STEM teacher. Camille is a strong proponent for learning that transcends the classroom. She believes that no matter what acronym you use for STEM, whether that is STEAM, STEM, ScTEM, the goal is the same, which is to prepare students for the 21st Century and beyond.

When I was a new educator, I desired for all of my students to go to college, but I quickly learned that students need to have numerous paths to success. As we prepare students for the 21st Century and for careers that do not even exist yet, we have to commit to:

  1. Expose students to multiple pathways to success: One of the project based learning assignments that I have conducted in collaboration with my peers is the #Pursue It and Do It! Project. In this project, our school counselor has every 8th grade student to study the career clusters in CTE. Students then hone in on their area of interest and research the career of their choice. Years later, students have informed me that based on this project they have a clear path to their future career. We have a responsibility to reach every child and to provide every child with various pathways to their success – whatever that may be.
  2. Debunk the myth that every child must go to college: The perception I had as a student when I was offered two choices is unfortunately what is happening still. College is not a prerequisite for success. I believe that as long as we teach students to do what they love, to seek happiness in life, they will not feel as though they are working. Success is measured through the satisfaction they will get in their job well done – no matter what job that is, and we need to promote that.
  3. Guide students towards their passion: One of the most powerful aspects to CTE education is that it allows students to find their passion in their chosen career field. We all have a proclivity towards something in life, and through exploration of the career clusters, students can find the career that best suits them. I encourage people to never lose their passion in teaching and the same is true in every other career – never lose the passion and drive you have for your career.

As a counselor, Dr. Smalls encourages students to “Begin with the end in mind”, which is exactly what CTE allows students to do. By exposing students to multiple careers, showing them that college is not necessary for success, and guiding them towards their passion, we will ensure that we are making every child both College AND Career Ready!

Kelisa Wing is an 8th grade Language Arts Teacher, Continuous School Improvement Chair,  and AVID site team member for Faith Middle School in Fort Benning, Georgia. She is a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader, the 2017 Department of Defense Education Activity State Teacher of the Year, the 2017 UMUC Edward Parnell Outstanding Alumnus of the Year, and a Flocabulary Master Certified Educator. She is an Army veteran, a proud graduate of the University of Maryland University College, and the University of Phoenix where she earned her Educational Specialist degree. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering in the community and spending time with her family. *All thoughts are her own. You can follow her on twitter @kelisa_l2teach.