What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

Posted: 11th January 2015 by kkeerybi in Uncategorized

One thing about spending time over the holidays in the company of my own kids and those of other family members is that it is inevitable that someone always gets asked “So what do you want to be when you grow up?”. I remember being asked this as a kid by well-meaning adults and never knowing how to answer it. Given that I grew up in an era where it was expected that you prepare and train for a single job for your entire career should have made it easy. My kids are some of our 21st century citizens. We now expect that they will have not one career but many. That they can’t prepare and train for a single job but need skills that will transcend a narrow skill set and be applicable across a wide variety of jobs. And of course, we tell our students that we are preparing many of them for jobs that haven’t even been thought of yet. All of that makes it kind of difficult to answer that question about what you want to be, doesn’t it?

As much as that kindly aunt or uncle is well meaning when they ask about a child’s future career plans, their outdated expectations are telling of a different era. You would think in the educational world, though, that we could be better than that. Unfortunately, I’m not sure we always are.
In 2013, Ontario came out with a K to 12 policy entitled “Creating Pathways to Success: An Education and Career/Life Planning Program for Ontario Schools.” You can see this 48 pages of goodness here . It has some really good resources and supports. It links to current practices in our school, that, when viewed together in light of this document, start to make cohesive sense. Understanding that inquiry-based learning and a focus on student metacognition in the kindergarten documents link to students identifying their personal strengths and interests as they begin to career plan is illuminating. You can see how connections to self have been drawn into many curricular areas concretely in recent years to support students in the Education and Career/Life Planning inquiry process (see page 13 of the document for an outline). You can see how recent pushes on gathering of portfolios of learning for students will support their learning needs not only for curriculum areas, but also the important learning skills areas.

Policy is one thing. But how does our practice link to these ideals?

Are we, in class, still asking our students a 20th century version of what do you want to be when you grow up? Are we teaching students and parents how to think and look beyond a narrow skill set? Are we predominantly transferring specific knowledge to students or encouraging them to learn transferable skills (and teaching them how to transfer and apply those skills)?

My son is in first year university in what is essentially a pre-med program. A few of his exams sounded like exams I remembered: lots of individual desks in a gym with an invigilator (why did they always have squeaky shoes???) while many students silently and furiously wrote for a few hours. But he also had exams I never had. For one of his exams, he had a 1:1 interview where he had to explain examples of a variety of competencies. Although it was a science-based course, he was able to use evidence from far-reaching sources. For example, to explain his learning about learning through collaboration, he used his involvement in the program’s school musical as an example. He is generally a leader in most situations but this musical is a bit outside his normal comfort zone so he is having to rely more heavily on his peers for support and co-learning. His reflection on this made an excellent example on an exam in his science based class. Would you have seen that or tried to use that in an exam you participated in? Me neither.

Educators often naturally teach the way they have been taught. I wonder what the teachers in 20 years will focus on for their students. How will it differ from the way we teach now?

I guess my other question is, should we wait 20 years to see that difference. How could or should it be different now?

  1. Aviva (@avivaloca) says:

    Wow Kristi! What a post. Strangely enough I had dinner with my parents tonight, & my step-dad was talking about one of his high school teachers beginning to teach this Career Studies course in the second semester. Now I feel like emailing him this post. πŸ™‚

    Two things that really caught my attention in your post:

    1) Students may be preparing themselves for more than one career. (I grew up only ever wanting to be a teacher, and even now, that’s all I want to be. Your post is a good reminder that the kids I’m teaching may have multiple careers in their lifetime.)

    2) A university program — and a Science one at that — had an interview exam. Even more incredibly, your son could use his Arts experience as proof to support one of his answers. (I think about my teaching in elementary school — with experiences from K-6 — & I never would have thought about this kind of “test.” This really makes me think again about culminating tasks, projects, & tests, & how a conference may capture just as much learning.)

    And so, as someone that likes to try new things, I can’t help but think now about all of the things that I haven’t tried. I also can’t help but wonder if faced with the changes & experiences that our students are facing, if as teachers, we have to figure out a way with getting comfortable being uncomfortable (& trying new things). This seems to remind me of another post of yours. πŸ™‚ How do we do this though? What supports need to be in place for this to happen? No real answers here, but you’re definitely giving me lots to think about!


  2. pclemens says:

    We definitely live in different times when we really have no clear pathways in which to steer our children. I suspect it is far more unnerving for us than it is for them. I am already stressing about my son’s future and he is only 7… I sure hope there is a future in playing minecraft – ha ha. I have no answers but you have me thinking about the process that we go through to prepare students for future careers. You can’t make the focus too specific, but you don’t want it to be too general either. How do we find that balance and hit that moving target???

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