Professional Development

Teacher Externships Bring Real-World Experience Into Classrooms

By Brenda Iasevoli — July 01, 2017 3 min read
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As concern mounts nationally over how to prepare students for available jobs, externships—instructive stints in local industries—are becoming an increasingly popular means of providing teachers a sneak peek at the skills their students will need to be competitive.

This week Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced a plan to expand career and technical education in the state. Getting students ready for future careers will require new training for educators, an effort that entails creating local business externships for teachers and counselors. The on-the-job experience will count toward required professional development credits, according to the governor’s office.

“We all have an important role in making sure every student has the opportunity to explore multiple pathways to find a career that matches their interests and goals,” Snyder said in a statement.

The Michigan Career Pathways Alliance aims to develop more ways for students in kindergarten through high school to explore careers, including skilled trades, that earn workers a decent living but don’t necessarily require a four-year degree.

How Do Externships Work?

To get an idea of how Michigan’s program might work out, we could look to the example of Tennessee, where the department of education has coordinated teacher externships since 2013. Tennessee schools assemble teams—one career-and-technical education (CTE) teacher, one general education teacher, one principal or assistant principal, and one counselor—who do the training together. Each participant receives a $2,500 stipend.

In June, teams got a weeklong behind-the-scenes look at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, the nonprofit Goodwill Industries in Nashville, an insurance company called Unum Group in Chattanooga, and DENSO Manufacturing in Maryville.

The teachers who visited DENSO got the experience of applying for a job at the company by taking the entrance exam, which tests math, logical reasoning, and even the ability to work in a team. They also spoke with employees and supervisors and toured the facility where workers make high-tech car parts and engineers develop greener roads and “connected” cars equipped with their own internet network.

Jobs for Many Skill Levels

Positions at DENSO range from entry-level jobs in production for high school graduates to engineering positions that require a college degree. There are also opportunities on the business side, in accounting and human resources.

DENSO couples the externship for teachers with visits at local schools to talk with children about their career interests. “We want to do a better job of educating teachers, parents, and kids about the opportunities out there in the STEM field and beyond,” DENSO spokesperson Rachel Walker told Education Week.

When DENSO employees visit schools, they take along Henry the Robot, which was designed by an intern and can play the game Connect 4. The students take turns trying to beat Henry at the classic strategy game in which players must line up four consecutive discs horizontally, diagonally, or vertically.

Walker said the engineers ask the students: “Would you like to one day build something like this? If you like to build with Legos, you might be interested in becoming an engineer.”

In July, school teams will meet in Nashville to plan how their schools might begin working relationships with local businesses, such as through student internships, throughout the year. In the past, some plans have sought to create an industry advisory council for an entire school or to have students complete a career interest inventory, according to the deputy director of communications for the Tennessee department of education, Chandler Hopper.

School teams will share their externship experiences and the progress they’ve made on working with area businesses at the 2018 Institute for CTE Educators.

Image: Teachers from Heritage High School in Maryville, Tenn., take part in an externship at DENSO Manufacturing. (Courtesy of Lynnette Cottrell)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.