An open letter to our local career and technical school, as well as all of our students who attend them:
As an educator for more than 20 years, I want to applaud our local CTIs for their role in preparing our students for their future careers. These schools are opening the doors of opportunity for students who would not excel in traditional educational settings. They’re educating our students based on individual learning styles and innate talents, and providing relevant and rigorous learning opportunities for our young adults who are not wired to sit in classrooms, listen to lectures, or learn information they already know they will not need based on their career choices.
Don’t get me wrong, I value all aspects of education and actually have been a student more often than not a student. I am just applauding your efforts to meet the needs and fine-tune the skills of the students who have known since early on in elementary school, if not before, what they are going to do when they grow up.
I have one of those students. I should have known at preschool graduation when my little boy requested some new “hookers” to celebrate the milestone of completing preschool he was not going to fit the mold of academia. Before you all gasp, “hookers” in my 3-year-old’s eyes were anything like ratchet straps, bungee cords, and/or trailers that he could pull around the yard on his tractor. Of course, we honored his request because he would put those items to good use, but that milestone preschool graduation should have been awarded to his dad and me because of our three children, fighting him to get him in that classroom was war. Still, following the natural course of raising our child, we continued to pursue a traditional education for him.
Kindergarten was no different from preschool. It was a tedious process to get him to walk into the school doors and an even more tedious process of explaining to him that it is important to learn all 26 letters and not just E and F. He insisted he had a valid argument because his future utilized reading gauges to determine if his equipment needed fuel: E for Empty and F for Full. There was always a tractor, a machine, or a vehicle on his mind. First grade brought us an extremely proud moment, so to speak. When he received his report card, he demonstrated that he learned his letters and learned them in the correct order. In his subjects, he managed to get an A, B, C, and D forgoing the E and F. They were in ABC order. He also declared his desire to own and operate either a scrap yard, stone quarry, or garbage business. Most kids want to be a fireman, sports celebrity, or veterinarian; not my kid.
The best was in third grade when he cleverly contacted a trailer dealership via online chat posing as his father and listing all the specs, as well as all the bells and whistles on his special order gooseneck trailer. The actual phone call to my husband explaining the timeline of the trailer build was dependent on the deposit being received, which was 50 percent of the total cost. Total cost being $38,000. The conversation as to why he is not allowed to solicit bids went in one ear and out the other because he was proud of his ability to design what he needed for his future career—moving equipment from job to job. Since his dad gave him a hard “no,” he turned to his dad’s eBay account and started bidding on a used trailer, figuring he was saving his dad some money. That night waiting for someone to outbid us was like watching paint dry as the “time remaining” slowly ticked down. By the skin of our teeth, we got out of that one.
When he was in fifth grade and despised going to school, he was able to educate himself on the “Amish Exemption” and was convinced he needed to join an Amish family because they only go to school until a certain grade and then join their family working the land. I guess we should be proud he gained knowledge about compulsory school laws. Middle school was a blur, but our son used his business savvy and math abilities to estimate exactly what he had to get on each assignment to pass on to the next grade, all while coming home and immediately jumping on an excavator, backhoe, and/or any other piece of equipment just to relieve the stress of school.
So at this point, we accepted that he is going to be successful despite harping on the importance of keeping his grades up because he had already instilled in himself a work ethic, observed his father’s every move when working on utility lines, and naturally had the ability to back up any trailer perfectly on the first try. Just ask the gentleman at one of the campgrounds we visited who watched in amazement as our 11-year-old positioned a 38-foot fifth wheel in the campsite. With his ability to maneuver his dad’s truck, he made sure he was in the precise spot for us to have an enjoyable weekend away. Again, hold the gasp, he was under the supervision of his dad the entire time. When I first saw him do this neat “trick,” I held my breath because he could barely see over the steering wheel and he was literally on the edge of his seat.
What I thought was him just playing around and not taking school seriously was actually him being ahead of the game, preparing for his successful future.
I began to accept that it was true, all kids are different. Kids can be raised the same, in the same family, and still be polar opposites of each other. I was okay with him working alongside his dad or any other role model who worked in the trades. That education did not come from sitting in a classroom. His teachers began to accept that he was unique in his abilities and started giving him tasks to fix things in the classroom so it made school more enjoyable. They were educating him even though those skills were nowhere in the scope and sequence of their curriculum guide.
His goal was to get to high school, but not to be in the high school. He knew in 10th grade he could attend our local career and technical school. That vision got him to go to school and for the first time in his educational career, there was a scope and sequence to guide his education. He went from just getting by to getting his best grades since graduating from preschool. He saw value in himself, he had self-esteem, he valued his education and the teachers who taught him the way he wanted to learn—the way he needed to learn. Another proud parent moment was documented when he was 14. In the very high school he was enrolled in, he assisted his dad and others with an emergency call because the main waterline to the school was leaking and it needed to be excavated and replaced. It was probably one of the only times he enjoyed being on school property. The second was during the time he and his brother played baseball and he was called to operate the skid steer to level the area for the new batting cages.
So now that he is almost 17 and attending the career and technical school in the morning and completing his four major subject area courses via an online format at night, he has time to work in the field he is made to do, he feels valued. He was generously given the opportunity to work at machine fabrication so he can continue to acquire skills to make him even more successful in the future. Oh, and as far as dreams go, he has started his own roll-off dumpster business.
So to all those career and technical schools out there, thank you for being the conduit to link kids who do not thrive in a traditional classroom environment to opportunities where they can learn the way their brains are wired to learn. We need graduating students to be at the top of their academic classes and progress to universities, but we also need kids to be at the top of their career and technical classes. These opportunities have always been needed, but the path to a vocational school allows kids who felt inferior to their academically successful peers to stand out as equally successful in their career and technical paths. This year, being enrolled in this program brought him back to his elementary school but in a different capacity. He was there constructing a pavilion for the elementary school students to enjoy. He actually got up and had no problem going to the same elementary school where we almost had to handcuff him to his desk when he was younger.
So with all my education, two kids in college programs, and my career and technical student, I hope one day we can move beyond STEM classes and provide similar courses and career paths at an earlier age. We need more exploratory courses in the trades because these kids are easy to identify even in the elementary classroom. Having more opportunities for our youth early on in their public school education will help students with attendance issues, emotional and social well-being, and foster a true desire to learn for the sake of learning, not learning because it is the natural progression of growing up. The best thing we can do for our kids is to be an advocate for education that fits their goals, dreams, learning styles, and abilities. Some kids are made for academics and some kids are made for trades. Both are very admiral paths and both lead to successful careers by productive members of society. Support your local career and technical schools and traditional schools, as well as the students who attend both because, without both, we are losing a workforce that sustains our way of life.
I appreciate all of your efforts to provide opportunities for our kids. We need to think beyond the four walls of a classroom.
A very thankful mother