Brittany Anderson (left), nutritionalist, gives Neil Hawks,a teacher at Meadowcreek High School, an iron test at Gwinnett County Lawrenceville Health Center on Feb. 7, 2019. Some Gwinnett County teachers shadowed professionals in a multitude of industries during the recent Teacher Job Shadow Week. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Gwinnett teachers visit workplaces to keep lessons relevant

When it comes to preparing students for the rest of their lives, educators aim to have as many tools as possible in their collection. That’s why for the past four years Gwinnett County Public Schools has dedicated a week to letting some teachers shadow professionals in a multitude of industries, including health care, engineering, marketing, government, and information technology.

A function of the Academies and Career and Technical Education Office, Teacher Job Shadow Week allows teachers to spend time in the workplace to learn about trends, skill requirements, and opportunities in industries related to their subject area.

The goal is to increase teachers’ ability to connect theory and practice and help them understand today’s workplace, to make students more marketable to their future employers. The teachers get a firsthand look at problem-solving methods, practical applications of theory, and leadership concepts. The idea is that the teachers will bring what they learn back into the classroom, increasing the relevance of student learning.

“We realized that most of our (Career and Technical Education) teachers had no industry experience,” said Jody Reeves, executive director of Academies and Career & Technical Education. “Having them go out in pairs (core teachers and CTE teachers) they can identify standards that different careers require.”

Industry representatives often cite a gap in the schooling of people they hire.

According to Achieve Inc., a national nonprofit organization that works with states to raise academic standards and graduation requirements, colleges and employers have higher expectations for high school graduates in recent years than ever before.

A 2014 survey showed 61 percent of employers reported that their companies request or require recent high school grads to get additional education or training to make up for gaps in the preparation, up from 42 percent in 2004.

In the same study, 82 percent of college faculty were dissatisfied with their students’ preparation to think critically.

“This is also an opportunity for all teachers to realize the strengths in all the pathways, not every student is going straight to college. Many will got straight to careers or technical schools. Success doesn’t always mean pursuing a four-year degree,” Reeves said.

Pathways are an integrated collection of programs and services intended to develop students’ core academic, technical and employability skills; provide them with continuous education, training; and place them in high-demand, high-opportunity jobs or prepare them for higher education.

The job shadowing paired career and technical education (CTE) and core-subject teachers. With 40 businesses signing on this year, there were 72 teachers in the program — 20 more than the year before. They specialized in math, science, language arts and social studies at the district’s seven Career- and College- Readiness Academy high schools — Berkmar, Central Gwinnett, Discovery, Lanier, Meadowcreek, Shiloh, and South Gwinnett. They visited organizations and businesses including Gwinnett Medical, Gwinnett Health Department, Gwinnett Water Resources, Rocket IT, The Weather Channel, Novelis, and others.

Karla Kosar, who teaches the nutrition pathway at South Gwinnett High, and Neil Hawks, a physics teacher at Meadowcreek High, looked at their experience at the Gwinnett Health Department in different ways.

“We get insulated in academic bubbles so it’s good to know what’s available to students,” said Hawks. “I was surprised at the breadth of services offered.”

He said work in the lab and similar jobs could fit into a life sciences unit.

Kosar said the health inspections for restaurants pair perfectly with lessons she already teaches. But shadowing a tuberculosis case manager gave her a new perspective on how nutrition can help in recovering from a chronic illness.

“I learned how diet affects patients with tuberculosis,” she said. “And I got firsthand look at how WIC (the nutrition program for women, infants and children) educates clients on healthy eating for life from prenatal to geriatric.”

Back in the classrooms, the teachers will develop lessons and projects for students showing their classes’ relevance to real-world jobs and situations.

CTE teachers from the rest of the district’s high schools have the opportunity to shadow local businesses as well.

It isn’t just a field trip, said Reeves.

“There’s really no statistical data to show the effects of something like this but when teachers get a better understanding of what students need in the real world the benefits are immeasurable,” said Reeves. “And it goes both ways — the businesses get to see the practical side of our commitment to education.”

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