Providing Career-Based Learning Opportunities in the Classroom

Educators and parents are still in the habit of asking students what they want to be when they grow up. In my experience, students often answer with a job that is familiar to them. Maybe the job of a caregiver or something they see frequently in their community. However, instead of asking students what they want to be when they grow up, we should ask them what they enjoy doing and what problems they like to solve. By asking this question we can empower young people to believe that what they learn in school and their interests matter.


Teachers, beginning at the elementary level, can make connections between skills and careers. Schools want students to believe that if they work hard, they can be or do anything. However, we know of barriers that exist in our society that challenge this belief. We need to ask ourselves how we can help break down these barriers and empower students to change the current systems. One way we can do this is by using Defined Careers by Defined Learning. Defined Careers exposes students to different career paths and begins to level the playing field. These career tasks provide more access and opportunity for students to learn about a variety of career pathways. Teachers can guide students to explore careers that are of interest and careers they may not know even exist. Defined Careers provides students with project-based, career experience no matter where they live or how they identify.

There have been many times in my teaching career when I’ve lost sight of ‘the why’. Why is this skill worth knowing? Teaching students to connect their learning to what they enjoy doing, inside or outside of school is critical. To hold myself accountable, I often ask students these questions: “When might you use this learning outside of school?” and “Who do you think uses this learning in their job?” These questions connect standards to life beyond the classroom walls. To be able to answer that second question, “Who do you think uses this learning in their job?”, students must first be exposed to a wide variety of jobs. As the activist Marian Wright Edelman once said “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Often students only know about the jobs within their community. One of our goals as educators should be to provide windows into different careers and help close the opportunity gap. If used well, Project Based Learning, with a career focus, allows students to engage in meaningful content and even create change in their community. Students farthest from these opportunities can become agents of change in their community.

Our classrooms and schools can begin to eliminate barriers based on gender, race/ethnicity, national origin, color, age, and ability. When students do not believe that what they are learning matters, it is easy for them to become disengaged. As educators, we can provide authentic opportunities for students to see themselves in different career paths and create meaningful change in their community. For example, students who are living in poverty do not always see beauty or change in their environments. Exploring a performance task such as "City Planner" by Defined Learning, where they become the designers of their neighborhood, allows students to further understand that what they do matters. Through this work and the support of classroom teachers, students can begin to change the story they’ve been told.


About the Author: 
Page Syvertsen is a first-grade teacher in Chicago and a part-time content writer for Defined Careers. She has taught K-3 students in both a private and public school setting. Currently, Page serves on the STEAM Team and is passionate about integrating STEAM in her classroom. She is committed to ABAR education and uses the Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Framework.


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