In case you missed Part 1 of this post, head over here to read it first!
Last week, we started thinking about how we are providing windows and mirrors for our students, especially regarding our curriculum. This post will focus on how we can keep windows, mirrors, equity, and engagement in mind as we guide our students through career exploration.
When I reflect on my path to becoming an educator, it’s very obvious that I had plenty of mirrors that communicated to me, “you should be a teacher.” I was surrounded by white, female teachers who lauded my care-giving qualities, patience, and organization. It almost seemed like I didn’t have any other options–unless I wanted to be a nurse, but math was not my forte and blood made me queasy, so, teacher it was! But what if I had a window into something different? What if I had met a female psychologist, lawyer, or theatre director who talked about her career path? Let’s be clear: I don’t regret my career choice and path for a second, but I do sometimes wonder how my life would have been different if I had been exposed to other options.
As educators in Pennsylvania, we spend a good bit of time discussing the Career Readiness Indicators, so this is another great opportunity to consider the type of representation we are offering our students. We want our students to be able to visualize a plethora of pathways to adult success. We want them to be able to make informed decisions about their futures, based on their strengths, values, and interests–not based on what and who they do and don’t see.
We know that students begin eliminating career options based on gender and socioeconomic perceptions as early as five years old, so, we have to begin self-exploration and career exploration as early as kindergarten. And we have to be mindful of how we are increasing student engagement in these activities and how we are keeping equity in the forefront as we plan. We don’t want our students to eliminate careers because they don’t see themselves represented or because they don’t know someone in that occupation.
When we are planning career exploration activities, whether arranging for a speaker to come in, coordinating a field trip to a business, or working on artifacts related to the Career Education and Work standards (CEWs), let’s examine how we are representing the diversity of our world.
Listed below are some statistics that highlight disparities in gender, race, and sexual orientation across different fields. How can we acknowledge and work against these norms in our learning spaces?
- Only 10% of the nursing workforce consists of men; while the percentage of women who are specialty doctors hovers around 20% (depending on the specialty).
- In architecture and engineering, Black Americans make up only 6% of the workforce.
- Women make up only 17.3% of the active-duty military force.
- Latinx/Latine Americans occupy only 7% of healthcare occupations.
- Women of Color working in STEM comprise just 11.6% of the workforce–only 1.8% of which are Black women.
- In corporate management positions, LGBTQ+ individuals comprise less than 15% of the workforce.
Finally, as we are considering career representation and our role as educators in this space, let’s be mindful of one more very important fact in our own field: In Pennsylvania, 73% of all teachers are women, and 95% of all teachers are white, while 37% of our student population are Students of Color. For most of us in education, we have seen many mirrors of ourselves, but not a lot of windows into other experiences, while many of our students are not seeing mirrors of themselves, nor are windows being opened for them to see a variety of future opportunities. We have to acknowledge this. Then, we have to work to make our schools more inclusive.
We are not always as prepared as we want to be to teach students whose experiences differ from our own. So we have to be open to incorporating new thinking, learning about other communities and cultures, and ready to make changes in our classrooms, buildings, and districts. We can do this by learning about our students–the varied identities and experiences they bring to our schools–then leveraging that understanding into creating relevant content and experiences that are engaging for the entire school community. It’s important that we are able to embrace our own personal identities and see value in our cultural expressions (the holidays we celebrate, books we read, people we admire, languages we speak); it is just as important that we are creating environments where our students can enjoy those same cultural affirmations, especially when they differ from the majority in the room.
When we are in the space of career exploration, we have to find diverse mirrors for our students, so they can see reflections of themselves. And we have to open as many windows as we can, so they can explore all the possibilities that our world offers for their futures. Let’s make the decision now to create self- and career-exploration activities that do just that. Let’s push ourselves to think beyond our own experiences and perspectives and consider what our students from refugee backgrounds, our Students of Color, and our students with learning disabilities need to see and experience as they are preparing for life beyond K-12.
- Latinx/Latine: An individual of Latin American heritage or descent. This is different from someone who identifies as Hispanic, which refers to individuals from Spain or Spanish-speaking countries. Latinx and Latine are gender-neutral terms. Not all Latin American individuals prefer these terms; like all communities, Latin Americans are not a homogenous group. It’s important to ask and to share about our preferred terms. Go here or here to learn more.
- Cultural affirmations: Honoring and respecting various cultural expressions, traditions, and values. We achieve this by being informed about these topics and including them in our classroom/building/district culture.
Opportunities for Reflection
- Classroom Teachers: What are the various identities that make up my classroom? Do I have some form of representation for each of them at different places in my career exploration activities?
- Consider: race, gender, sexuality, language, religion, country of origin, neurodiversity, ability
- Building Administrators: Who am I inviting into my school for events, such as assemblies, concerts, and speakers? Are they windows or mirrors for my student body?
- Special speakers and events like these are wonderful opportunities to bring diversity and new perspectives into the school.
- District Administrators: When I look at my staff demographics and compare them to those of my students in the district, what do I notice? In future hiring, how could I more evenly balance the number of windows and mirrors for my students?