Career guidance in schools: I’m not a careers teacher - get me out of here!
1st June 2014
A recent IoC survey revealed that 82% of teachers do not feel that they have the appropriate knowledge or skills to provide good careers Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) [an infographic is available here] So, if you’ve recently been given this mammoth task and are feeling similarly unprepared – don’t fret - you’re not alone!
In this series of blogs, I will be exploring the current state of IAG in the UK and discussing what it means to you: on the frontline, in your school.
One of the greatest challenges for a teacher when suddenly faced with the responsibility of giving careers IAG is a conflict with their own professionalism: we know that we have a huge influence on our students, and we worry about giving them the wrong advice. In fact, in the survey, 44% of teachers admitted to giving a student “bad” or “uniformed” advice in the past. Given how important it is to teachers to be helping their pupils and doing right by them, it’s no wonder that being in a situation where you’re not sure you’re giving the correct advice is disconcerting.
Tip 1 – Stop worrying about having all of the answers and focus on having the questions instead
The role of delivering ‘Careers Education’ or ‘Careers Lessons’ (as opposed to IAG – but more on terminology later in the series!) can often cause a chasm to appear in the teacher’s own pedagogy. Nobody likes to be in front of a class and feel like they don’t know what they’re talking about – as a subject teacher we generally ‘know’ our specialism inside out, but when it comes to teaching careers, this feeling of being uninformed (or unprepared) can lead to a crisis of confidence in even the most experienced of teachers. If you don’t already ‘know’ the information, how can you possibly impart it to your students? And even if you spent every free second of your weekend cramming up on current careers, how could you possibly hope to know about the vast array of, sometimes obscure, careers that are out there?
Recently, a Year 11 student at a school I was visiting said she wanted to be a “Disaster Manager”. Further probing elicited that this role included rebuilding communities and infrastructures after natural disasters; it is not a career that I had even imagined existed- and neither had her teacher! However, the IAG she had received had been excellent, allowing her to map out her ideal career (including specific under-grad and post-grad courses) taking a whole range of factors into account (like the contextual university information provided by Unifrog), and exploring other directions that her skills and qualifications would be able to take her if Disaster Management didn’t work out. When I discussed this with the teacher she explained that her job had basically been to encourage the student to “ask the right questions”, enabling her to explore her options without any boundaries. If she had relied on the teacher’s ‘knowledge’, I wonder if this would still have been the case…
Tip 2 – Share your own ‘career story’ with your students
To start with, it’s important to help young people develop their conceptual understanding of what exactly a ‘career’ is. As IAG guru David Andrews says “before young people begin to work on developing the skills for planning and managing their career they need to develop some understanding of what a career is”. Try thinking about your own career so far:
- What was your path?
- Did you end up achieving what you initially intended?
- What were the most helpful skills and attributes that you developed along the way?
- What mistakes did you make and where did they lead? (in many ways – this is the most important one!)
Sharing your own path with your students will enable them to have a better understanding of how careers happen, and what the important milestones are along the way. Sharing your experience can also enhance your relationships with students, especially if you have the confidence to share your mistakes with them. I have seen this happen in a range of ways whether role-play, old photographs, music and costumes, or in one case, a teacher who took his students to see the factory where he worked for his first job when he was 15. All of this provides a good starting point from which students can ask questions, reflect, and start to understand the many different decisions that they will face in pursuing their aspirations.
Despite the fear-figures touted in media like ‘ShiftHappens’ about the changing employment landscape and supposed impending catastrophe of the speed of change, the careers situation in the UK has not really changed much over the last 100 years; we have always been preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist. Because of this, our approach to IAG needs to build capacity, tenacity and resilience within our students, and however uncomfortable we may find it, if IAG is going to be delivered successfully in our own classrooms we need to stop feeling the need to be the holder of ‘the knowledge’ and embrace the exhilaration of taking our students on a journey into the unknown.
Eleanor Bernardes, Associate at the Education and Youth think and action-tank LKMco
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You might also like: Good career guidance: a How-To guide from abroad
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