CTE: Applying academics to the real world


The common-sense merit of Career and Technical Education is clear; CTE is intended to prepare students for a wide-range of current and emerging careers. However, as a CTE marketing educator, I see unheralded value in many different areas.

CTE raises students’ potential

My own personal journey to becoming an educator is the perfect example of the value of Career and Technical Education. I made it 3.5 years into undergrad with the intention of becoming a high-risk obstetrician. It wasn’t until late in the Fall semester of my senior year that I was willing to admit to myself that the sight of blood made me weak in the knees. Had I taken Health Science courses in high school, I would have been completing clinical rounds in local hospitals and would have been able to exclude the medical field as the right path for me.

I ended up taking 22 hours the Spring semester of my senior year in order to graduate on time with a general studies degree. I had been a successful entrepreneur since the age of 16 and, though my parents supported my entrepreneurial nature, I somehow disregarded it as a valid educational and career pathway. Eventually, however, I followed undergrad with my MBA and spent years in both the marketing and finance industries.

Unfortunately, not all students are able to pivot that quickly, which results in greater student debt or the choice to give up on higher education altogether. CTE is one of many ways we can help students avoid those pitfalls. But it has so many other qualities. It offers us a critical opportunity to identify students’ strengths and offer them experiences to utilize and hone them.


CTE in action

I now teach an entrepreneurship class where my students collaborate to create their own entrepreneurial ventures. One group of students developed a social enterprise that reached profitability after a month and a half of operation. These students may not all continue on to be entrepreneurs but entrepreneurship is an experience and a tool that they can use in a variety of professions.

CTE builds confidence in students. As some of my entrepreneurship students sit in their business school courses in undergrad, they will see the words on the pages of their textbooks as the reality of the life they’ve lived as young entrepreneurs. They will feel experienced as they network due to the fact that they have already done so at functions like our local 1 Million Cups gathering.

Career and Technical Education reinforces a blend of core course concepts and 21st Century Skills. While February is CTE Month, it is also Black History Month. This month the Round Rock High School student-startup design and wide-format printing facility, Dragon Printshop, researched, designed, printed and installed 217 custom Black History Month posters.

Our students developed one poster that directly related to every single teachers’ content area. Students used their Social Studies and English skills to identify and research their Black History Month figures. They used communication and collaboration to figure out who was designing and who was printing which posters. They flexed their math muscles to figure out what size poster would maximize their printing capabilities. They enlisted creativity and imagination to design media that would represent their selected figure. They employed critical thinking, problem solving and science to figure out that heavily pigmented posters needed reinforcement when hanging.

This project is one of many that I have had the privilege to guide students through, and I have seen tremendous growth in each and every one them. That is why I say Career and Technical Education is the marriage of all things academic and common sense. CTE does not merely tell students about the world, it instead allows them to actively engage in it. That’s a wonderful opportunity.

Tiffanie is a high school marketing teacher in Round Rock ISD and a member of Texas Aspires’ Educator Board. She will be speaking on a March 6th SXSW Edu called “Startup: 21st Century Intrapreneurship.”

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