What led you down your career path? For most of us, it wasn’t a straight route, but more like a winding road with dead ends, bumps and curves along the way. How much did you learn when you were young about your next steps and what they might be? Typically, there was little focus on this topic, so many of us aimlessly chose our path with limited information. Knowing that, we can improve this process for our own children. Let’s look at some of the misinformation that may have led us down blind alleys, and maybe we can avoid them with our own kids.

As a teacher and administrator for 18 years in middle and high school, I have seen first-hand the various paths that students choose. No matter how much information is given to students at school, a parent’s assistance is crucial to exploring and deciphering what their future might look like. Schools are now encouraging students to begin thinking about their future in middle school and exposing them to potential careers as early as elementary school. The reason for this is simple: begin the conversations early, and students can make informed decisions when choosing their middle school and high school classes. Exploring potential careers allows students to recognize areas of study they might want to pursue or conversely, decide that particular areas are not for them, saving countless time and money before getting to college.

Myth: Students are too young to be hearing this

This comment is heard at many schools today. However, by middle school, students typically have strong inclinations regarding their specific skills and what they enjoy. Most of us can look back at our own childhood and see a propensity for something. I lined up my stuffed animals and taught them the ways of the world. No one told me I was destined to be a teacher, and I didn’t follow that path until later in life. I wandered through college and career for many years until I discovered my perfect fit in education.

When it comes to employment, the reality is that few people are eager to go to work every day. However, those who find their careers rewarding and personally satisfying probably jump out of bed a little quicker in the morning. There’s a better chance we’ll live a happy and successful life if we’re working in an area that we enjoy and that fits within our skill set. We know that in order to meet our basic needs, we also need a job that will provide an adequate income.

Numerous career and skill inventories are available that allow students to begin exploring jobs and careers as early as elementary school. These resources not only allow students to deepen their understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, but they also provide information on education or training requirements, average salaries and the current demand for that job, which is often overlooked. Paying for an education when there are very few jobs available is frustrating and upsetting, and it happens way too often.

Myth: Load up on AP and college-credit courses

For those planning to attend college, taking AP or college-credit classes that will count toward a degree in the future does save money on future tuition. Many students feel outside pressure and demands that cause them to feel that is what they should be doing.

I often hear that our schools are pressuring students to take advanced courses, which is causing increased stress and anxiety to students. Indeed, there are many students who load themselves up with tough classes; however, it’s typically not encouraged by school staff. In my experience, there were many times when I actually discouraged students from taking too many advanced courses, due to the stress I‘ve seen students endure.

That being said, some students have a tendency to choose the path of least resistance, so encouraging them to take on a challenging course allows them to recognize abilities they didn’t know they had. If the plan is to attend college, advanced classes do help prepare students for the demands of college classes, but honestly, we also want our students to enjoy their high school years. And there are many great careers available that don’t require a four-year degree.

Myth: Follow your passion

We often overlook the importance of having reality checks with young people. Students see athletes, actors, musicians and the like and dream of following in their footsteps. As adults, we recognize that there are very, very few individuals who actually become professional athletes or actors and are able to make it a lifelong career. Let’s encourage passions as lifelong pursuits that fulfill us, but help our young people recognize that some things can rarely be a lifelong career. It’s our responsibility to equip students with the skills and knowledge necessary to prepare them for the future, college or otherwise. (I credit this piece of advice to Corinne Hoisington, a professor at Central Virginia Community College in Lynchburg, Virginia.)

Myth: Educational planning happens at school

I have seen beautiful things happen in classrooms for many years, and I’m proud to count myself as an educator. However, high school teachers are responsible for approximately 150 students each year. As you can imagine, providing one-on-one instruction and mentorship can be exceedingly difficult. The amount of responsibility our teachers are tasked with is mind-boggling. Ultimately, parents are responsible for helping the students in their families make smart, informed choices regarding their education and their future. Teachers and school counselors can help students build on their educational foundation so they’re provided with the knowledge and skillset to ensure a bright, successful future.

Lisa Greinert is the Director of Community Education for Round Rock ISD.

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