Preparing for Careers
Everyone needs a career—something that gives purpose and direction to life, something that is significant to the individual and useful to society at the same time. Without a career, whether it is to make a house into a home or be a doctor, a lawyer, or a construction worker, humans lack purpose or direction in life and are aimless, capricious, and in danger of becoming parasites (Dewey, 1944). Recognizing the critical need for each child to become a productive member of society, school systems, state departments of education, and the U.S. Office of Education have mandated that schools begin education for careers in the preschool and primary grades.
The idea of beginning career education in the preschool-primary classroom, of asking young children who are barely able to comprehend concepts of yesterday, today, or tomorrow to plan for a vague and distant future, might seem inappropriate. Intent on living each day fully and on developing skills, knowledge, and attitudes required for life in the present, young children have little real concern for future. Yet the preschool-primary class is the ideal place to begin education for a career; during these early years, children’s attitudes, values, and essential skills are formed. These attitudes, values, and skills will remain with the children and serve to direct their entire lives. Career education seems much more a function of attitude, value, and skill development than an artificial addition to the curriculum.
Attitudes and Values
Toward Self. Children must grow with a strong sense of self that will give them the confidence to shape their own destinies. Whether fostering career education or fulfilling the general goal of all education, you will want to plan for children to achieve all the self-confidence they need to go on growing and developing into socially responsible and constructive members of society.
Self-confidence is acquired as children are given jobs to fulfill in the classroom. Real responsibilities for preparing materials, cleaning up, and caring for pets, plants, and equipment help children feel successful, competent, and sure of their abilities to contribute to the welfare of the group and, later, to become productive members of society.
Toward Work. Attitudes toward future work are developed through programs designed to increase children’s awareness of career opportunities. Children need to be aware of the choices they have and the things they can do.
Children can interview the workers in the school building, neighborhood, or community to determine their attitudes toward work. Children can ask the following:
- What do you like about your job? Why?
- What do you dislike about it? Why?
- How did you decide to do it?
- What preparation did you need?
- Do you feel proud of your work? Why?
- Have you ever thought about changing jobs?
Help children think about the questions they will ask, perhaps listing them on a chart for reference. Children can compare the interview responses, exploring the different job choices available as well as discovering how people feel about their jobs.
Children can begin to speculate about the future. You might ask, “What kinds of jobs do you think you might have when you grow up?” Remind them that they might be able to do several things, such as being a student, a parent, an engineer, or an interior designer. By asking children to think about the future, you increase their awareness of career choices and opportunities.
Toward Sex Roles. The question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” continues to be answered on the basis of sex. Despite the ever-increasing numbers of women who have entered the work force, the occupational awareness, exploration, and decisions of boys and girls tend to remain stereotypical (Derman-Sparks & the ABC Task Force, 2003). Sex differences in attitudes toward careers and career aspirations begin during early childhood and persist into adolescence (Chrisman & Couchenour, 2003). Boys know what their fathers do more often than girls do and are able to identify twice as many career options as girls can.
The American Association of University Women (2000) suggests creating awareness of the role of women in the work force by taking trips into the community. The focal point of the trips is to observe people working. Younger children may take trips a few blocks from the school building. You will want to emphasize the nonstereotypic jobs and workers the children observe on the trip. Older children can extend trips over a larger area. They can explore their city, suburb, or rural area by bus, car, or train. Children of all ages can photograph their observations. You will need to guide the children skillfully: seek out the unusual; challenge the stereotypes that are present; and point out the options that exist in career choices for all people, both men and women.
Discussions follow each trip, or children can make a mural or booklet of jobs they have seen, jobs their parents hold, or jobs in one store. The emphasis should always be on people in the variety of roles in which they actually function rather than on the stereotypes found in books, the press, and other media.
Other experiences may be vicarious. Selecting books, photos, posters, and pictures showing women in a wide range of career options, both traditional and nontraditional, may be useful. Challenging children’s stereotypical thinking is also recommended. When children announce, “You can’t play here; only men can build houses,” or “You’re the girl; you have to make the dinner,” teachers can challenge them: “Remember when we went to the construction site? There were three women builders,” or “Men can make dinner as well as girls can. At the fast-food restaurant, we saw only men making waffles.”
© ______ 2005, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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