Changing Careers, Chasing a Dream

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in the technical aspects of things. I loved understanding how things worked and I seemed to gravitate toward engines. Although this was a primary interest of mine, everyone always told me that I couldn’t be successful in that field; I was led to believe I needed to go to a four-year university in order to become successful in life.

Challenges & Misconceptions

In high school I joined the National Guard and, as a result, I purchased my first car. The car was a 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle that had rotted away, having been forgotten in a barn for 15 years. My father thought it was a great opportunity to learn the value of work. He and I rebuilt the car over the following two years. I remember spending every waking minute and every spare cent I had on the car. It was my pride and joy in life at that time. I finally finished the car during my senior year of high school. Three months later, I learned one of the hardest lessons of my life when I was involved in an automobile accident.

I thought I was invincible but I wasn’t; my 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle crashed on the expressway and I was thrown from the car at 85 miles per hour. Miraculously I survived but spent the next month in a coma, the following five months in a hospital, and I had to relearn to walk and speak.

My injuries were only able to hold me back for a few years. The accident inspired me to become an advocate, to speak out, to raise awareness of the dangers of driving distracted. I enrolled in the University of Iowa, first to major in pre-law, then history… Five years and several major changes later, I finished a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy.

After graduation, like many new graduates, I wanted to move to the big city where the opportunities were said to be endless. Chicago was just far enough to not be close. My first job was for the Illinois Department of Corrections, working with violent offenders. I became quickly burned out.

Many of the people I spoke with agreed that I should follow a natural progression to graduate school. I worked hard to obtain my graduate degree, finishing near the top of my class with a master’s in public administration from Northern Illinois University. From this experience, I took an opportunity to travel to war-torn Iraq to help rebuild the government there. I spent additional time living in Jordan as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Upon my return to America, I worked several white-collar jobs. None of these brought me any fulfillment in life. I often laid in bed and stared at the ceiling, telling myself, “I need to make a change.”

A Choice to Follow a Dream

My father was instrumental in teaching me the importance to technical skills, of the value in understanding how things worked, and how it can bring happiness to a person when they know they can fix something. His lessons really sunk in as we worked, over two years, to restore the 1973 VW Beetle; I value that quality time I shared with my father. Now, at 40, I am a strong advocate for the community college system and the technical skill development opportunities they afford students.

After my realization and some research, the diverse course offerings and small class sizes at The College of DuPage led me to enroll in their automotive technology certificate program. After attending my first class, I knew I had made the right choice. I was confident in my decision to make a change, to pursue a career as an automotive technician.

I am now enrolled and taking courses to receive a bachelor’s degree in automotive technology from Southern Illinois University. Until graduation, I work at the College of DuPage as an automotive tutor where I can give back and help make a difference in the lives of the students there.

After graduating from Southern Illinois University, my plan is to obtain employment at a private auto shop and, down the road, I hope to use my previous education in business to open and manage my own shop. I owe a lot of my future success to the career and technical education programs at The College of DuPage and SIU; the automotive instructors have given me the confidence and skills to make a choice to follow my dream.

Ben Pohl is a “moti-spirational” speaker and an automotive technician. Email him.

EXCERPT: Instructional Coaching & Its Role in Career Development for CTE Teachers

What is an instructional coach?

Quality teacher professional development is essential to the outcome of student achievement. In their careers, teachers must be challenged with new ideas in order to foster a classroom culture of student engagement. The instructional coach is an embedded professional development practitioner who helps teachers attain these lofty educational outcomes (Blackman, 2010).

Instructional coaches share the responsibility of teacher leadership with administrators in the district. Typically, however, coaches are not teacher supervisors and serve a non-evaluative function (Hanover Research, 2015). Coaches employ their pedagogical expertise and the relationships built with teachers to influence change.

CTE and Instructional Coaching

Career and technical education teachers face unique challenges in the secondary educational setting, where many arrive from industry following a change in careeer. Though they may be experts in their subject matter, they often have minimal training in pedagogy (Foster, Hornberger, & Watkins, 2017). New CTE teachers benefit from mentorship and coaching.

New CTE teachers must learn how to instruct in both classroom and lab environments. Training in classroom safety protocols is a priority. They must learn how to implement classroom management and best practices for engaging students. New CTE teachers also will benefit from understanding, more generally, the field of education. They need to be informed about work expectations, academic achievement, special populations and school policy.

In a large school district, as CTE administrators are busy with the day-to-day business of running the department, important communications with teachers can be lost. Instructional coaches provide mentorship to teachers and they also listen to the teachers’ aspirations and concerns. As a result, through listening, the CTE instructional coach can counsel the teacher on their goals.

Monica Amyett is a CTE instructional coach with Fort Worth Independent School District. Email her.

ACTE members can read the full article, “Instructional Coaching & Its Role in Career Development for CTE Teachers,” in the May issue of Techniques. Not a member? Join! ACTE is the largest national education association dedicated to the advancement of education that prepares youth and adults for successful careers.

Blackman, A. (2010). Coaching as a leadership development tool for teachers. Professional Development in Education (36)3, 421–441.
Foster, J., Hornberger, C., & Watkins, D. (2017). CTE administrative leadership: 10 things to know in your first year. Alexandria, VA: Association for Career and Technical Education.
Hanover Research. (2015). Best practices in instructional coaching. Arlington, VA: Hanover Research.

CTE IN THE NEWS: Cooks and Camo in Bartlett, Illinois

Students enrolled in upper-level culinary classes at Bartlett High School participated in Cooks and Camo, a competition-style event sponsored by the Illinois Army National Guard. Competitors were challenged to create an entree and dessert items inspired by military field rations, known as meals ready to eat (MRE).

“The students did a great job turning MREs in to unique (and tastier) meal creations,” said Kari Laga, a family and consumer sciences teacher at Bartlett High School, in Bartlett, Illinois.

Do you have news?

CTE IN THE NEWS is a new regular column on PAGES, a Techniques blog. Here is where we highlight the buzz about career and technical education. If you have something (program news, event news, award news or a note of appreciation) to share, we want to hear about it. Fill out the form and you might be featured next.

Teaching Strategies: Certification Test Prep

For career and technical education (CTE) teachers, spring brings with it a focus on certification test preparation. This can be a daunting task. Consider how a teacher might approach supporting student review sessions. You might hear a teacher announce, “You have 45 minutes to study today. Use this time now to review your notes quietly.”

Is it effective? On the surface, it seems to be a good use of time. Students need to perform well. Time is needed for review. However… Students’ attention spans begin to slip around the 15 minute mark (Medina, 2014). Rather than becoming frustrated when students struggle with quiet review, get creative.

Here is an approach you can take: Structure meaningful test prep lessons in which students talk through questions and concepts and, as a result, engage in deeper thinking. Use the following strategies together to help students identify their knowledge gaps.

Socratic Circle

In a traditional Socratic circle, students are seated in a circle without the teacher. They are challenged with open-ended questions or hypothetical scenarios, and instructed to discuss. This exercise helps students to talk through scenarios and situations — to explore possibilities and think deeply — without constant acknowledgement from a teacher.

Early childhood education students were given the following instructions, “We have studied eight leading theorists this year. Discuss each person’s contribution to understanding and rank them by importance to preschool development.”

Students then learn to collaborate and struggle through awkward moments. According to Tony Wagner (2015), agility and adaptability are as important as collaboration and critical thinking for success in 21st century workplace. Engaging in conversation that is challenging, open for exploration but also outcome-based, will push students to construct deeper meaning for themselves.

Forced Agreement

When you want students to arrive at one correct answer, use the forced agreement strategy alongside your Socratic circle. Design this session to follow a think-pair-share lesson. Students are accountable to think on their own, and then they must “pair” together, with forced agreement, to “share” a single correct answer. With the full class group, expand on and discuss those areas where students disagreed.

Because our session was deliberately designed as test prep, students were given three difficult questions to answer. Students were instructed to answer individually and then deliberate together. When the table agreed to one response, and had a strong defense for that response, they signaled the instructor with a thumb in the air.

While each table of students collaborated, the instructor facilitated. More importantly, the instructor listened and checked for understanding, identifying which students grappled with difficult concepts.

The Strategy in Action

How long will it take?

20–30 minutes, depending on the number of students present

What’s the gist?

When your goal is to prime students for deeper retention of key concepts and theories, arrange students in a circle. Students engage in discussion about the question or scenario given. Students use constructive criticism to make judgments and come to sensible conclusions together. The teacher serves as only a facilitator. The goal is for the teacher to never intervene in the dialogue.

Add the forced agreement piece when you are moving toward a specific desired answer. This is a great tool to engage students in modeling and reflection.

Structuring Success for Your Students

Educators must be cognizant of how many students struggle with study and test prep skills. Given that certification testing covers a vast array of standards, terms, concepts and processes, structuring powerful study sessions is crucial.

By doing so, teachers avoid the habituation of routine studying and help students deepen their own understanding by engaging in continual productive talk themselves. Further, by focusing on strategies that are metacognitive in nature, students can identify the areas in which they are still weak.

Sandra Adams is a teacher and instructional coach with the Career Academy, Fort Wayne Community Schools. She co-wrote the ACTE-supported book But I’m NOT a Reading Teacher!: Literacy Strategies for Career and Technical Educators with Gwendolyn Leininger. Contact her to learn how you can implement theses certification test prep and other innovative teaching strategies in your CTE classroom.

Medina, J. (2014). Brain rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home and school (2nd ed.). Seattle, WA: Pear Press
Wagner, T. (2008). The global achievement gap: Why even our best schools don’t teach the new survival skills our children need — and what we can do about it. New York, NY: Basic Books.

CTE IN THE NEWS: Kokomo Area Career Center & Bona Vista Host Sock Hop & Roll

Attendees danced and had fun at the Sock Hop and Roll.On Dec. 14, 2018, Bona Vista and Kokomo Area Career Center, in Kokomo, Indiana, hosted the Sock Hop & Roll. The event was designed by Keegan Paul, a career center student and Bona Vista intern, to offer “adults with disabilities a fun night of dancing, snacking and socializing.” The event was a success! Success that is due, at least in part, to collaboration among career and technical educators — and with business and community partners.

Shelley Rust gets a big hug.“My Kokomo Area Career Center students learn to work together with people from all walks of life. These experiences will serve our culinary arts students well in any situation,” said Shelley Rust, culinary arts instructor and past president of Indiana ACTE. “Watching my students interact with the Bona Vista students fills my heart with joy.”

Culinary arts students prepare food for the event.The event offered a unique opportunity for career and technical education students to gain real-world experience and have some fun, too. Culinary arts students developed recipes and conducted tastings with Bona Vista Bistro clients to create the menu. Students in the Kokomo Area Career Center’s cosmetology program styled hair and makeup for the guests, while media marketing students played paparazzi. Those enrolled in the certified nursing assistant program volunteered to provide aid to attendees as needed.

For Keegan Paul, the Sock Hop & Roll was especially memorable. He told the Kokomo Perspective what it meant to him: “He said he’s never forgotten how much fun he had at [a sock hop], and by planning one, he hoped to create lasting memories for others.”

This story originally appeared in the Kokomo Perspective in December 2018.

Do you have news?

CTE IN THE NEWS is a new regular column on PAGES, a Techniques blog. Here is where we highlight the buzz about career and technical education. If you have something exceptional (or exceptionally cool) to share about your program, school, school district or organization, send it to You might be featured next!

CTSOs Engage Students: FCCLA, Featuring Stephanie Zhang

Stephanie Zhang found an outlet for her drive and creativity with FCCLA. She joined a welcoming community and learned to focus her passion for design and leadership skills to pursue a future in fashion arts. As an officer she guided her peers to help them find their own passion for success. Through family and consumer sciences, and FCCLA, Zhang gained real-world skills and experience while still in high school.

Recently, Zhang earned an exclusive internship through Fashion Institute of Technology with the Swedish Fashion Council, including two Swedish fashion brands and a fashion technology company, Neue Technology. Her goal was to research and construct prototypes, to investigate the practicality of wearable tech for everyday use. READ MORE

Family, Career and Community Leaders of America

FCCLA, Featuring Stephanie Zhang. Read Techniques February 2019 issue, page 32, to learn more.

To learn more about how CTSOs engage students in CTE, ACTE members can read the February 2019 issue of Techniques online today.

CTSOs Engage Students: Educators Rising to the Challenge

The issue of teacher shortage and retention is an urgent concern today. Research shows that high classroom turnover has a negative impact on student achievement. Educators Rising works to address this problem by offering resources that integrate with CTE at the high school level.

Washington High School, in Phoenix, Arizona, is seeing sustained success through Educators Rising. Daniel Darrow, the teacher leading the program, says his students have blossomed. They graduate as “well-spoken young adults prepared to face the challenges of the teaching profession.” WHS has offered the WHS Education Professionals for 16 years with support from Educators Rising, formerly Future Educators of America, over the past eight. Workshops, competitions and other professional development events provide real-world experience for students exploring careers in education. READ MORE

Educators Rising

Educators Rising to the Challenge: Read Techniques February 2019 issue, page 30, to learn more.

To learn more about how CTSOs engage students in CTE, ACTE members can read the February 2019 issue of Techniques online today.

CTSOs Engage Students: DECA Brings the Classroom to Life

DECA prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges.

The DECA chapter at Irondale Senior High School earned international champion honors at the 2018 International Career Development Conference. Their project, Knight Grounds: Coffee for Success, launched a coffee shop at the school’s newly redesigned media center. The coffee shop enhanced students’ experience in the media center. It also gave DECA members
hands-on experience managing and marketing a real entrepreneurial enterprise.READ MORE


DECA Brings the Classroom to Life. Read Techniques February 2019 issue, page 29, to learn more.

To learn more about how CTSOs engage students in CTE, ACTE members can read the February 2019 issue of Techniques online today. And be sure to come back to PAGES each Monday, Wednesday and Friday through February, when we’ll feature a new CTSO.

CTSOs Engage Students: FBLA-PBL Students Compete Among the Best

Every summer the best and brightest FBLA-PBL members convene at the National Leadership Conference to compete in business-related competitions and chart their future career paths.

In June 2017, Kearah Kraus, Alyssa Kreg and Christina Masnyy, a team of FBLA students representing Fife High School in Tacoma, Washington, took first place in the Introduction to Business Presentation competition. This competitive event recognizes members that demonstrate the ability to deliver an effective business presentation with the aid of technology. READ MORE

Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda

To learn more about how CTSOs engage students in CTE, ACTE members can read the February 2019 issue of Techniques online today. And be sure to come back to PAGES each Monday, Wednesday and Friday through February, when we’ll feature a new CTSO.

CTSOs Engage Students: SkillsUSA Students Practice Personal, Workplace and Technical Skills

Career-ready starts here.

SkillsUSA’s bold mission is to empower its members to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible American citizens, while improving the quality of our nation’s workforce. Members put the mission into action as they carry out chapter activities and practice personal, workplace and technical skills grounded in academics.

SkillsUSA’s Chapter Excellence Program fosters the development of these skills by benchmarking chapter programming and providing recognition. This year’s top three winners came from Georgia, North Carolina and Arizona. READ MORE


To learn more about how CTSOs engage students in CTE, ACTE members can read the February 2019 issue of Techniques online today. And be sure to come back to PAGES each Monday, Wednesday and Friday through February, when we’ll feature a new CTSO.