On Feb. 9, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson proclaimed February as Career and Technical Education (CTE) month. 

A person welding metal bars

For many students, CTE is the bridge that connects their education to their post-secondary future. Students completing programs in CTE clusters find themselves in a very advantageous position due to the shortage of workers possessing the skills taught in CTE. There are currently more jobs available in these areas than there are workers to fill them, resulting in a favorable job market with competitive salaries for CTE students.

Although we might instinctively know these benefits, it can be difficult for those of us who don’t work day-to-day with CTE to realize the full impact of CTE courses on our students and communities.

Why is the importance of CTE sometimes overlooked? Maybe because at first glance the instruction looks different. Students may not be seated in a classroom. The teacher may not be dressed like teachers in traditional classrooms. The activities in the classroom may even appear to be a bit chaotic with students all doing different things. It’s difficult to classify exactly what instruction will look like in a CTE classroom because it can vary widely from program to program and even from day to day in the same classroom. However, with all the differences that seem to be present, CTE classrooms have more in common with traditional classrooms than one might think.

Connecting the NEE Indicators to CTE Settings

Think about the indicators of effective teaching that school leaders often focus on during classroom observations. You’ll often see indicators addressing such areas as motivational engagement (NEE Indicator 5.1), cognitive engagement (NEE Indicator 1.2), problem-solving and critical thinking (NEE Indicator 4.1), teacher-student relationships (NEE Indicator 5.3b), and formative assessment (NEE Indicator 7.4). These indicators are often chosen because of the impact they have on students’ learning. Even though the instruction in a CTE classroom might look different, often we’ll see the same focus on engagement, problem-solving, formative assessment, and teacher-student relationships.

In fact, because hands-on instruction is often a key component of CTE instruction, students are often highly engaged while problem-solving through real-world activities, and their teachers continually monitor their progress and take corrective action when necessary to help guide the students through the problem-solving process. In a recent discussion with Chad King, the director of the Sikeston, Mo., Career and Technology Center, he identified problem-solving as possibly the most important skill CTE schools can give their students. Instead of throwing their hands up in defeat when faced with a problem, CTE students are encouraged to persevere through to a solution both in class and in their everyday lives.

While the goal of perseverance through problem-solving is shared with all academic courses, one benefit of CTE courses is that they sometimes reach students who have previously not had the opportunity to achieve success in traditional classroom settings. These students often flourish in CTE courses and have a “lightbulb moment” as they find the skills taught in traditional academic classes are better understood when applied in a CTE environment. This success often isn’t limited to the CTE classes in which the students are enrolled but also extends to their other classes as they begin to gain a better understanding of core academic skills. 

NEE Support Available for CTE Administrators and Teachers

Considering the importance of career and technical education, CTE administrators work diligently to support and grow the teachers in their CTE programs. The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) offers several tools to support this work. The most obvious support that NEE offers is through classroom observations using the NEE indicators important to CTE. Indicators that address motivational engagement (5.1), cognitive engagement (1.2), problem-solving and critical thinking (4.1), teacher-student relationships (5.3b), and formative assessment (7.4) are some of the indicators that might also be evaluated for CTE teachers. Observations and feedback give valuable insight to CTE teachers to help with professional growth and direct activities in the teachers’ professional development plans. In addition, reviewing student survey information can help teachers understand the student perspective of how certain indicators impact their academic performance. These tools help the teacher work collaboratively with administrators to identify activities for instructional growth and administrative support needed for this growth.

Further, NEE’s focus on effective feedback conversations supports CTE teachers based on their individual needs. Because CTE teachers come from varied educational backgrounds, feedback is crucial to help teachers be successful and grow.

EdHub also has modules that address many important skills for CTE and can be an important resource to help teachers and administrators grow in their knowledge of important instructional skills. The Building Instructional Skills module can help teachers based on the scores they typically receive in classroom observations, and the Indicator Video Exemplars can be viewed to identify examples of exemplary activities for each indicator.

It’s important to recognize Career and Technical Education as an important method for schools to meet the needs of their students and to guide them in their post-secondary plans. Countless students have benefited from hands-on instruction that helps them acquire skills relevant to the career path they eventually follow. NEE is proud to recognize the accomplishments of CTE programs and is committed to continuing to look for more opportunities to support this important work.

Chuck Mayes is a NEE trainer and field support representative. He retired in 2020 after 30 years in K-12 public education where he served as a teacher, elementary principal, middle school principal, and for eight years as the Sikeston Chief Academic Officer/Assistant Superintendent working with curriculum, assessment, gifted education, and virtual learning.

The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.