If You Can See It, You Can Be It

By Amy Whaley, CTE teacher at Morristown-Hamblen High School West

During two decades of teaching Career and Technology Education (CTE) courses, I have seen a  trend among high school students: Many of them do not have a clearly-defined career path. According to Morristown’s Chamber of Commerce director Marshall Ramsey, “Over one thousand jobs go unfilled in Hamblen County every day.” I can’t imagine how many positions are unfilled across our state. To me, the answer lies in providing students with more exposure in our classrooms to a wide variety of careers. After all, our students cannot be what they cannot see.

James Tolene teaches advanced Excel skills to Amy’s students.

This fall, I met the plant manager for Colortech, Alex Rom-Roginski. Colortech is located in Morristown and is a major manufacturer of plastic dyes. They are responsible for products such as Mayfield’s yellow milk jugs, Wal-Mart’s gray bags, and Heinz’s yellow mustard bottles. Mr. Rom-Roginski and I talked about the importance of students learning computer science principles since Colortech relies heavily on computer science applications for their work. I asked if he could send an engineer as a guest speaker to my advanced computer applications classes, and on November 27, James Tolene, a manufacturing engineer from Colortech, came to teach Excel to my students. He shared skills such as conditional formatting, pivot tables, and macros and explained how he has used Excel throughout his career and at Colortech. Later, my students toured the Colortech manufacturing plant to see how polymers are dyed at the plant. They learned of career levels at Colortech and even handled the dye pellets themselves.

Amy’s students visit the ColorTech labs.

From these experiences, my students learned about Excel and how manufacturing engineers use it to produce products Americans use every day. They also learned about careers in accounting, human resources, information technology, and chemical engineering and how CTE courses can prepare students for college and career. This collaboration allowed my students to become our students. Thank you James Tolene, Graham Bott, and Alex Rom-Roginski for planting seeds of career interests in 50 young minds.

Tennessee teachers, whether you are on an airplane, sitting in the doctor’s office, or talking with your neighbors, I encourage you to invite professionals into your classroom. Ask college coaches and professors to visit your students and invite your students’ parents share their professions with your students.

I believe that this kind of learning is important for every student in Tennessee. As a member of the department’s Teacher Advisory Council, I am working to address this issue through a social media campaign in February called “If You Can See It, You Can Be It.” I’m encouraging educators across the state to join us by hosting community leaders in their classrooms or taking students on industry or post-secondary field trips. Teachers can post pictures on Twitter of their students engaging with college and career opportunities with the hashtag #seeitbeit. My hope is that we can inspire each other with ideas for connecting more students with future careers. You can find me on Twitter at @IfYouCanSeeItY1.

Let’s get lots of options in front of our kids. After all, if you can see it, you can be it. 

Amy Whaley teaches CTE courses at Morristown-Hamblen High School West in Morristown. She is the 2019 First TN CORE Teacher of the Year and serves as a member of the 2018-19 Commissioner’s Teacher Advisory Council.