Teacher Externships: Connecting Industry Experience to the Classroom

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 1.12.29 PMOne of the state’s goals, listed in our strategic plan Tennessee Succeeds, is that the majority of high school graduates from the class of 2020 will earn a postsecondary certificate, diploma, or degree. However, recent data demonstrate the challenges that students face when they leave high school. If we allow current trends to continue, only 24 percent of high school graduates will earn a postsecondary certificate, diploma, or degree within six years of their high school graduation. In Tennessee, we are working to help prepare students for postsecondary and the workforce, so the state has made high school and the bridge to postsecondary one of our five priority areas. We must allow more students to see what career readiness looks like so they can decide what postsecondary path is best for them.

CaneRidge5_5x7-1024x731One way this is being done is through the Metro Nashville Public School (MNPS) teacher externship model. The purpose of the externship program is to provide teachers with an in-depth, real-world business experience so they can provide students with aligned industry exposure and applied learning. The externship sends teachers to engage with industry partners in the workforce and shows them how the information being taught in a high school curriculum is applied in professional business settings. 

Last summer, MNPS implemented its seventh year of the Teacher Team Startford-1Externship Program– sending 29 teacher teams into local businesses. During the externship, teams of three to five teachers spent three days where they worked with a host company, learned about the industry, and assisted in the business’s daily work. On the final day of the externship, the teams gathered to create interdisciplinary, project-based curricula that were implemented in the following school year. Business hosts attended the final day of the externship in order to hear the curriculum presentations and provided feedback to help further the authenticity of the projects.

As Donna Gilley, Career and Technical Education Coordinate for MNPS, shares a specific example of how the externship program allowed teacher’s to better prepare their students for the realities and needs of the workforce.

“Many of our engineering teachers have done externships where companies discuss the need for Autodesk certifications. Teachers then create project-based learning unit plans around designing buildings and spaces using Autodesk.”

Students then have a better understanding of the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in postsecondary fields and are encouraged to continue their education and enter the career of their choice.

There are several key lessons that MNPS has learned over the past six years. When implementing a program that involves multiple stakeholders, it is important to:

  • be flexible,
  • obtain honest feedback,
  • and make changes to the program as it progresses.

Stratford-2Gilley emphasizes that communication is key and must begin early. “In-person meetings with business partners are essential, especially if you are just starting or if a new company is coming on board.”

Since 2009, 124 externships have taken place, involving 618 teachers and 138 business hosts. Teacher teams have created 130 project-based learning units that have been implemented in MNPS classrooms. For more information about this program, please visit the MNPS website here.