Occupational choice, career advancement, and education initiative become paramount items of concern for an individual who leaves school either by graduating, personal preference or by necessity. These choices are potentially foreboding for the departed student who does not possess the necessary literate or communicative skills to compete in an increasingly crowded job market. This unit will attempt to sharpen the low-to-average eighth grader’s awareness of the World of Work by increasing and improving the literacy skills he will need to enable him to utilize more effectively his potential in the work force.
The eighth-grade student is ready to explore career development for a variety of reasons. Initially, almost every eighth grader has some conception of the value, and sometimes, necessity of work. In those families whose structure has remained intact, the student realizes that one or both parents leave the household at a particular time during the day in order to earn money for the purpose of providing for the family’s well-being. Or, in those families where the structure has not remained consistent, the student is exposed to one parent and his or her struggle both to provide for the family and to maintain the household. Even in families where no parent is working—an increasingly commonplace situation in New Haven and other urban areas—the student gains some appreciation for the World of Work and its advantages since the absence of a money flow into the house has, no doubt, provided some hardship in the household and, in turn, affected the student.
Secondly, eighth graders have a conception of what they would like to do once they complete their schooling. This conception may be in no way commensurate with the student’s mental or academic capacities, but the student, by making a vocational choice, has demonstrated an awareness of what Singer and others have termed a “future-focused or role-image.”
Thirdly, in eighth grade, the student is formalizing the elementary preparation of basic skills obtained thus far in school in readiness for his journey into high school. Here the student may be faced with a decision to enter either the public high school in his district, a private high school, or a vocational-technical school. Frequently, the student, upon choosing an option, will have to make a formal application to the institution. Such applications are often regarded as a mirror of the student; too often an ill-prepared application may inhibit the student’s acceptance into the program of his choice.
Finally, towards the end of the eighth grade year, many students apply for federally funded summer jobs. For many of these fourteen-year-olds these applications become monsters which are either incorrectly completed or never completed; thus, the dream of a much-needed summer job may be lost. It is important that these applicants be sufficiently literate to understand these applications which are keys that can open new doors in their lives.
The “future-focused role-image” mentioned above is a person’s image of himself in the future; this projection gives meaning to his present. FFRI is central to education, since education itself is a preparation for the future. If a student is genuinely interested in pursuing a particular occupational choice, if the student is given the opportunity to research this choice openly, he will commit himself more seriously to the mastery of skills essential to this choice. The skills central to any attempt to explore FFRI are oral and written skills, reading skills, and vocabulary development. These skills are generally taught in an English class, but I hope they will meet with more academic zeal if taught in the context of career development. I hope this unit will help achieve this purpose through the integration of literacy skills with an exploration of career development.
Oral communication skills are of the utmost importance when interviewing for a job. It is important that we give the student a clear understanding of interview techniques in order that he may adequately develop his speaking skills. All interviews, whether for securing information or for attaining a job, must have a clearly defined purpose known to both participants. The language in an interview should be courteous. Above all, the student, as a potential participant in an interview, must realize that successful self-promotion will affect the interviewer favorably.
One of the most important facets of the interview is the ability of both the interviewee and the interviewer to listen to one another. Too often a prospective employee has been denied a job because of his inability to listen to the interviewer. Lines of communication become confused, and the result is that the employer gains a poor impression of the individual. We must stress at all times that being a good listener is just as important as being a coherent speaker in an interview.
Although public speaking on the stage or the rostrum affords the speaker a great freedom to express himself with bodily movement and gestures, it is also important that the participants in an interview be unafraid to initiate gestures while speaking or listening. The handshake both before and after the interview is one example of how interview participants can strike a common bond and open lines of communication with bodily movements. Clarity of questions and specific sequence of ideas which make a good interview can be readily aided by such courtesies as listening and body language.
Every English teacher hopes to build composition skills and there are many methods available to us. How many ex-students are asked to write about their summer experiences or the purpose of a particular character in a novel they have just read? It seems that there are four instances in which most ex-students need to exhibit composition skills: the application, the resume, the business letter, and the personal letter. This unit will deal with all but the last since the first three mentioned play an integral role in career development.
We can readily notice that the application, the resume, and the business letter rely upon form rather than literary content. I do not mean to demean creativity in written expression, for creativity does serve its purpose in the fulfillment of the whole person, and creative people are often sought in the job market. There is little need, however, for creatively written language in the attainment of most jobs. A career may certainly be initiated by creative expression in thought and oral communication, but adherence to form in written language is usually more important.
The student’s preparation of an application necessitates adherence to the form of the application; its content is the purest factual form of writing. The job application, the education application, and even credit card and social security applications serve the same purpose—to collect data about the applicant in an orderly and sequential manner. We should make this orderly and sequential process clear to our students in order that they may feel more comfortable with applications, as a child would feel comfortable with a pegboard he has used continuously.
The resumé is no more than an application without lines to guide the applicant. There are various types of resumes, and there are just as many publishers of guides on how to write them. Distinctions are usually made according to the type of employment sought. Anyone who decides to teach this unit ought to carefully scan one of the guides for writing resumés, and should choose several forms to present to his class.
The business letter remains a restricted form of composition. Business letters are clear, concise, and to the point—in contrast to the friendly letter, which is prone to be a bit more creative and imaginative. A typical business letter has six sequential ingredients. This pattern generally expounded in most language textbooks includes: heading, inside address, salutation, body (which should be clear and purposeful), closing, and signature. Once again we have the application without lines, but with definite constraints and limitations for the sake of clarity.
Reading comprehension skills and vocabulary skills are closely related, and we can help improve both if reading and vocabulary are explored from an occupational point of view. Occupational literature, job descriptions, and classified advertisements provide interesting subject matter for students interested in career development. These three modes of written expression can be read with reasonable comprehension if we construct several guiding questions for the student. Such questions might include:
1. What is the position? (Title)
2. What does the position involve?
3. What are the requirements for the position?
4. What is the availability of the position?
5. What may I expect to earn with the position?
6. What are some special characteristics and/or problems confronting the position?
The student’s self-awareness might also be strengthened from the reading of occupational literature. The student might ask: Can I do the job? Admittedly, this question may be premature for some eighth graders, but if it is asked in a general manner the student might be able to answer.
An examination of jargon is necessary in vocabulary development, and will often benefit a student’s reading skill. Jargon is the vocabulary uniquely used by any structured institution. Applications have their own jargon, and each individual occupation has its jargon. Students should be encouraged to pursue a knowledge of the jargon consistent with and related to their occupational choice. Advertisements also use jargon, and these newspaper-originated terms should not go unnoticed.
There are still thousands of jobs that do not require a college diploma or preparatory courses in order for an individual to perform the work satisfactorily. The instructor is cautioned not to stress a collegiate experience, for such pressure might discourage the student. Should a student be interested in a career which necessitates a college education, the teacher can aid the student with various information about colleges and the different degrees offered. If, however, a student chooses an occupation which does not require schooling beyond high school, there is no reason that he be coerced into researching an occupation which necessitates such preparatory measures. The rationale is quite simple: the average eighth grader will undoubtedly change his or her mind a number of times before he leaves school, and there are too many fathers, mothers, and other relatives of the student who are providing nicely for their families without the benefit of a formal education.
The concept of futurism is important for the student who is immersed in a thematic unit of career development. As science and technology continue making great gains and contributions to society, there will be most likely an influx of new jobs. Many of the jobs today were either unimaginable or only theoretical possibilities ten to fifteen years ago. Each student should realize that the list of occupations is not a constant and stable indicator of the working world, but rather, a very changeable one which will continue to change as the young student progresses toward his occupational goal.
There are also many occupations of which students are unaware. Once the students’ initial occupational interests have been polled in class, each student could ask himself if the career interest has has chosen is one that is readily visible to the public. Host of the occupations they choose are probably ones which the student meets in his everyday existence or sees on television. Doctors, nurses, auto mechanics, pharmacists, police persons, grocers, and lawyers would be examples of these visible occupations. Students should then be initiated into the idea of occupational clusters—those jobs related to their occupational choice which are not as visible. Paramedics, court stenographers, and welders are just some of the many “invisible” occupations which a student might find more to his liking or equal to his potential. Throughout the unit students should be encouraged to explore not only their initial career choices but also several of the related professions. In future years when the student is more capable of assessing his potential, this exploration could be very beneficial.
Throughout the implementation of this unit, it is important that the student’s positive self-image be stressed. The attitudes a student maintains toward work, the preparation necessary to obtain jobs, the appreciation of what work is, and the goals that a student may or may not set for himself in the future all contribute to the formulation of his character. The thematic portion of the unit is designed to have the student concentrate on his own goals and expectation—not the expectations of the instructor. Disappointment or discouragement do notenter into thematic discussions and should not be deterrents in the student’s initial exploration of career development.
The concept of literacy is, indeed, important for everyone, and the value of being literate cannot be overestimated in the schemes of career development or educational advancement. The primary expectation of the instructor and implementor of this unit is that the student be made aware of the importance of literacy in this respect. Speaking well and confidently in an interview, knowing how to complete any type of an application, being able to write a resumé or business letter, and having a positive self-image of oneself are all conventions of literacy which will aid the student in the future. Once the student realizes the value of being literate, he or she will understand that literacy can be a tool implemented in the future in order to attain a goal.