Teacher Externships Work!

by Deborah Bilzing and Monica Butler

In Wisconsin, most citizens would agree that we have one of the best K-12 and higher educational systems in the nation. Unfortunately, having excellent educational systems does not guarantee an educated workforce. And while we excel in our educational systems some facts point to the need to better prepare students for the transition from school to work. Consider these facts:

  • Less than 50% of high school graduates who attend a four-year university will finish. Almost half of these students drop out during the freshman year
  • Young people entering the workforce today will make major job changes an average of seven times during their lives
  • Only 60% of recent 4 year graduates will find jobs requiring a 4 year degree.

These statistics illustrate the need for improving the skills students will need as they move into the workforce of the 21st century. Because of the rapidly changing future work force of the twenty-first century, no longer can we expect the school guidance counselor to teach everything there is to know about careers. School staff must learn how to emphasize the importance of basic academic skills as preparation for employment as well as emphasizing the need for all students to have a set of general employability/adaptability/promotability skills. Because of this need, career development/lifework planning has to become a critical part of our K-12 educational system.

If students are to be educated for careers of the twenty-first century, every teacher needs to be able to glimpse into the work-world future. The Teacher Externship Program provides teachers with work site learning experiences that can then be applied in the K-14 classroom. Working at local businesses offers experience with new technology and first-hand knowledge of what business needs and expects of its workforce.

Because school-to-career coordinators, business partners and technical college staff created this program, we have an unusual integration to provide K-14 educators with not only the applied job experience but also the introspective approach to career development. This is a program where teachers are hired by an area employer on a short-term basis to complete meaningful work for the company. The experience is closely related to the teacher's subject area and can range from entry level to advanced level positions. Teachers agree to work from one to ten weeks in a paid position, attend three evening workshops in the summer and earn from three to six graduate credits. The externship requires the teacher to complete a project as it applies to their classroom, work as a temporary employee, and gain exposure to important phases or departments of a business. This unique combination of experiences enmeshes the teacher to a depth of knowledge and understanding of career development that is then applied to students in the classroom. What better educational situation than for the classroom teacher to recognize talents in students and be able to discuss and encourage the student as the talent applies to a future career!

The strongest benefit is really to the children attending our educational system. Once educators have had this substantive out-of-school work experience, they always report back, "I can never go back and teach the same way I did before." One of the secondary benefits to students besides the change in instructional delivery is that most educators express the deep desire to engage students more in a career development experience. In Wisconsin, we have just the mechanism to do this, called the "Wisconsin Developmental Guidance Model." This model was closely aligned with the NCOIC standards.

This model, referred to as WDGM, is designed to increase the options that students perceive for themselves, rather than have their options limited by insufficient knowledge of social, economic and personal factors. This model shifts the focus from a model of school counseling delivered by school counselors to a model of developmental guidance that draws upon all the resources in school and community. WDGM provides for a planned series of events and activities that are infused into students' learning throughout their education helping students to achieve specific competencies. At the center of the Wisconsin model are nine competencies. In a developmental program, these nine competencies identify areas in which individuals work to increase their proficiency. The nine WDGM competencies we believe students ought to know and be able to do are:

      1.Connect Family, School and Work


      2.Solve Problems


      3.Understand Diversity, Inclusiveness and Fairness


      4.Work in Groups


      5.Manage Conflict


      6.Integrate Growth and Development


      7.Direct Change


      8.Make Decisions


      9.Set and Achieve Goals.

These competencies are distributed into three domains: academic, personal/social, and career. These domains represent the areas the student "lives in." These domains are not mutually exclusive, as the combination of the three is integral to students' career development.

In many school districts, the process of integrating these competencies into the educational system is complex, however in schools where teachers have had an externship experience this process is "just a part of how we do business." Teachers who have had the externship experience take a very active role in understanding and being a partner to the school counselor in making sure students achieve these competencies. Some examples include a high school social studies teacher who worked for an international business as a social director for business representatives from the Czech republic, a Family and Consumer teacher who worked at a local hotel's restaurant learning quantity food preparation, presentation, and costing techniques applied to her new Hospitality course, and a guidance counselor who worked at a local technical college to determine skills that best attribute to college success as students transition from high school to college. These teachers have already created the change necessary to make learning authentic, meaningful and engaging. These are schools where students clearly see the connection between the considerable subject matter they are being taught and how it is used outside the classroom in relation to their career development.

In honor of NCDA's 100th anniversary, Career Convergence is publishing articles of historical significance. This article and bio are reprinted from our debut issue in 2003.

Deborah Bilzing, M.S./NCC, is a State Consultant for School Counseling with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and has been a teacher for 29 years and a licensed school counselor at each level (elementary, middle and high school) for 22 of those years. At the present time Deborah is also the liaison to the National Consortium of State Guidance Directors and an adjunct instructor of counselor education.

Monica E. Butler, M.S., is the Teacher Externship lead instructor and creator and School to Career Coordinator for the Waunakee (WI) Community School District. She has taught the Teacher Externship program to southern WI teachers for four years. Monica has taught for 28 years and has an M.S. in School Guidance and Counseling and a B.S. in Home Economics, and work experience at various businesses in the Madison (WI) area.

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