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Louisiana Pushing Industry Externships for Teachers This Summer

With schools out for the summer across Louisiana, some teachers in the Bayou State are trading their classrooms for factory floors and office cubicles.

With assignments ranging from one or two-day stints to as much as two-week placements, both general education and career-and-technical-education instructors will be spending part of the summer in their communities' offices and factories, under a state initiative.

The idea is that the teachers will get to see what industry actually looks like from the inside in their region, and they will return in the fall with curricular ideas that tap their increased understanding of what it really means to be career ready.

These paid externships are a component of Louisiana's Jump Start program, which created a pathway for students to earn career diplomas. (Students pursuing those diplomas are required to attain industry credentials but are allowed to graduate with fewer foreign language, social studies and science credits.) The externships are part of a plan to have more high school teachers get the same industry credentials the state expects career-diploma students to earn, which is important because the state requires that educators hold the industry credential they are preparing their students to attain.

The teacher-externship program currently only exist in select districts around the state. And while some of those districts have had programs in place for years, externships are new to others. The Louisiana Department of Education is currently working on expanding the number of externships available in the parts of the state that already have programs: Northwest Louisiana, Central Louisiana, South Louisiana, and around Baton Rouge. 

The state hopes that participating teachers will return to schools in the fall able to tell students what their region's jobs are actually like, with the ability to answer questions like: What skills are needed? Are there opportunities for advancement? What's the hiring process?

'A Different Perspective'

Last year, a coalition of ten districts in the northwest corner of the state sent 50 teachers into industry, 36 CTE and 14 core academic teachers. That was up from 40 participants the previous year. This year, the Northwest Louisiana Regional Jump Start Team hopes to again increase the number of overall participants, but are particularly interested in growing the number of general education teachers, counselors, and administrators. Whenever possible, the coalition is suggesting to districts that they send pairs of academic and CTE teachers, so the educators can work together to envision what career-readiness will look like across the curriculum.

Rosetta Boone, who is the CTE supervisor in Caddo Parish schools, fondly remembers her externships under a now-defunct state program called Teachers in the Working World.

"I spent two summers working in industry," said Boone. "I worked for Libbey Glass and GE, back when they made transformers. Those experiences allowed me to see a different perspective, to see what the workplace was really like, and bring that information back into my classroom."

Boone, a former CTE teacher herself, says that while externship programs for teachers aren't a new idea, in the age of college-and-career readiness, administrators are taking the idea more seriously. 

"In the past, everyone was just focused on that college path," said Boone. "Now academic teachers are embracing CTE. That's why we're trying to pair a CTE teacher with a teacher in a traditional core curriculum area. We want them to go out together and come back and work out how math, English, science and CTE will come together to get our kids ready for the workforce."

A group of districts in Central Louisiana is also looking to rejigger how teacher externships are happening in their part of the state. Last year, with help from the Orchard Foundation, a local education fund, 31 teachers spent three days touring ten businesses. That program will be offered again this year, but some teachers will be on weeklong placements.

"Our teachers wanted to stay longer," said Jennifer Cowley, program manager at The Orchard Foundation. "So this year, we are making sure to give them more time to do actual job shadowing."

"They are going to be able to go back to their students and talk about the real world, talk about how what they are learning is going to apply after high school," added Cowley. "When I think back to college, I was always more receptive to what my professors had to say when they brought in their real world experiences."

The externships are being funded through philanthropic and state grants to districts, as well as through federal funds flowing from the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, which is currently up for reauthorization.

Academic Concerns

Louisiana isn't the only state where teachers will be spending part of their summer working in industry. As of 2014, eight states were requiring districts to provide teachers with work-based learning opportunities if they wanted to access Perkins funding. Teachers in Tennessee can partake in weeklong summer externships in industries such as aerospace, energy, and healthcare. The state is encouraging districts to send two teachers, one from CTE and one from a core academic subject. And the University of Arizona's College of Education offers a program called Teachers in Industry for STEM teachers. The participants take classes at the university and spend their summers working for Arizona STEM firms.

As states like Louisiana have strayed from college-for-all models, some educators have expressed concern that these new program could result in decreased academic rigor. What remains to be seen is how many Louisiana teachers and administrators will embrace the externships.

Lisa French, executive director of career and technical education at the Louisiana Department of Education, has some advice for administrators who may be encountering general education teachers who are skeptical of the program's value. 

"I think you start with the fundamental reason why a math teacher went into the profession in the first place, that is to help students learn and succeed," said French. "You have to get that teacher to see that this will help make their lessons more relevant, and with that increased relevance they'll see students more engaged and ultimately more successful."


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