By: Susan Perez, English Language Arts Teacher, Goodnight Middle School
Last school year, SMCISD, in conjunction with the San Marcos Area of Chamber of Commerce and the Texas Workforce Solutions, offered the opportunity for secondary teachers to be externs for participating businesses, known as the Summer Educator Externship Program. This program, in particular, is a chance for teachers to immerse in a job for three days in order to bring back “real-world” experiences to their students. A planning day with the other externs is set later in the summer to tailor lessons based on the educator’s experience. In its second year, 17 teachers have joined to continue the growth of business-to-education partnerships.
Mike Doyle, CTE Director at the high school, leads this program and made my high school aspirations come true when he paired me with the San Marcos Daily Record. Hour one on the job had me wading in the river in a dress, attempting to get some information from scientists on the current status of the Texas wild rice. I was way out of my comfort zone, trying to tell a story without exactly knowing which questions to ask. I had never considered myself a shy person, but I was nervous and lost. Luckily, the photographer, Denise Cathey, had literally jumped in with me to get the interview going. I got the information I needed and wrote my first piece that day. The legendary Anita Miller, Editor in Chief, approved.
Upon reflecting, I was reminded of the importance of feeling uncomfortable in order to push yourself and grab that feeling of accomplishment. I had been a middle school teacher for 15 years at that point, so I have a strong understanding of my role as an educator. As a journalist, though, all of my background knowledge came from a high school class. I appreciated the vote of confidence from Ms. Miller, despite all of my personal doubts. It solidified for me that my own students need to feel that discomfort sometimes where they’re just “thrown in” to explore, so they can also feel that elevated sense of pride upon achievement.
The following school year, I shared my experiences with my students–my feelings on the first day and obviously, the connections to journalism with the writing skills I was teaching them. I even reached out to the sports writer of the Daily Record, Ishmael Johnson, and asked him to create a video on how to write a sports piece. He made an amazing instructional video for my students who used his instruction to gain confidence about writing about football and volleyball games. Our athletic director posted these student sports writers’ pieces to Rattler Nation online, and these young writers felt proud to be published.
Fast-forward a year, and I’m partnered with Samantha Brown, Vice President of Communications and Events for the Chamber of Commerce. Samantha’s job takes a special combination of big-picture thinking, persuasive abilities, listening skills, and professionalism. I look forward to reiterating to my students that their intense texting skills will not necessarily translate to the work force. Instead, a well-crafted email with the proper tone and word choice can be the first or last hurdle in getting what you want from your boss, client, whomever. But the in-person conversations matter most. Many students have to be taught to look at you while you’re speaking, to listen with intention, and to be civil to learning partners. Now I have concrete examples of the importance of these soft skills from this second externship that are not my usual stories of what it’s like working in education.
In sum, these back-to-back externships have been valuable to me as both a teacher and a born-in-San-Marcos local. I can now say with certainty that businesses should be more involved in our education. The adolescent brain is immature–it has a hard time recognizing future outcomes. I know many of my students have difficulty visualizing themselves in any particular job, especially when their families do not own a business. In fact, many of my students are unaware of the businesses in downtown San Marcos because they don’t go there; they don’t have the access. If we, as teachers, are doing everything we can to provide the knowledge and skills to create productive citizens, we need real examples of where these skills could be used. For those students who have more mobility patronizing the businesses of San Marcos and having parental support to help them visualize their career trajectories, we want to keep these students in our town. Many of my best and brightest students leave our community without a look back. A business who reaches out to secondary schools in a positive way leaves an imprint on these students’ memories that could make a difference upon graduation when deciding their life choices. If my short stints have left such an impression on me, imagine what repeated opportunities could do for our youth.
Susan Perez worked with the Chamber from 6/19/17 – 6/21/17.