WHAT A LONG STRANGE TRIP IT’S BEEN BY AMBER DECHAINE
Although there has been much less of a psychoactive influence on my year of service than there might have been on a Grateful Dead song, just when I thought I was done growing and learning, I kept jammin’ on into the next verse.
Throughout my time with the Montana Career Lab I have developed a greater understanding of career development, career theory, and why it is important to explore career development as early as pre-school. I have had hands on experience with age appropriate career activities for students at every level while developing leadership ability and self-confidence. I have had the opportunity to travel across the state and network with many wonderful organizations and agencies all promoting the success of students.
There are so many ways in which this year of service has benefited me. I only hope that my time with the Montana Career Lab has had an impact on the students I was able to work with.
My first partnership was with the local Student Aged Child Care (SACC) that ran after school programs out of all but one of Helena’s elementary schools. I started in two schools and was able to build strong relationships with the SACC coordinators and students. Every student in the program picked a career from our Careers Build a Community curriculum and I assisted them in exploring why they chose that career. We completed hands on activities and hosted community speakers to help them gain a better understanding of what that career entailed. Many of the students picked the same careers as their parents but at the end of the unit they all had an opportunity to share what they learned about their chosen career, allowing them to teach their peers about other careers in their community.
When I got the “okay” from Helena School District, I started advertising myself to the teachers by putting little handouts in their mailboxes. They must have been rather unappealing fliers or just busy teachers because I only got a response from one school – you live, and you learn.
Within weeks I was teaching our curriculum in two first grade classrooms at Broadwater Elementary. I would say this was a breakthrough moment for my service and I was really able to get hands on with the curriculum to determine what worked and what needed improvement (of course the activities with candy were always a hit).
If I am being completely honest, this year I discovered that I S-U-C-K, big time, at teaching. Despite my playful fantasies about having my own classroom that fosters free love and produces miniature hippies, I am much better on a 1:1 basis with students. It’s possible that I am just inexperienced or too anxious, but I can’t think of a better environment in which to learn this about myself.
Even with my ignorance in effective teaching methods, the students were AMAZING and kind to me. They all came with different levels of knowledge, interests, thoughts, and feelings, each one as unique as a snowflake. I wanted to very carefully cultivate autonomy in every one of these students and help them explore careers that could be personally fulfilling and as unique as they are.
After each career lesson, the curriculum had the students reflect on what they learned about that career: what they liked or didn’t like, who they knew who does that career, or where in the community they might find that career. The very last day the students were able to pick the career they liked best and make a career puppet and a booklet out of their reflection pages.
The curriculum includes a final community day where students can choose their careers and host a reverse career fair. They can decorate a business front and invite their family and community members to stop by their “business” to learn about their career. Unfortunately, because of time constraints, I couldn’t host a community day with any of my groups. I am holding our future AmeriCorps Leader accountable to invite me to any community days he achieves!
I can’t say that the students I’ve worked with will remember our 45 minutes a week when they are heading off to college, but at least I can leave my service knowing that I gave them an opportunity to explore careers they might not have thought of before, and that I’ve planted the seed for their “Sugar Magnolia” trees to blossom.
“Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” -Grateful Dead