Future Reflections         Fall 2008

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Some Thoughts on Career Exploration

by Robin House

Robin HouseEditor’s Note: Robin House is a blind guidance counselor in a regular school, and one of the leaders in the NFB of Missouri affiliate. Below is the text of a presentation she gave in July 2008 at “Mission Believe: The Sky’s the Limit,” a youth outreach program sponsored by the NFB of Missouri. Here is the talk she gave to parents of blind middle-school students:

Take a moment to think about the path your own career has taken. Have you had one, or more than one, career? How many majors did you have in college? Is it realistic that our children will have one college major and one job that will last them a lifetime? I personally have had five different college majors and three careers so far. I currently work as a guidance counselor in an urban, elementary school.

Can blind people work in any career they may choose? With the exception of driving vehicles and piloting airplanes, the answer is definitely yes. Hence, the need to offer career exploration for our blind kids just as we do for sighted siblings and peers. Parents play a key role in career exploration in partnership with counselors, teachers, and other family members. Open communication and support of the individual is essential.

I believe career exploration begins very early within the family and in the community through children’s interactions with people at work. Exploring careers continues formally during elementary school when students [in Missouri schools] are introduced to the Six Career Paths. Guidance counselors present classroom lessons and individual academic and vocational planning using the Six Career Path concept. The Six Career Paths are in the areas of creative/artistic, health services, human services, nature, business, engineering and technology. The combination of school subjects and extracurricular activities will provide the foundation of skills and interests to direct students to one or more of these career paths. For example, a student who is good at mathematics and organization might want to consider the business path.

As students move toward middle and high school the Six Career Paths are further delineated into Sixteen Career Clusters. For example, the Health path can include everything from a medical technician to a doctor. At this point, students will be introduced to a four- or six-year plan related to scheduling and a transition plan related to an IEP. Students will be asked to consider what education they are interested in past high school and which of the six career paths. The reason this is important is if a student wants to go to college, he or she needs to take certain classes in high school to keep that avenue open. And since students will be able to take electives, they should consider classes related to the career path of most interest. For example, creative writing, art, and music classes would be related to the Creative/Artistic path.

[At this point, House opened up the floor for questions from the audience. Here are the questions and answers she provided:]

Question from a parent: Is it better for my son or daughter to take an honors class and get a “B” in it or take a regular class and get an “A”?

Robin House: As a counselor, my answer for students who qualify for honors classes is to take the class in which you will learn the most. Honors classes usually attract more serious students and are better preparation for college-level classes.

Question from a parent: Should blind students work in high school?

Robin House: Working provides a good opportunity to learn additional skills outside of the classroom. This can be done for pay or as a volunteer. Part-time jobs and extracurricular activities provide many advantages to students. It is during these years that an individual begins to build his or her resume and relationships with people who will serve as references.

Fortune 500 companies report the following top three employee characteristics: teamwork, problem solving, and interpersonal skills [see <www.realrestitution.com>]. This has changed over the past four decades when writing, computation, and reading topped the list of fifteen valued skills. So, directly teaching these top three skills--teamwork, problem solving and interpersonal skills--and giving blind students opportunities to develop them through paid or volunteer positions while still in high school is very important when it comes to preparing for careers.

Question from a parent: Should my son or daughter take a resource class or study hall?

Robin House: It depends on how he or she uses his or her time in these classes. These classes also replace other classes which a student could benefit from taking in preparation for college or careers.

Question from a parent: Are there stereotypical jobs or careers for blind people?

Robin House: The two that come to mind are disc jockeys and musicians. Learning to read music and play an instrument is beneficial for all students and can provide a lifetime of enjoyment. But there are so many more career options available that it is important to fully explore all areas even if it seems [to the uninformed person] like these careers might be hard for a blind person to do. Adults play a key role in helping guide students. Adults should be encouraging and realistic, but should also be careful not to confuse realism with ignorance about blindness and the capability of blind people. I remember a conversation I had with my dad when I was thirteen years old. I was so excited about knowing the progression of high school math. I enthusiastically told him it went from Algebra to geometry to trigonometry to calculus. He did not say much except how hard it would be and he did not know if that was right for me. As a result, I took the minimum required of me in high school math. I later became more confident in myself and my blindness skills and I took more math courses in college but I had to make up what I had missed.

Discouraging comments can be so hurtful. I was disappointed when I was in fifth grade and wanted to learn the guitar. I could not see well enough to read the music. The teacher said she could not teach me. I think back on that and I now know that I could have learned to play the guitar if the adults in my life had viewed the situation as simply a problem to be solved or a roadblock to be overcome.

[Robin concluded her presentation with the following remarks:]

Planning and preparing for the world of work is an important undertaking. It starts small and increases in scope. In order for kids to explore careers successfully they need the help of many resources, including their parents. Open communication, the development of skills and interests, and encouragement from the adults in their lives will tremendously help blind youth explore careers and plan for their working future.

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