I am Leo Gordon, the union’s new vice president for career and technical education. I have spent a lifetime in the CTE space, starting when I was a student myself. I graduated from a CTE high school in New York City and then entered the Success Via Apprenticeship (SVA) program, which trains CTE graduates to become CTE educators. The program, a collaborative effort of the city Department of Education, the UFT and the City University of New York, gave me a genuine understanding of and passion for this work. I had great educators who were inspirational. Now, I ask, how can we inspire today’s students and teachers in the CTE space?
The pandemic has hampered the momentum in our CTE classes. CTE is hands-on learning, and it is hard to be hands-on when you’re learning and teaching remotely. Students lost lab time, and instructors struggled to keep the coursework on track. These issues have sparked ingenious and creative solutions to many of the new hurdles. Teachers launched YouTube channels to ensure their demonstration lessons were available to students around the clock. CTE students are using Discord — a free voice, video and text chat app — to collaborate with their friends and classmates, find support and create authentic bonds at a time when social distancing is the norm.
I have taught in three boroughs and helped launch CTE programs in several high schools and middle schools. As I visit the CTE spaces all over the city in my new role, the resilience of the students and teachers is evident everywhere. Our strength is getting us through these difficult times. I am happy to say educators are delighted to be back in person, giving students the hands-on experiences necessary to complete their certifications. They have opened their labs at all hours for students to make up lost time. Students arrive extra early — masked up and geared up — to complete projects. Work-based learning opportunities, some in person and others hybrid, are starting up again.
During the pandemic, skilled tradespeople have been in demand. More people working remotely has meant overused plumbing, air conditioning, heating systems and internet connections. We may not think about skilled tradespeople until we need them, but we’ve needed them more than ever during the pandemic.
We can clearly see now how vital career and technical education is. It’s the ideal time to promote skilled trades and to show students planning their futures that these career pathways are not only crucial in our day-to-day lives, but are a path to decent wages without the burden of post-secondary school debt.
The volume of federal relief funds for education coupled with greater city and state funding for our schools have helped offset the challenges of the pandemic. While the funds are for all areas of the New York City school system, it’s important for CTE leaders to think about ways to leverage these resources to improve career and technical education. Teacher training and professional learning specific to their industries will help motivate CTE instructors. Connecting educators to recent industry updates will help keep their skills current, guaranteeing the growth of our CTE programs.
While it is a challenging time for CTE, it is also a time of exciting opportunities. I look forward to finding new ways to inspire and support career and technical education in our city’s public schools.