Career and Technical Education Starts in Elementary School!

Martin SilvermanBlog, Differentiate Better, Engage Better


  • Career and Technical Education (CTE) should start in elementary school.
  • Create clubs that connect students to interests they already know they have. But more importantly, clubs that connect students to interests they don’t know they have yet. 

I just had the distinct honor and privilege of being a guest on a great new podcast called BridgEd. It is hosted by Dr. Daryl Porter from the Fort Worth, Texas area.  Dr. Porter is an administrator focusing on Career and Technical Education (CTE) and has set out as one of his missions to find connections between K-12 education and the world of industry.  Daryl asked me to be a guest to discuss how CTE is “done” in elementary schools. It got me thinking about how we start students on this path even from the earliest school years.

The purpose is to have every student connect with something that meets their talents and aptitude. The intended purpose is to honor and help students along the path that could possibly lead to their future career. Click To Tweet

Who are the students that choose career and technical education?

One of the many revelations I had about students who ultimately follow the CTE path was that often they are students who, while showing amazing intelligence and aptitude, are often not as successful in traditional college-prep schools. 

My thinking is that we often find students who show talents that are not easily evident on pencil/paper tasks.  These are often the students that can see how things go together and how they work internally. They can even see how they can be taken apart and put back together. But they are not as adept at discussing theoretical concepts. 

A perfect example of this is my middle child, my oldest son.  He was a great student in school.  He got good grades and is a sensitive and deep thinker.  School was not his favorite place, to put it mildly.  He put forth the effort to be successful, and genuinely enjoyed learning, but did not like the construct of school. 

After high school, he went to college, but his heart was not in it.  He found that his interests were more toward working with his hands and doing trades work.  My son became an HVAC technician and truly enjoys that work.  He is the epitome of a frontline employee.  I am always impressed that he can crawl into oven-hot attics to find and diagnose an issue, and ultimately find the solution.  

What we currently do in elementary career and technical education.

I was thinking of my son and where his CTE path began.  In elementary school, he really enjoyed hands-on activities and liked the opportunity to find solutions to problems.  In high school, he took an agriculture class to fill an elective slot. He found that he enjoyed the active nature of that study.  There was no specific, explicit push for him to follow a trade.  He stumbled upon it as part of his educational journey. 

I propose that we can do a much better job of instilling CTE thinking in elementary students through a conscious choice to provide activities that highlight the skills needed for trades and industry.

In elementary school, we often do isolated career-focused events such as Career Day for our students.

This is not a “wrong” thing to do.  I just believe it doesn’t go far enough to truly have our students understand what goes into the jobs we present.  Young children live in a world where things just exist for them.  They typically don’t put thought into where things come from, how they are made, how they get from where they are produced to where they are consumed, etc. 

I propose we make the teaching of the SYSTEMS of the world more a part of early education.  Studying systems develops higher-level thinking skills for students and gets them to see the relationships between most common activities.  Science education typically highlights systems. But they’re also are important in social studies. And educators should explicity teach these concepts that relate to their world. Here’s one example of how this can be done.

In elementary grades, there is often a unit on transportation.  At my school when students were learning about transportation, the counselor developed an interactive activity for the students called Careers on Wheels.  People who had different jobs related to transportation came to school and showed students how what they learned translated into careers. 

For example, we had a semi-truck driver there with his rig, an antique car collector, even a car dealer. They each showed how they fit into the system of transportation.  Students got a real, focused idea of how careers connected with what they were learning at school.

A good example of CTE thinking in elementary grades.

At my school, the focus is on the vision of all students having a place to belong.  To that end, we have created a variety of clubs that connect students to interests they already know they have. But more importantly, it connects students to interests they don’t know they have yet.  We have a Running Club, Art Club, Cooking Club, and Environmental Club among others. 

The purpose is to have every student connect with something that meets their talents and aptitude.  The intended purpose is to honor and help students along the path that could possibly lead to their future career…an elementary CTE! 

Right before the pandemic hit we were about to launch a club period during the school day.  We were going to start the program with first grade students, and provide them regular times during the school week to explore different clubs.  The plan was to do gardening, yoga, physical activity, and several other areas of interest. 

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The thinking is that when we expose our students to the variety of activities that are available to them, they often find the path that will allow them to be successful in school and ultimately in the community.

My school was lucky this year in that we were able to add an additional teacher to our specials rotation.  I was able to choose the type of special class to supplement the physical education, music, and computer lab specials that already existed.  I chose to add a STEAM class, which I see as a complement to the academics taught in the general classroom. 

Students are able to work on coding, robotics, art, and other activities that help develop their skills in a way that will likely spark interest in future study as they get older.  We hope that by developing these skills, students will find that choosing a CTE path will lead to a fulfilling future!

Career and technical education in elementary school benefits our system!

As educators, we have the opportunity to build CTE skills even from the youngest age.  It will be a huge benefit to our community to make these connections and show students the variety of opportunities available to them as they get older and begin making career path choices!

About Martin Silverman

Martin Silverman is a father, grandfather, husband, and long-time educator in beautiful San Antonio, Texas. He is committed to providing the best educational experience for the students and families at Salinas Elementary school where he is principal. Martin has worked in urban, suburban, and rural districts as a teacher and administrator. His interests are in creating and nurturing school culture, providing enriching experiences for students and families, and developing future teachers and administrators.

As a former bilingual teacher and administrator, Martin is committed to providing ELL students with quality programs to develop their unique skills. He hosts a podcast called The Second Question, which highlights educators and provides them a forum to discuss ideas, and to honor the teachers that have influenced their lives.