The Daily Reflector- Greenville, Nc

Teachers to get real-world look at business

Holly West

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The N.C. Business Committee for Education is putting eastern North Carolina teachers to work this summer.

Two Pitt County teachers are among 25 educators in the region who will take part in a real-world work experience designed to teach them about the industries they are training students to enter. This is the first in a two-year pilot program for the Teachers@Work initiative in eastern North Carolina. The program has been implemented in other areas of the state since 2014.

Sue Breckenridge, executive director of the N.C. Business Committee for Education, said at a roundtable discussion about the program Monday that the idea came from conversations the NCBCE had with teachers about its job shadowing and mentorship program Students@Work.

“I had a conversation with a teacher from Kannapolis who said, ‘My middle school students absolutely love Students@Work, but I have a question for you. I drive by six or eight businesses every day. I have absolutely no idea what they do, but I’m teaching their employees,’” Breckenridge said. “There was dead silence. Nobody ever put it that way to me before. Teachers go from elementary to middle to high school to college, right back into the classroom. Very few of them know what a business looks like.”

Before visiting the businesses, participants will earn two certifications at their local community colleges: the Lean Six Sigma White Belt, which focuses on the basics of teamwork and productivity, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration Outreach training about safety and health hazards in the workplace.

They then spend one week at a partner business. Both Pitt County teachers will be at Vidant Health.

Perquimans County teacher Angel White, who participated in the program last summer, was paired with Billie Reid State Farm in Elizabeth City. She said she originally was skeptical that working at an insurance company would be applicable to her agriculture courses, but quickly saw the parallels in the customer service skills needed for both.

“It really wasn’t that challenging after I thought about it,” she said. “In veterinary science, they work with people all the time. It’s the same skills. You’re just applying it to a different business.”

One of her tasks was cold-calling people, something she said is a struggle for both new teachers and students.

“That’s one of the things we have a hard time getting teachers to do,” she said. ”My students, they hate to call businesses to ask for internships, to ask for job shadowing time, to ask for donations or anything. It kind of put me in their shoes a little bit to help me understand what they’re going through so I can relate to them.”

State Farm employees gave her tips that she passed along to her colleagues and students.

She also learned more about community relations, which she said helped her build her school’s FFA alumni program this year.

After leaving their partner businesses, teachers develop a lesson plan based on their experiences and implement them once school starts back in the fall. Teachers@Work program manager Robyn Mooring said the lesson plans undergo a rigorous review process so they can be shared among educators statewide.

“They have to be able to be taken from anywhere in the state and be picked up by a teacher in that same subject area and be able to be used in their classroom,” she said.

Through these lessons, students not only learn real-world job skills, but also get a better idea about what positions exist in the workforce.

Lisa Lassiter, the administrator of Vidant Health Careers, said students do not seem to know the vast range of jobs available in the health care industry.

“Right now, they all think doctors and nurses,” she said. “They’ve never heard of a child life specialist. They don’t know we have our own police force. They don’t know we have an entire finance building that’s full of business people. They think, ‘If I don’t want to get into bodily fluids, I can’t work in health care.’”

The program is one of many working to close the gap between K-12 schools and businesses in North Carolina. The biggest is N.C. State University’s Kenan Fellows program, which includes a three-week summer internship in a STEM field and 80 hours of professional development throughout the year.

Steve Hill, executive director of STEM East and a member of the Kenan Fellows advisory board, said the expansion of Teachers@Work is an important step in making workforce training accessible to all teachers.

“Those teachers need to understand the economy as much as they do education,” he said. “They’re the ones that are going to be putting the kids into those pathways that are emerging at the high school level. It’s not just an education initiative, this is an economic initiative.”


Contact Holly West at or 252-329-9585.