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Career Development in the Elementary School

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What do we really know about career development? Will emphasizing this phase of career education during the elementary school years force students to make premature decisions on what kinds of work they will want to do later in life? (Ian the elementary school teacher pinpoints a child's aptitudes, abilities, and proclivities to such a degree that the teacher can guide and even facilitate the youngster's development toward a specific career? These and other questions may rightly be asked by parents and schoolteachers alike. And if the elementary school adopts a career education program, these parents and teachers might also ask: Which aspects of career development should begin in the elementary school? Which should be avoided? We shall endeavor to answer these and other questions in this chapter.

Career development component is one of five major parts of career education-but career development differs from the others to the degree that it encompasses the others to some extent. Indeed, it could be considered the primary goal of all career education because our ultimate objective is to help individuals develop careers for themselves, to help them understand that work can be possible, meaningful, and satisfying to each of them.

It is necessary to carefully delimit the role of career development as a goal of career education in the elementary school. In brief, by completion of elementary school, the student should have acquired the following : (1) a general awareness of the nature of the world of work, (2) a general awareness of work values as a set of possible reasons why people work, (3) a set of work values that will lead each student to achieve a positive self-concept as one who will someday be a worker, and (4) a view of the world of work from a personalized frame of reference, resulting in tentative aspirations regarding the kind of work he may someday choose to follow. The goals do not include anyone's urging on any elementary school student a firm commitment to any specific career goal.

To avoid confusion, let us also clarify our terminology by defining the three following aspects of career development:
  1. "Career development" is a goal of career education.

  2. The "career development process" refers to the dynamics of change within the individual as he moves toward career development.

  3. "Career development programs" are the specific methods and procedures used to facilitate the career development process.
Thus career development programs constitute one component of career education, whereas all five components are part of the career development process and contribute to career development. All of the examples in other chapters can be considered parts of the career development process.

Our primary objective here-to discuss the career development process as it is expected to occur in the elementary school-will be done within the framework of human growth and development so that elementary school educators can readily see relationships between this part of career education and the basic principles already familiar to most of them.

The Meaning of Career

The term "career" can be defined as the sum total of work undertaken by an individual during his lifetime. It can thus be easily differentiated from the term "career development process," which refers to the total constellation of psychological, sociological, educational, physical, economic, and chance factors that combine to shape the "career" followed by any given individual.

Thus the true meaning of the word "career" is seen as directly dependent upon the meaning one attaches to the word "work." In the agrarian society, "work," broadly defined, was operationally the sum total of activities by which an individual attempted to obtain the necessities of life for himself and his family. In our society, "work" may include activities for which no financial rewards are forthcoming, as well as activities for which one is paid in money, goods, or other kinds of extrinsic benefits.

An ideal career is made up of a series of work experiences, each of which is more personally satisfying than the one which preceded it. Career development leads to increased vocational maturity, which in turn leads to more personal maturity and personal satisfaction. A job which is adequately satisfying early in a career is many times likely to be dissatisfying later on. This factor is one reason that a person can change jobs several times during an ideal career. With increased career maturity comes a better sense of which work will be of greatest service to one's fellowman and at the same time be of most service to one's self. The sum of these two things is a measure of personal satisfaction from work.

For some people, the ideal career is a series of promotions up an occupational ladder, with each step bringing added responsibilities, pay, and satisfaction. For others, the ideal career will lead to promotion up to a certain level beyond which satisfaction seems to diminish. For still others, the ideal career will require lateral shifts into related occupations, or even into a completely new occupational field which offers promise of greater personal satisfaction.

Not everyone of course has an ideal career. Racial, sex, religious, or age discrimination may interfere with an ideal career. Parental or peer pressures may lead one to embark on a less than ideal career. Lack of money or influential friends may impose at least temporary obstacles. Lack of opportunity or of the ambition, self-confidence, and wisdom to recognize and take advantage of opportunity may be the obstacle. Clearly, if we try to impose the same work values on all students, or hold the college-educated professional up as the only model of the successful person, we will interfere with the development of ideal careers for at least some of our students.

It may be helpful to teachers faced with problems of communicating concepts of "work" and "career" to elementary school students to think of "work" in the sense of meeting one's human needs for feelings of self-worth. The need to feel worthy is a basic human need of all individuals. One cannot feel a sense of self-worth without an assurance of some control over one's environment. As one acquires work values and salable skills, he gains more and more in control over his environment; he is no longer bound to a single job and completely subject to economic forces over which he has no control.

For many middle-class persons, the need for feelings of self-worth is expressed in terms of a need for achievement-the need to do, to accomplish, to be successful in material ways. Others denied opportunities for material success in ways generally accepted as socially legitimate will seek a feeling of self-worth either in non-material ways or by pursuing material wealth in a socially illegitimate fashion. If no self-worth is achievable, something within the individual dies or never finds life. The principle that any person is best known both to himself and to others through his accomplishments or efforts toward accomplishment, material or non-material, is essential to an understanding of the true meaning and role of "work." It is here where "aspiration" and "achievement" are most clearly differentiated from each other. Aspiration and achievement come together in defining a person only when one considers the broader question of one's total system of human values-of what he considers to be important, good, and right.

At one point in social history, "work" was regarded as a "calling"-the source of the term "vocation"-the way in which any individual, irrespective of how menial the tasks he performed, accomplished something that served God. It allegedly involved a work ethic that combined aspiration, aptitude, and achievement in ways that charged each individual with doing his best at all times in order that he might earn for himself an eventual place in Heaven. It is easy to see why it may have been, at that time, a powerful inducement to work and why, for some persons in our present culture, it still serves this function. It is equally obvious that for many persons today, this basic motivation for work no longer holds any significant personal meaning. A much more diverse set of reasons for working now permeates our society.

Yet as the total occupational society becomes more and more service oriented in its basic nature, it is obvious that "career"-defined as the sum total of an individual's efforts to accomplish tasks that will in fact provide benefits in some form to other human beings-becomes increasingly germane. Again, the concepts of "productivity" and "service" come together in thinking about the true meaning of work. That is, there has to be some operational way of distinguishing the word "work" from the word "productivity", as service to others, is obviously essential for societal survival. Thus the term "career" must be defined more narrowly than simply the sum total of the individual's activities aimed at meeting his own achievement needs. In our view, those leisure-time activities consisting of hobbies or recreation should not be confused with what can correctly be called "work."

In this sense, what may be "work" for one individual, may well be a "hobby" for another. That is, we are forced to search here for the reason or set of reasons why the individual is pursuing a particular activity. If the individual is engaging in the activity primarily for his own personal enjoyment, with the need to serve others or gain tangible benefits for himself being of little or no importance, we would not call that activity "work." If on the other hand, that activity is perceived by the individual performing it as providing tangible benefits either to himself and to others or to himself alone, then we would say "he works." In this sense "work" does not have to be necessarily pictured as distasteful to the individual in any way. Just because he likes what he is doing in no way means he is not working. Rather, whether productive activity is called "work" or "play" is more properly determined by the basic motivations that caused the individual to undertake the activity in the first place. It is this set of possible motivations that we collectively call "work values." It should be obvious why we feel that the topic is appropriate to introduce to children during the elementary school years.
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