The business of education: Initiative pairs industry, classroom leaders

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New Hanover High School teacher Jennifer Chambers works with a Castle Branch employee at the companys Wilmington headquarters. Chambers was there all week to job shadow staff as part of a statewide Teachers@Work program. Photo by Hilary Snow.
New Hanover High School teacher Jennifer Chambers works with a CastleBranch employee at the company’s Wilmington headquarters. Chambers was there all week to job shadow staff as part of a statewide Teachers@Work program. Photo by Hilary Snow.

Jennifer Chambers left the business world several years ago to enter the classroom.

This week, she has been getting back to business to help better prepare her students for their own entry into that world.

Chambers, who teaches technology and marketing at New Hanover High School, was one of 17 educators statewide selected to participate in the Teachers@Work Program. The initiative, a partnership between the N.C. Business Committee for Education (NCBE) and the state Department of Public Instruction, pairs teachers with industries within their communities for one week during the summer.

She has spent her week, which wraps up Friday, with employees at CastleBranch, a background screening and compliance management company.

“So, by the time I leave, I will have hit all departments, including reception,” Chambers noted Thursday morning.

And what’s emerging from these varied one-on-one interactions is a big picture about the modern workforce, a picture Chambers plans to show her classes come August.

“I came into this eyes wide open,” she said. “I felt comfortable in a business setting but I didn’t want to to limit myself.”

One thing she has noticed is what it really means to be tech-savvy.

“I think kids have this assumption that, ‘well, I have a phone. I know how to do things. I can do lots of tech.’ But when they are plopped in a real tech environment, they kind of flounder,” she said. “They have to understand that you have to have those foundational skills.”

But, she added, those skills go beyond the tech knowledge needed to survive in an ever-innovative workplace like CastleBranch, which also houses business incubator tekMountain, to something a little more basic.

“Reading and communication skills, attention to detail and multitasking–no matter who I talk to, everybody keeps coming back to those,” she said.

That kind of conversation about “soft skills”–or learning how teens equate iPhone with tech smarts–is what Teachers@Work is all about, said Nancy Lane, senior vice president of business development at CastleBranch.

“This is a program that allows us to exchange ideas and dialogue,” Lane said. “And for business leaders and educators to have that exchange is crucial…”

Chambers agreed.

For her, the open and direct communication has, at times, led to feeling validated in her approach to teaching. As a lateral entry educator, she said she often has a different perspective from her classroom veterans.

“I have always pushed the importance of grammar and punctuation and spelling, for example, where some teachers see how kids text and just want to reach them where they are,” she said. “But being here and seeing, ok, this stuff is still important and this still matters in order to be successful outside of school, and then being able to hear that and go back to my school and have some proof that these things matter, that’s important.”

And, other times, immersing herself in the CastleBranch culture has made her rethink her approach to teaching.

“I am a teacher that runs a very tight ship…But coming here and seeing a workplace that is not as structured has helped me see different ways to of bringing some of that into my classroom…It kind of burst my bubble but it was also really enlightening. As uncomfortable as I was about it, it also was one of my favorite parts of this experience,” she said.

In addition to creating and implementing lesson plans from her job shadowing (the plans will be made available to teachers across the state), Chambers is already thinking ahead to having CastleBranch staff come to New Hanover High next school year to talk with students.

“I want to give them the skill set for success, whether they leave high school and go into the workforce or go onto college,” she said. “I am trying to not only teach the curriculum, but also all those extra things they don’t realize they’ll need in the real world.”

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at (910) 772-6341 or hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.