Ask Away: 5 Questions for a Career Exploration Counselor
We’re asking students, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…
Meet Aubrie Lehr—a certified high school Spanish and ESOL teacher, she’s now a Career Exploration Counselor at a Kansas high school. She earned her undergrad degree from Kansas State University (Go Cats!), and she speaks Spanish and French.
1. What does a Career Exploration Counselor do, and what’s your favorite part of the job?
This is a big question because I do a lot of different things! A Career Exploration Counselor focuses mainly on college and career prep for all students. My job is a conglomeration of many things and I love it so far! This is my first year.
Every day looks different, but most days consist of updating our website, managing our Twitter account, meeting with students about job opportunities, meeting with students about college prep, writing letters of recommendation, working on student schedules, and helping students be successful in their classes here at the high school level. I regularly check students’ grades and help struggling students and their parents develop a plan to be successful. I help lead a group for girls here at school, so we will meet to discuss dating, self-esteem, anxiety, and other issues. I also help lead a group for students with GPAs in the 1.0 range. We set goals and earn prizes for reaching our goals each week.
Because of my certifications in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and Spanish, I spend a lot of time working to help our ELLs (English Language Learners) be successful in their classes. I also serve as a translator for the main office when parents or family members come in who speak Spanish.
2. How many languages does your school offer? Can you share with us a system or activity that has worked well at your school to support language education/programs and language students?
Our school currently offers a strong Spanish program. When I started teaching Spanish here, the other Spanish teacher was also relatively new, and together we really built up the program for a couple of years before adding a third Spanish teacher.
I think one thing that really keeps our numbers up is the fact that the classes are engaging and fun; if you walk into one of our Spanish classrooms, it is not unusual to hear singing or see kids participating in an intense vocabulary game.
Although teachers always rise to meet the standards, they are constantly figuring out new and better ways to do so.
A huge thing that has impacted our Spanish program has been international travel or cultural immersion experiences, which we have done every other year and now do every year. This was started by Emily, one of our other Spanish teachers, and she asked me if I wanted to go along for the ride. Our first year, we took 15 high school students to Costa Rica, where they attended Spanish immersion classes for a full week, and then we toured the country. The following year, she was ready to stay at home with her newborn son, so I decided to do another trip on my own. In 2015, my husband and I, along with our assistant principal at the time, took 20 students to Peru. We practiced our Spanish, visited Machu Picchu and lots of other Incan ruins, learned about the Inca, and finished our time there in the Amazon. It was truly amazing!
I was really hooked on traveling with students after that trip and I quickly realized that taking students is way more fun than it is intimidating—it really broadens their horizons and opens their eyes to an entirely new world.
So, in 2017, I decided that I wanted to branch out from Spanish and tour some other countries. We have students interested in other languages but are currently unable to offer those languages, so I wanted to give kids a chance to explore other options via travel. I kind of teamed up with one of our history teachers for this one. We had 59 students sign up and so, along with 8 other adults, we toured France, Italy, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and England. We toured Dachau Concentration Camp, the Louvre, and Mozart’s home; we took a cruise down the Seine River and snapped tons of pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower; we practiced French and German.
It was so amazing to see kids from all walks of life just have a blast on this trip, and I know it impacted so many of them for the rest of their lives. Many students expressed interest in learning languages outside of Spanish and will go on to do so at the university level. This coming summer, Emily is traveling again with 12 students to the Dominican Republic; then, in 2019, I’ll go again to Spain, France, and Italy with about 30 students.
The travel program has just brought so much fun into our foreign language program.
3. What kinds of questions do you most often receive from parents and students about language education, especially regarding future career success?
I would say the number one question I receive from parents (and students) is: “Is this something my student is going to need?”
My answer is always, “Yes!”
When I was teaching, I did a bulletin board at the front of my room with quotes from friends who are fluent in another language and friends who are not. The friends who are bilingual shared about their jobs and how they use their second language at work. The friends who are not bilingual shared their frustrations and why they wished they spoke another language. My kids were really interested in it and got a glimpse of different jobs and how language can be used outside of high school.
Another question parents and students will sometimes ask me is: “What language should I take?”
I usually explain to them that all foreign languages have benefits, and the brain benefits are the same no matter what you study; however, I encourage students to look at and think about where they might live as an adult and then choose their language based on that. Some great examples I’ve told kids about are the fact that you’ll use Spanish just about anywhere in the United States; French is great for the northeastern part of the States (my husband and I went to Maine a few years back and signs were in both French and English), and a surprising one is Japanese—I was in Hawaii several years ago and almost everything was in both English and Japanese.
4. What are your suggestions for how schools can promote meaningful conversations about language learning?
I think schools should really look at the benefits to the student. As foreign language teachers, we know that learning another language has so many benefits. We can help promote these conversations by advocating for our programs via social media, creating our own websites—just putting it out there that language is just as important as any other course.
We can advocate for more foreign language teachers by sharing information with the community about the importance of learning another language. This was always my main focus on open house night—I would always present a little PowerPoint or something for parents so they could see that this wasn’t just meant to be a “fun” class, but a highly important one. In the past, I’ve had the local newspaper come in as well and run a story on our travel program, and that brought a lot of attention to the importance of immersion and language learning as well.
5. What advice would you offer to students who are undecided about considering language classes beyond any requirements (or at all!) in high school?
First of all, learning another language can be FUN!
In the state of Kansas, foreign language is not required to graduate, so we really advocate in general for the importance of learning another language. I think something we’ve done has worked because we have 366 students currently enrolled in a Spanish class out of the over 800 students in our school. I think almost 50% is amazing! It has grown a lot over the last several years. I always talk to kids about the benefits: brain benefits and how language-learning is linked to less memory problems later in life, you can make more money than your monolingual colleagues, you can travel the world without a dictionary, you meet amazing people from other cultures, and it’s fun!
We spend the first few days of Spanish I discussing the benefits. I used to have a website that explained the benefits, but it’s gone now since I’m not teaching anymore! I run the counseling website, so I am hoping to link a page in there about language learning, or just in general a page where teachers can advocate for their programs.
I think kids need to see, too, that foreign language can be fun and engaging, especially when it’s not a required class. I can’t tell you how many times, when I would tell someone I taught Spanish, that person would say, “Man, I hated Spanish in high school,” likely because it was either boring or taught above the students’ heads. So, when I was teaching, I had a classroom Instagram and Twitter and would post things that were going on in the classroom, like, “Look how much fun we have in Spanish!”
BONUS QUESTION: Could you share with us an anecdote about a particular student you know for whom language classes or cultural immersion have made a difference in his or her personal and future professional growth?
I had to sit and think for a while because there are so many!
We have a student who started in Spanish I here eight or nine years ago. He studied hard and just really fell in love with it and began using it outside of school whenever he could. He signed up to go on our first trip to Costa Rica and was the only one of our students to be placed in the highest class in the immersion program there. I remember going into the classroom to watch him one day and it was fascinating seeing him communicate so well with the teacher and with others.
He graduated a few years ago and has lived and spent time all over Latin America. I’m happy to say he’s going to be a Spanish teacher!
Besides that student, we have so many whose lives have been changed by foreign language, specifically traveling abroad with us. It’s been so, so cool to see kids who struggle financially raise the money and go. It opens so many doors for them.
Know a student, teacher, or counselor who should hear what Aubrie has to say? Be sure to share this post by clicking one of the share buttons in the right (on desktop) or bottom (mobile) margins!