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  • Mrs G

What does Vocational mean?

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

Vocational education is instruction that is related to a job, occupation or to employment in general. Vocational skills are necessary for all kids hoping to one day join the workforce. But, what does vocational mean in the world of teaching special education? It means direct instruction, role plays and community outings focused on the unspoken rules, jargon and expectations of the workplace.

I think most of us at some point knew at least one adult who would probably would have benefited from a lesson on workplace etiquette. (Right?! I mean, come on… do your job. Stay in your lane. No man-splaining (yuk). Work with the team not against it. You know… be a decent human at work.) But, that is a completely different blog post. So, for now, let’s be glad we are teachers who work with other professionals. And, let’s help our students to not be that person!

Good for Students

Maintaining employment dramatically increases the ability to live independently, network with peers and find satisfaction in life for adults with disabilities. The super powers that come with some disabilities can set our students up for success beyond what we can expect from their typical peers. As teachers, we have to help identify and foster those skills. Then, we need to give our students enough experience (in the community or the classroom) to let their super skills show!

Rehearsing common scenarios that students will stumble upon in the workplace is helpful. Allowing them to role play and exposing them to the vocabulary they will likely encounter are great teaching tools. You can read more specifics about how I teach vocational education groups here.

Good for Teachers Too

When you are teaching in special education it is easy to get bogged down in the paperwork, ieps, goal writing, progress monitoring, and everything else that gets thrown at us. Keeping your eyes above the waves as they say and focused on what matters is a challenge.

I find that when I forget that I am teaching students who will eventually leave my classroom is when I become frustrated and burnt out. Keeping the idea of helping them be successful in life as opposed to in school is key for me! I love knowing that my students will leave me a little more ready for the realities that will eventually face them.

Finding time for Vocational Education

You can teach vocational skills as a class in itself (which is kind of ideal, isn’t it?). But for those of us that are not teaching in functional life skills classrooms, we have to sneak it in. I sneak it into my reading time and my social skills time. I also have a problem-solving group where we focus on vocational problem-solving. (Read about how I run my social skills group here.) No matter how you squeeze it in, vocational education is worth the time invested!


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