Susie Cooper teaches job skills and computer technology at Canyon High School in Anaheim Hills, California. Her highly successful program emphasizes the Internet, from making the most of web resources to creating websites and developing marketing plans for on-line businesses.
Can you describe what you do?
I teach job skills to high school students, as part of statewide initiative called the Regional Occupational Program (ROP)*. I cover things like communication, interpersonal relationships at the office, how to get a job, making up a resume. We spend one-tenth of the time on that, though. Mostly, we work on developing computer skills, concentrating on building websites, creating digital documents, or creating marketing plans for web-based companies.
Why emphasize the Internet?
The Internet is how these students will do just about everything in their lives. It’s how they’ll buy their groceries, how they’ll do their banking. It will most likely be a big part of how they’ll be working. Every type of commerce out there will have a web-based application of some kind.
Because of this, the Internet should be a part of every class–even sports. There’s so much information online–statistics, health information, weight training information, even software that can be utilized online to help students maintain their health and fitness. If students are not online, they’re really missing out.
Do you have students who know more than you do about some aspect of technology?
Of course, and I love it. I become the student and allow them to be the teacher, and they love it too. I’ve learned so much from them. If a student knows more than I do about a certain type of technology, or how to use a certain type of software, I’m more than happy to have them show the whole class and me at the same time.
But there’s still a lot they need to learn, especially in terms of communication skills and learning how to get along with others. They need to know the basics of written communication. These skills will always be needed, and they are what I need to drive into them on a daily basis.
Is your class popular?
It’s really booming now. But the first semester I had it, four years ago, I remember sitting out in front of my room and giving out candy bars to kids who signed up for the class. I had to guarantee the school 12 students for the first class–otherwise they would close it.
Now I have waiting lists. I admitted two students today who wanted in so badly that they said they would sit on the floor if they had to. The one thing I’m still not happy with the fact that the classes are 90 percent boys.
Are you finding it difficult to get girls interested?
Absolutely. I can’t quite figure it out. I do get them at the very beginning level now, but the girls aren’t persisting. They don’t seem to believe that they can make it in this field. Generally, their work is good and artistic, but they don’t have the strong background that a lot of the boys come in with.
Most of the boys have been fooling around with technology for so long, playing video games and things like that, that they gain technology-related skills almost by accident. I actually encourage girls to come in and play video games to help them get up to speed. Many of the girls are still a little bit in fear of the Internet and what it all means, while a lot of the boys will experiment and learn by blowing up enough machines to figure out what to do and not do.
What do you think it will take to get more girls interested in technology?
I think we need more women executives to come to the classroom, to challenge girls and let them know what’s happening in the real world. Once we had a female executive from Microsoft come down and take five of my girls out to lunch. That made such an impression on them–they knew she drove a Porsche, had a great job. If they don’t see it for themselves, students don’t really believe it exists. I try to bring these women into my classroom, even if it’s over the phone, or an online chat, so my students can meet them.
So you think it helps to set a good example?
Absolutely. That’s been my approach at home, and my 14 year-old daughter is now the webmaster for my Toddler.com† site.
Do you have any suggestions for other teachers who want to get themselves up to speed on technology?
I really feel that they’ve got to take action and get themselves trained. If they can’t find classes that are convenient, there are a lot of wonderful tutorials on the Internet that are written in very plain English and can give a teacher a jump ahead. But they’ve got to take the time to go through them one step at a time.
If you take one area, tackle it and then go onto the next, it looks like a huge task to learn all this technology, but really when you come out the other end, you’ll say “How could I have ever lived without it?”
*The ROP program trains 500,000 people in California annually, using teachers who come from industry. Classes are offered in over 100 different careers. Nearly 90% of the students (adults and high school) who take the program each year secure employment or pursue advanced education within one year after completing their training.