While schools in my region typically only start after Labor Day, many schools in other parts of the country have been in session for weeks before September rolls around. We look forward to having a three-day weekend. But many people do not really think about what the holiday is truly about. If you would like your students to learn more about careers, have them conduct a Labor Day Career Interview with a relative.
Before becoming a teacher, I worked in Human Resources at a hospital for a decade. When I mention that to my students, there are usually a couple that light up. They say that they have parents that work at a hospital too. When I ask which hospital, they usually do not know. If I try a different angle and ask what they do at the hospital, again, they usually are not sure.
Over the years I have discovered that my fifth graders do not usually have an idea of what their parents do at work, regardless of what field in which they work. Occasionally, a child will be able to describe some details since they went with their parents to work once or twice.
I get a kick out of their yearbooks since they include what they want to be when they grow up. Many of them write down whatever job their parents have, even though they don’t really know what the job entails. Although in recent years, more and more write that they want to be You Tubers. They know LOTS about that career!
Back when I was a Recruiter, I interviewed applicants for a variety of positions at the hospital. A few times a year I would go to job fairs to meet potential applicants and describe which jobs were open that they qualified for.
But then I went to a very different type of fair that actually helped me realize that teaching could be an interesting career change for me. We were contacted by a local middle school to attend a career fair to talk to the eighth graders about possible jobs they could consider.
I had thought that I would be making a speech to the whole group at once. When I got there, I discovered they had organized the kids into groups based on a survey they had filled out. I thought this would be good. I could speak just with the children who were interested in health care careers. However, the teachers then explained that this group would be at my station for about 15 minutes. Then they would rotate to the next station.
This meant that my second group would be the students who wanted to be lawyers. The third group wanted to work in finance, and the last group wanted to join the military. Time for some quick thinking on how I could hold the attention of the three groups who really were not thinking about hospital careers!
That first group of kids was great. They asked many relevant questions about what types of degrees they needed to be a nurse, physical therapist, pharmacist, etc. I did not even have a chance to answer all of their questions when it was time to rotate.
Now I was faced with the future lawyers. I discussed with them how hospitals have a lawyer on staff to help flesh out potential liabilities. The lawyer would be the key contact in the event of a malpractice lawsuit. Okay, this group was sold on the idea of working as a lawyer outside of a law firm.
Next up were the financial hopefuls. Well, hospitals have to work with insurance companies for reimbursement. Not to mention the huge payroll system that needs to be in place. I could see I had won some of these kids over.
That last group though would be the toughest. The ones who wanted to be soldiers. I discussed with them how the military has an excellent training program for medics. Then, after they served their time in the military, they could work in a hospital. While I can see that some of them had no interest in being in the medical field, as they would rather be a pilot of a fighter jet, they did listen politely and even asked some questions.
I remember going back to the hospital after that career fair and thinking of how entertaining it was to hear their questions. It was even more satisfying to see how some of them who had never considered a healthcare career before were now realizing that hospitals are like mini-cities that employ people from a huge variety of fields.
Incorporating Careers Into the Curriculum
When I became a teacher a few years after that, I did not know how to fit career exploration into an elementary school curriculum with all the other mandatory topics that we needed to cover. But one year, due to a quirk in the way the holidays fell throughout the school year, we needed to have the first day of school the week before Labor Day. Aha! Here was my chance.
I developed a Labor Day Career Interview that my students (third graders at that time) could use to talk with a relative about his or her job. It includes questions about the responsibilities of the job, as well as the training and education required. It also asks if the relative would recommend to the child to go into the same job someday.
The results were really interesting. The children were enthusiastic to share their findings with the class. I could see the pride on their faces as they described all the tasks that their relatives did during a typical day. They didn’t just “work in an office.” Instead, they were responsible for supervising a dozen employees, handling a budget, and helping clients solve problems.
What was most surprising though, was the question about whether they would recommend this job to the student. Many said no. They said the hours were long, the pay was too low, or the stress level was too high.
I could see that even these 8-year-olds came away with the realization that they would have to work hard in school in order to get a job that would not have the drawbacks of their relatives’ jobs. For others, they had become more interested in their relatives’ careers, even though they previously had little understanding of them.
It ended up being more than just a quick homework assignment at the beginning of the school year. They had been given the opportunity to have an honest dialogue about “grownup” things. It opened their eyes to new possibilities.
In the years since, school has opened only one other time before Labor Day, when I was teaching fifth grade. The results were similar, in that they came in with a better understanding of what their relatives do at work. They also learned what it took to get to that point.
Get a Copy of the Labor Day Interview for Your Class
This school year is starting out in a very unique way. Many students are learning from home instead of in person. Therefore, I have updated the Labor Day Career Interview so that it is now in Google Slides format. That way, it can be assigned, completed, and submitted electronically.
History of Labor Day
It is always a good idea to have a discussion with your students about the purpose behind the various holidays celebrated during the school year. I would bet the majority of your students think of Labor Day as simply a day for barbeques and maybe a parade. Or, they may know it as the last day that the public swimming pool is open.
Labor Day is celebrated in the United States on the first Monday of September. It can be as early as September 1 or as late as September 7. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, it is to celebrate the contributions of workers “to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” It was first celebrated as more of a local holiday in the 1880s. It eventually became a national holiday in 1894.
It took a tragedy before it became a national holiday. In 1894, union members who worked for the Pullman Palace Car Company making railroad cars had gone on strike. They were protesting low wages and the firing of some union members. This ended up bringing many railroads in the country to a standstill.
The federal government sent troops to break up the strike. But this led to riots, during which more than a dozen of the workers were killed. This created even more unrest in the country. So Congress and President Cleveland decided to make Labor Day a national holiday in an effort to bring peace back to the country.
Labor Day has become synonymous with the efforts of workers and labor unions to ensure safe working conditions and fair wages for all. So rather than just being happy to have a three-day weekend, we should remember to honor those that came before us. They have made our workplaces safer throughout the decades.
Please visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store to download your own copy of the Labor Day Career Interview. It has become a key part of my Labor Day lesson plan. You can assign it digitally as Google Slides. Or, you can print it out and make photocopies for your students to write on.
If you would like Back to School Surveys to use with your students and their parents, check out my blog post here.
If you use this with your class, please let me know in the comments section below how it goes!