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NYC Helpline: How To: Develop as a Professional

How Can Guest Speakers Support Student Learning in Your Classroom or School?
Theresa London Cooper

Inviting guest speakers into your classroom is a wonderful way to introduce professions and career choices to your students and give them opportunities to reflect on what they might become. Every year my students and I waited eagerly to talk to the three or four guests selected to speak to us.  

As with most events, it is never too early to begin planning. My elementary-school principal established a Career Day Committee that began planning many months before the event, which took place in May. Ask your students if their parents would be interested in speaking to the class about their profession.  Speak to some of the adults in the neighborhood like storeowners, dentists, and bankers. Your colleagues might have friends who would like to volunteer. The committee sent invitations, a letter to explain the intent of the day with instructions and suggestions on the 10-15 minute presentation.  The committee also included directions to the school via subway or by car.

The committee made sure that each classroom had a least three speakers who represented diverse professions. When possible, the committee assigns guests to the class who could support the specific learning or study that was taking place. Many of the guests reflected the ethnicity of the students to help them see what they could become and that others already existed as models for them.

The students, from kindergarten through grade five met veterinarians, bankers, lawyers, police officers, nurses, business people, entrepreneurs, musicians, dentists, architects, politicians, firefighters, and a host of others. Each speaker had 10-15 minutes to present and several minutes for a follow up question and answer session. The students became very excited when various speakers brought props like stethoscopes, badges, blueprints, and drawings to support their explanations of what the profession entailed.

Even if you don’t have a formal Career Day in your school, speak to your administration about inviting guest speakers into your classroom. You can discuss the idea with another colleague and plan together to have speakers for one or two periods. I’ve found June to be a great time to have speakers visit; the school year is winding down, but instruction is still important. 

Here are some of the ways my students benefited from the Career-Day experience: 

  • It gave them a purpose for reading since they read books to develop a background and understanding of some of the professions presented on Career Day.
  • It gave students an opportunity to practice composing and asking critical thinking questions as some of the questions were planned weeks and days before the speakers arrived.
  • Students practiced and refined their oral language skills.
  • Students were exposed to new professions or gained more information about a profession with which they already had interested.
  • The event helped our students begin to understand how what we studied related to their own lives.
  • Students had a purpose for writing thank you notes to the speakers who visited them.
  • Some students served as escorts; they walked each speaker to his/her appointed classrooms, giving them a real sense of responsibility as “model students” representing our school.

Career Day illustrated the integration and connection of subject areas, highlighting the importance of literacy, mathematics, the arts, social studies and science with an emphasis on community building, critical thinking, discipline, and planning for the future.  I hope you will plan such an experience for your students.

E-mail Theresa

See also:
End Of Year Rituals For Teachers and Students by Judi Fenton


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