Summer School: Teachers become students via internships

After five hours of packaging herbs on a production line, English teacher Julie Cole knew the importance of teamwork and how much labor goes into making products people use every day.

Cole spent a week of her summer break as an intern at SupHerb Farms, where she shadowed employees at the Turlock business. She spent time taste-testing herbs such as basil and oregano, summarizing quality- assurance reports from SupHerb's clients, analyzing lab tests, and talking with employees from information technology, human resources, accounting and customer service.

"I've learned what qualities are most important for employers -- communication, basic computer skills, flexibility and the ability to adjust, being able to take direction -- a lot of students think that when they're adults they won't have to listen to anyone," Cole said. "I learned there needs to be a strong attention to detail and that employees need to be team players."

Cole needs to find a way to impart that to her students at Turlock High School.

Qualities businesses look for in employees aren't new or top secret, but Stanislaus

County company leaders say they have a hard time finding employees with them.

And because many teachers work alone in their classrooms most of the time, it's beneficial to experience the perspective of employers.

34 teachers to take part

That's why Stanislaus Partners in Education started the Educators Internship Program more than a decade ago. This year, 34 teachers will spend 40 hours shadowing employees at Stanislaus County businesses. They earn continuing education units and a $750 stipend. They then must develop a lesson plan that teaches students how to comport themselves when they apply for jobs or start working.

The teachers come from Stanislaus County junior highs and high schools; the businesses and organizations include Del Monte Foods, Foster Farms, Memorial Medical Center, Aquatic Dreams, Rep. Dennis Cardoza's office, the county probation department and the Gallo Center for the Arts.

Cole said she will use what she learned at SupHerb to develop résumé writing tips. She also plans on having someone from SupHerb give a presentation to students so they will start thinking about life after high school.

And when she talks to students formally and informally, Cole said she'll stress the importance of life skills.

"It's not always about a college degree -- it's about getting marketable skills," Cole said.

SupHerb President Mike Brem agrees, and pointed out that some of his 120 employees do not have bachelor's degrees, but earn more than some county residents who graduated from a university.

Brem said qualities that are important in the workplace include a strong work ethic and punctuality.

"We can teach certain skills, but we can't teach work ethic," he said. "It's important to have teachers hammer home the expectations."

Why aren't the expectations obvious to students?

"Teens are very egocentric, they live in the moment," Cole said. "It's not that they can't do it or won't do it. They have to get (taught the expectations) at home or at school."

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at or 578-2339.