The Home Depot in Knightdale, North Carolina.
Image via Wikipedia

Last Sunday, I replaced the front storm door.

Before I go any further I want everyone to know that I am not a carpenter!

During during this 6 hour ordeal, I got frustrated, tired, swore a bit (a lot actually), walked away, swore some more and then eventually “goober carpentered” it together.  If I had to do this type of work every day, whether I wanted to or not, at some point I would have a huge meltdown.  It wouldn’t be a pretty sight – me throwing a temper tantrum.

What does this have to do with education?  Quite a bit actually.

In school there are students who get frustrated, are or get tired, swear, walk out of class, try everything but what we want them to do and manage to get through the day – most days anyways.  Why?  They simply are not interested in what we are doing at school.

Can you imagine walking into the school building day-after-day feeling all those negative things and then being told daily that you need “remedial whatever” because the school says students have to be interested in this narrow band of subjects or sports that defines success in the school.  Now look again can you see many of those same students with carpentry tools in their hands putting in a storm door or being part of a crew that builds a house, working on a car, wiring a light, cooking or doing some other job we need to have done.  I can.

How do we engage these students?  Most of them have interests that lie in directions that are not traditional academics. When do we start tying their interests in the trades, the arts, computers or whatever is their interest is to their academics. Using real life “stuff” instead of the things they know they will never use, because their parents, relatives or older friends have already told them they don’t need a lot of that stuff that “they” teach in school.

Do we need two tracks in education one for those who know they want to be in a trade and one for those who want to prepare for college, with the ability move back and forth between the program as a student’s interests change? I strongly believe that we do.  I know that tracking is a “bad” word in education, but we still need carpenters, mechanics, repairmen, cooks, tailors, and all the other trades that our so-called new “knowledge based” and college ready society depends on and these jobs can not be farmed out overseas.

Getting back to my storm door story, on Saturday  when I was at Home Depot getting my storm door, one of my students from last year came up to me and talked for a while.  He said he was doing carpentry work this summer and loving it, he hadn’t missed any days of work, that he was making “lots” of money and learning a lot about what he would probably be doing after high school.

He looked at me and then at the door, he asked if I was any good at putting in a door and I told him I was a lot better teacher.  He teased back saying then that door ain’t never gonna work right – you want me to do it for you?  I answered back only if you are a better carpenter than he was a student.  There were a lot of smiles and laughs going back and forth.

As we parted he yelled back to me “Remember I still owe you that Pizza and now that you are not my teacher, I can buy you a Pizza for lunch, so we can sit down and talk, while we eat that pizza.

That’s when you know you are making a positive difference, even if you can’t cut a straight line or hammer a nail without the nail being crooked.  I may not be a good carpenter, but I hope that I am a pretty good teacher.
You know I wish that I had hired him to install that door, it would have been done quicker and look better.  Who knows maybe next year, he will stop by with that pizza and maybe I can help him with his homework.

Now I just wish I could wave my magic wand and …