How did you become interested in teaching technology?
I started teaching when I was in the army. I learned HVAC in the army and then I became an instructor. I liked teaching. After the service I went into industry. I spent thirty years in the field. I became the national service manager for Air Distribution Association Corporation. I enjoyed my career in industry, but when I decided that I wanted a career that did not involve constant travel, teaching was a natural choice for me.
What kind of preparation would you recommend for people who are interested in teaching at a vocational school?
I would recommend a combination of formal education and field experience. College-level education is very helpful, especially when you teach the applied physics part of the course. Heating and air-conditioning is becoming very complex. You need to know what it like to do the job yourself before you can teach anybody else. If you made a living in this field, if you had your own business, then you know what a student needs to accomplish to become a good employee.
When I grade students, I look at them as if they were my employees. I look at their dedication, attitudes, professionalism, as well as skills. My goal is to help kids learn the life skills that they need-things like appearance, behavior, punctuality-that will help them get jobs and become successful in their careers. If I didn't have a background in industry, I wouldn't know how to get these young people ready for a job.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
I love to watch kids grow up. If you don't enjoy kids, teaching is not much fun.
How would you describe teaching at UTI?
I love teaching here because I get to work with young folks who are focused on their goals. This is an interesting place to work because we get a core curriculum that we need to cover, but we can enrich that curriculum with additional labs for students who want to learn more. We have a ninety-hour block of time spread out over three weeks for each course. Students take one course at a time, so they can concentrate. The class breaks down into a theoretical phase, where we teach applied physics, and a lab phase. Teaching the theoretical phase can be difficult. The information is complex, and you've got to be able to tell the same story seven different ways. When we move over to the lab phase, the students need to master several kinds of equipment as well as split systems, which are the kinds of systems found in most houses, and package systems, which are the types of systems used in industry-both standard efficiency and high-efficiency versions.
Lab work gives students a lot of opportunities to demonstrate their own initiative. Students who master the core curriculum can move ahead to advanced projects, so you never have any bored students sitting around. If they make a mistake on a project and break something, they get to fix it, which is a good learning experience in and of itself.
Do you have any advice for someone who might be interested in entering this field?
People who teach in this field should know that they will have to go back to school to keep up with new developments in technology. As industry changes refrigerants and new system controls are developed, we will all have to learn new techniques, so our students can take advantage of the huge number of job opportunities these changes will produce.
Michael Woods is a diesel engine and power train instructor at Universal Technical Institute.
How would you describe a typical day in your classroom?
Right now my class is working on labs. I describe what the class is going to do. I describe the project and tell the class what I expect from them. I assign groups and we start the lab.
The labs are all based on an engine or power train problem. The students need to follow a standard procedure for discovering what the problem is, taking the engine or power train apart, and making the repair. Their whole purpose is to confirm their diagnosis. Stu-dents work in groups of two or three, and the project is designed to include checkpoints where the students stop work, and I come over to check their work and authorize them to continue.
When I work with students, I explain that I have two roles. During the lab I am their supervisor, but at the end of the lab, I take on the role of their customer. They need to learn how to explain what they did and why they did it in terms that a customer is going to understand. If you can successfully explain something in simple terms to someone who does not understand the procedures involved, then you know what you are doing.
What do you like best about teaching at UTI?
The students really want to succeed. I can run a class that's pretty close to a shop situation. The only difference is that I've got thirty apprentices to work with. The students all have to master certain tasks, but if you want to increase their range, you have the freedom to expand the curriculum with more advanced labs. Kids can learn at their own pace, without anyone being held back. That's very important to us, because students can't move on to another project until they have mastered the skills they need. I like the challenge of making this work, because I know from my own experience that this vocation desperately needs good technicians.