McKay School alum shares counsel learned over a rewarding teaching career

After spending 30 years as a woodshop teacher, Sam Gardner has learned several lessons himself. Sam graduated in industrial arts education from BYU in 1980 and went on to earn an MA in vocational education from Northern Arizona University in 1990. He is married to Lynne Michele Gardner, and they have four children. Included below are some of Sam’s thoughts on teaching.

How was your experience teaching woodshop and interacting with students different from a more traditional classroom setting?

The big difference is the classroom management and the stress on the safety of 15 to 20 young people. At any time if one of them does not do exactly what you have taught them, they could cut off a finger or hand or put out an eye. All of my students went home with ten fingers, two eyes, and a nice piece of furniture that will last for years.

What lessons have you learned from teaching woodshop?

You have to be able to focus on the individual while also using all of your senses to monitor what everyone else is doing. Don't be afraid to get your hands and clothing dirty helping a student solve a problem. Don't just tell students how to do something, but show them how, and do it with them until they can do it by themselves.

I learned to know the sound and feel of my classroom. If it doesn't sound or feel right, someone is having a problem, doing something wrong, or doing something that could get them hurt. You have to stop what you are doing and find out where or what the problem is and solve the problem.

You know you have reached every student, when you can tell him or her to go to work and the student goes to work like a well-oiled machine, everyone on task, like a beehive. That doesn't always happen, but when it does, it feels so good. When it doesn't, you know you need to give some more training to the group or to an individual.

What are some of your favorite memories from teaching?

I had one student take woodshop three periods a day as well as an adult night class. He made a beautiful oak roll-top desk for his mother. He is now a pilot and a pharmacist. Last year he donated $500 to help students with the cost of their projects.

I had a student tell me he had to make a piano bench because he had broken his mother's. He made a nice mahogany piano bench. I was able to watch from inside the classroom as he took it out to his mother. She was so pleased and proud of what he had made. I think I witnessed a bit of healing take place in the strained relationship of a mother and son as she hugged the embarrassed young man. When he came back into class, I thought he was walking just a bit taller.

I am now retired and work at a copper mine where many of my students now work. It is so good to see them as adults. They proudly introduce me to their fellow workers. "This is my woodshop teacher. I still have that [project] that I made in your class.” Many of these men are now supervisors on their crews, and they are responsible for the safety of their workers, just like I used to be responsible for their safety.

What advice would you give to students who are just starting their educational career, especially those who will be teaching technical education courses such as woodshop?

Never stop learning; when you stop learning you stop teaching, and you lose the excitement for teaching.