By Jerry Webb
I’ve been teaching for 22 years. I have a passion for renewable energy and environmental sustainability, and currently teach mechanical, electrical, construction, plumbing, and HVAC systems at Central High School in Chattanooga, TN.
Last year we began working with Real World Scholars. The students and I designed a program we called Next Generation Sustainable Living, which introduces students to green tech, renewable energy, and environmental sustainability. In addition to building and selling solar-powered chicken tractors, we work on tiny homes and even built a portable operational classroom called “The Green Machine”. Students really enjoy working on the business and the opportunities it offers to meet and learn from local industry professionals.
Through our partnership with Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, I discovered that they are heavily involved in Career and Technical Education in many positive ways. I also found out about their annual Prize for Teaching Excellence, which awards significant funding to both the school and the teacher. After some consideration, I decided to apply. As you can imagine, I was in complete shock, and so were my students, when we were called into the library a couple months later and told that we had won! It felt incredible to have someone recognize the hard work the students and I have put in.
This prize is an affirmation that good teaching matters; that good tradespeople are still a vital and valued asset in this country. For me personally, I don’t know who is more excited – myself or my children. A long overdue vacation is coming our way! Being able to honor my family and my students through this award is better than winning the lottery. Besides, you can’t win a big orange toolbox trophy in the lottery!
The prize money will allow our program to grow and expand. The students will have access to materials and projects they would not have before. They have always been eager about their work, but I have never seen them so excited about it until now. Their learning will be greatly affected by this in the best possible way.
We all have our idea of the American Dream. For some, it’s going to college. We hear a lot about college applications, acceptances, and scholarships. But this year, we had big news about another – often overlooked – group of students: those who put practice before philosophy, who work with their head and hands, and who want to develop the trade skills that will lead them into the workforce. This prize was BIG school and community news! Sure, students appreciate the fact that $50,000 is a LOT of money, but what this prize has done to elevate the pride and prestige of my career and our students has been the most amazing part. Everyone’s smile is a little broader, and heads are held a little higher these days.