The Spark that Ignites the PassionPosted 11/13/2006
By Brian Manley
Along the lines of "How do we get good kids into this industry?" I want to take a moment and celebrate an important milestone - the retirement of my friend and fellow instructor, Tony Craven.
I am sure everyone reading this column remembers his or her first (maybe only) automotive instructor. Even if you entered our industry without formal automotive training, you probably had a mentor who took you under his or her wing and guided you along the "path." We have all had someone who showed us how to properly torque a fastener, clean gasket material from mating surfaces, load test a battery, and how to "feel" the drag of a gapping tool through a spark plug gap.
He would, of course, take roll each day and impart a portion of his "Modern Automotive Technology" book to his class. Students warmed up to Tony within the first week or so because they could see he was simply being himself while sharing one of his life's passions.
He augmented his classroom instruction with shop-based lab packets where students would work in groups and perform many of the same skills that Tony taught in his classroom. Mounting and balancing a tire, performing a cylinder compression test, performing an exhaust gas analysis on a running engine with a five-gas analyzer - these would all be performed by the students and assessed by Tony on a go/no-go basis. Students would learn how to correctly lift a vehicle on a twin-post hoist, how to perform a lube, oil and filter job, and how to correctly identify and measure brake lining thickness.
But most instructors do those very same things each and every day of their careers. Tony, however, was unique; he infused his lessons with humor and delivered his lessons with patience. He often found memorable ways to get a concept across to his students.
He would cut out articles that reflected emerging technologies and state-of-the-art policies regarding alternative fuels, passenger safety or the newest car models to be released by the manufacturers.
An avid hot-rodder who owns a 1939 Ford Coupe with a 454 big-block Chevy engine, Tony would often relate his lessons to his hot rod or other quarter-mile race cars. He frequented car shows and brought back pictures of classic and unique cars and powertrains, then shared them on the big screen with his class. He would compare horsepower-to-weight ratio, tire-to-ground friction coefficient and aerodynamics of the race cars with the ones you and I drive. He could usually find a way to relate a concept to a student who just didn't get it.
Tony had a pat-on-the-back for a job well done, and would also have a handy headlock reserved for that unique kid who desperately needed it; he knew just when to dispense each one.
It seems that Tony's influence never stops. He once remarked that "When I have a son or daughter of one of my former students come into my class, it's time to retire." And that is exactly what happened. He has had several second-generation students in his class, and he loves back-to-school night when he can reminisce about the old days.
Tony has had his students end up as apprentice technicians at local dealerships and independent repair facilities, and he has also posed for pictures with students who finished in the top three at state-level automotive contests. Some of his students have gone on to traditional four-year colleges; others have completed two- and four-year automotive degrees at technical schools.
That's a guy who loves his job. He spent 30 years guiding students along the beginning stretch of their automotive adventure, and still enjoys doing it.
As we prepared to post the position to hire a replacement for Tony, I began thinking about where we might find an articulate, intelligent, fun-loving, automotive professional who would enjoy working with high-school-age students. I thought about how I began my teaching career, and I thought of a few techs who would make awesome instructors. Have you ever thought about teaching what you love to do each day?
Have you ever thought about supporting your local automotive school? There are many ways to help train young technicians and perhaps give back a little of what we were fortunate to experience at a young age in our own training. You can:
I am reminded of a survey of students that was conducted by our school district a few years ago. Students were asked what quality they most wanted to see in an instructor. The overwhelming response was "passion for their subject area." It seems students don't take a class just for the content; they enjoy a unique delivery method as well.
Thank you, Tony.
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