Don assumed the responsibilities of Lead Building Trades Instructor, as long-term Building Trades Instructor and Department Chair, Pat Church, transitioned into a new role as Program Supervisor. An MTTI Building Trades graduate and a skilled tradesman, we asked Don why he chose to return to MTTI as an instructor.
“You have to like what you do; I like helping people get started on their life-long careers. I tell prospective students that this is a great program. If you are attracted to the trades, but unsure in which trade you’d like you have a career, the building trades program teaches skills for flooring, framing, roofing, finish work, electrical, plumbing—potentially there are many pathways forward. My goal is to help students have the best possible chance for success with whatever they decide to do.”
My parents owned rental properties and did the majority of the work themselves. I grew up in that environment, painting the fixer-uppers and start-ups they bought. During High School at Diman Regional Voc-Tech, I studied plumbing for 3 1/2 years. During junior year, I was already working part-time as a plumber.
But at 17, I needed my parent’s blessing to enlist; my parents flat out said “no”—they wouldn’t sign for me. After graduation, I enjoyed working with the plumber for 7 ½ years; then I wanted a change. Enlisting in the Army, I told the Army recruiter that I was experienced in plumbing, but didn’t want to do trades work in the military. I wanted to learn something new.
I took courses in Intelligence Operations at Cochise College. I became a lead instructor for incoming new privates or people re-classifying, delivering concurrent and remedial training for four different weapon platforms. I also completed a nine-month strategic deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Working in Human Intelligence taught me a lot about verbal and non-verbal communication and about how people learn.
I visited the Providence Vocational Rehab, where vets who have a service-connected disability get assistance in finding their career path, as they re-enter civilian life. The Counselor and I talked about the likelihood of taking over the responsibility for some of the properties my parents owned in Fall River. Tim knew MTTI and was familiar with the Building Trades program. He contacted Admissions and helped set up a tour of the school.
HVAC/R was a strong contender; I had done a little of that when I was working with the plumber. When I toured the Building Trades program, Pat Church, the Lead Instructor and Department Chair, was in the shop, instructing students on drywall patching and repair. Pat was fantastic in how he answered my questions. Apologizing when he had to go back to the class, he said we would sit down to talk.
I also liked that he gave honest responses to my questions about placement. I love to learn and liked the idea of gaining skills in multiple trades. Coming in, I knew a lot about plumbing, but not much about electricity. Even though I had installed heating systems while working in plumbing, I needed more experience in troubleshooting them. I did have cross-skills, for example in measurement, which I knew were important for framing and carpentry.
Students joining the program today all start with the first unit that overviews the industry and teaches the proper use of hand and power tools. I had to jump into the middle of the program, entering as students were starting the siding unit.
There was so much information! What one person leaves the program with is different than the next person. They get the same material, but not everyone has the same mindset. Some people see it as their future and soak it up like a sponge. I was very focused on learning, sometimes working through lunch, or even after class.
I helped my parents with their properties, and got paid for the side work I was doing. When we got to the plumbing unit in the program, I drew on my prior work experience in plumbing to teach some of the people in my group different ways of piping and venting drain-waste-vent systems. One of the students said to me, ‘You make a really good teacher.’
He offered me a position as a Regional Maintenance Technician for 120-130 stores. Every day became a different adventure. One day I might be doing a roofing repair; the next day an interior repair—and the following day I’d be installing flooring or dry wall. Cumberland Farms is a great company—there’s a lot opportunity for growth. One maintenance tech told me he had been there twenty years. Richard is a fantastic supervisor—someone you want to work for. If you are comfortable driving to different locations and taking on new tasks each day, the company offers great career potential.
It was snowing; the students had left. Two staff members said that the school might be hiring a Skills Instructor. Skills Instructors work with students hands-on in the shop, supporting the Primary Instructor. They told me that my name came up as a possible candidate.
I’ve always, even while growing up, enjoyed helping people. When I had been placed, by chance, in a position as an Instructor in the Army, I gained experience in teaching people. Having attended the Building Trades, I knew the program curriculum; I’ve used almost everything the program teaches every day on the job.
We can have fun with the students—but we draw the line. Classes at MTTI simulate the actual workplace. Just as projects in the field have to be completed on budget and on time, so do projects in the Building Trades shop. That way, we prepare students not only with technical skills, but with the communication, customer service and time management skills employers tell us they look for.
Most instructors in any of MTTI’s programs will tell you that everyone learns differently. Even after having taught 9 different class groups over 4 ½ years, I continue to run into people who have unique personalities and individual thought processes. As an Instructor, that keeps me on my toes. There are many ways to do things; If someone does things differently, it’s not necessarily wrong. As an instructor, I’ve learned from students to see things from someone else’s viewpoint.
I appreciate how Pat interwove references to current cultural event together with his instruction. I do that, too, every now and then. When we transitioned to having classes virtually on Zoom during the COVID-19 lockdown, I definitely had my gaming hat on. Student recognized that, and they more easily embraced the new way of learning.
I feel fortunate to have been taught and mentored by Pat. As the Lead Instructor & Department Chair, I wear many hats. I hear a multitude of life problems. I try to help where I can. My goal is to support students in having the best possible chance for success, with whatever they decide to do.
What I enjoyed most during my Army career was the feeling that everyone was in it together. I want to give students the experience of being part of a team and working together towards shared project goals. Instructing students at MTTI is vastly different compared with the military, but both involve helping people learn. Witnessing that moment when someone who has been struggling connects, and ‘gets it’, is the same. When students can explain what we have learned, and are excited to be learning—that’s the fun for me.