As times have changed, teachers have had to change as well, learning new methods for engaging students in the classroom and fostering a passion for lifelong learning.
John Moore teaches building construction technology at Millsaps Career and Technology Center in Starkville and he has a special secret for snaring today’s Internet-savvy, gadget-loving teenagers: Get them in his class once and chances are they’ll stick around.
At the end of this school year, Moore will have logged 46 years as an educator, with 40 of those years spent at Millsaps. And though he plans to retire, he has no intention of abandoning the trade industry which spawned a passion and led to a career.
As a teenager growing up in Greenwood, Moore was skilled with both a football and a hammer. He played center and defensive lineman for his high school football team, but a summer job captured his interest and a high school class sealed his fate.
Looking to earn extra money, Moore got hired to mix mortar for several area bricklayers. Back then, those were the good jobs, he said. And though the labor was hard, it was lucrative for a man who was skilled and willing to work.
It’s a little harder to get students interested in trades these days.
“Students just don’t have that work ethic,” Moore said. “When it comes to doing physical activity, they’re a little lazy, but it’s good for them. It definitely will help them become stronger adults.”
His classroom is a testament to changes within the industry. Computers are scattered around the room and students use them to pre-visualize their designs. Alongside the technology is a plywood wall with a tangled mass of wires running to light switches and electrical outlets. Even as the building industry changes, the fundamentals remain the same.
There’s no substitute for the hands-on experience students gain in their lab work, Moore said. And through tactile immersion, students often stumble upon the same realization he discovered when he was their age: There is pleasure in building something, stepping back, looking at it and admiring one’s handiwork.
Signs of success
Several years ago, the Starkville School District began requiring students at Starkville High School to take a three- to four-week career exploration course at Millsaps, during which students must choose six of 10 skill classes offered in automotive service technology, building construction technology, health sciences, marketing and economics, business management, teacher academy, agricultural science, horticulture, computer graphics or information technology.
The purpose of the program is to expose students to different career paths, Millsaps Director James Stidham said. By the end of the introduction, they not only have an idea of what they might want to continue studying, they also know what they don’t like.
The Oktibbeha County School District sends ninth graders to Millsaps for a similar program which teaches science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Millsaps teaches around 750 students every year, many of whom have passed through Moore’s class and gone on to earn a living with the skills he taught them.
“He’s done a great job over the years,” Stidham said of Moore. “It’s a sign of success when you see students going on in the trade you trained them in.”
Recently, Moore took his students to watch the construction of $500,000 to $600,000 homes in Starkville’s Country Club Estates, where he then saw one of his former students high up on the wall, placing bricks.
Building for the future
Keeping their hands busy often keeps their lives straight, as well, Moore said, noting increased focus the students gain from the responsibilities placed upon them.
“Any time you have something constructive you can do, it’s good, because if you don’t, you’ll find something destructive to do,” Moore explained. “Once they find themselves, they put forth the effort and get better control of their lives.”
Longtime teachers like Moore also contribute to the stability in students’ lives, said Dr. Beth Sewell, interum superintendent for the Starkville School District.
“They become a part of that school and that school community and they have ownership and get to know the students and other teachers, so they’re tremendous mentors and historians,” Sewell said. “We’ve been very fortunate to have Mr. Moore in our school district.”
For Moore, it’s been a chance to pass along his knowledge, as well as his passion.
He enjoys building so much, he intends to keep his contractor’s license current, even after retirement, he said. He expects he’ll do pretty much the same thing he does now — build and teach — except he’ll be doing it in the community, instead of the classroom.
“For me, it’s like therapy,” he explained. “When I’m building, I get involved and it reduces stress.”
Although he’s looking forward to traveling and will remain active in the construction trade, he said he will miss being part of the students’ lives.
As he walked down the school hallway, making the old familiar trek from his classroom to the office, he paused to reflect on the place where he’s spent the majority of his life.
“It seems like yesterday,” Moore said wistfully. “I don’t know where the time went. It all went so fast.”
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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