On Being an Instructor

Note: I originally wrote this on June 5, 2022 – It’s worth sharing now….

Having just hit “Submit” on the semester final grades, I thought it would be a good time to open the laptop and spend some time rolling through the last 16 weeks of time spent and do my own After Actions Review of the term.

I’ve spent the better part of the last 5 months spending my free time teaching construction surveying & staking at Joliet Junior College. Our class was comprised of 7 students, all of whom are on their own journey within the construction industry. Some are already working in industry. Some are charting their courses. It was a nice mix of talent.

When I think back to Week 1, Class #1 & Hour #1, a metamorphosis occurred. The changes happened to me. I’m sure the students changed. But I changed too. I got to learn. To grow.

We oftentimes ask ourselves, especially as we become more senior in our roles, of how we’re impacting those around us. I’m a teacher at heart-Paying it forward is a mantra I’m very proud of. I like to think that I’m not selfish with my time, talent & treasure. If time is a fleeting commodity, I’m happy with giving it away to worth causes.

I benefited from the likes of Don Lutch, and Fred Antonelli and Jim Paleks and Rich Kinczyk – Guys who put their arm around me and guided me. Guys who set an example, who were quiet, humble leaders but executed with great success. They were role models for me. My early mentors.

30 years later, I am them. Not in likeness, but in my presence with others. I know, subtly being whispered in my ear, that people are watching. They are listening. They are absorbing. The unspoken words. The tenor of my speech. The message. I know they are listening, just like I listened to Rich and Fred and Don and Jimmy. And they are learning. They are growing.

On Class #1, I was confident but nervously apprehensive. Can I do this? Or am I a fake? Am I going to be able to teach this group of seven up-and-comers in our industry? Will my days at Westwood still  be in my RAM? I know that I have the knowledge, but do I still have the chops that it takes to instruct? To teach formally? This isn’t a blog post I’m writing. It’s not a podcast. I don’t have a backspace key, or a mouse scroller to scrub the audio file. While we’re all here in this classroom, I’ve got to bring my A-game. This crew expects it. I’m here to teach. They expect that.

The question: Did I give that to them? Did they learn? Anything? I hope so…

I know this: I learned. I grew. I got better. I sharpened my own personal knives & screwdriver tips and saw blades. I grabbed tools that were sitting at the bottom of my toolboxes, brought them out, and put them to use, rusty as some of them might have been. They felt really good in my hands. And it took a little bit of reactivation to remember how to use them, but I worked through it. Little by little, I got better.

It took 16 weeks to get to this point tonight, logging-in the final grades for the seven young people who allowed me to be a small part of their professional lives. I hope I did their time, energy and financial investment well. I’m hoping that some day I’ll be able to find out, but more-than-likely, I probably won’t.

One thing is for sure – They will get plenty of opportunities to see if their 16 week investment pays off. To see if it was worthwhile to some facet of their professional careers. I won’t be there the day that their superintendent, or their project manager, asks them to come in on a Saturday and help the survey crew chief set line & grade for 1500 feet of curb and gutter. I won’t be there when the sewer subcontractor is having a problem with a grade hub and calls one of them to check an elevation.

I hope that, in those moments, our time together in class will come back to them. That somewhere, somehow, they’ll have the opportunity to reach into their toolbox and find the rusty surveying plumb bob. That they can confidently walk to the site, tripod, level & rod on their back, knowing they have the ability to make things right.

My message to the students is simple:

I hope that you know that the exposure you gained, the skills that you leaned, are those of only 5% or 10% of your industry brethren. I would bet a week’s pay that, if you polled 100 construction professionals on whether they could run both a level circuit and a traverse and close both within 0.02′ & 30″ of angle that they could. Being able to confidently say to your project manager, “Sure, Chief, I can run a level loop around the site – When do you need it done…?” is the payoff.

That’s what makes a professional. Construction professionals are generalists. We don’t have a specialty, per se, like others in our industry. We don’t get to focus on “just” sewer design, or drilled shafts or roadway lighting: We have to know a little bit about everything. We have really big toolboxes, but we don’t get to use them all the time everyday. Sharing what we have, what we know, what we’ve done, pays dividends far-beyond the classroom.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.