Industrial arts teacher prepares the next generation for the workforce

The sound of hammers hitting nails, the heavy roar of saws chewing on wood, tape measures popping back into place and booted feet hitting the subfloor are probably white noise to Brock Anderson, who is in his 23rd year. industrial arts education.

On January 4, Anderson was busy supervising a class of high school students under construction to move forward with the construction of a new home at 180 Parkridge Drive in Kalispell.

“We have our open house on May 11,” Anderson said.

Construction students are part of the Kalispell Student Built Homes program, which Anderson helped establish at Flathead High School in 2015, with help from community partners and professionals in the construction industry. The program has since opened up to include interested students from Glacier High School and Linderman Education Center.

Anderson, who joined the Flathead staff in 2007, said his first teaching position was in a seventh and eighth grade woodworking workshop in Sidney, MT, but growing up he had no idea that would be his path to ultimate career.

“I had no idea what I wanted to do – maybe something with my hands. Growing up I was still building forts and building stuff and helping mum and dad and grandfathers and grandmothers. I’ve always liked to build, or build, or work on cars, ”he said.

He had some exposure to the teaching profession through his father, who taught English in grades seven and eight in Columbia Falls, the town where Anderson grew up, but he was still unsure whether it was for him until he enrolled in Western Montana College. , now known as the University of Montana Western, to participate in wrestling and football.

“Come and find out that this is a college of teachers,” Anderson said with a smile.

He started to rethink the subjects he loved in high school.

“So I’m like, well, my favorite class in high school was industrial arts – the carpentry shop, welding. I guess I’ll be a store teacher.

“It went well. I am very lucky to enjoy what I am doing, ”he said.

After a year in Sidney, he accepted a position at CM Russell High School in Great Falls where he had to go back to school to learn how to teach a computer networking course in addition to lumber and pre-construction.

“I did a little bit of everything,” Anderson said. “I learn new things every day.”

“You have to be prepared to learn because it covers a wide range of skilled trades,” he said of being a career and technical education teacher.

After getting married, having taught in other cities, he wanted to come back to the valley to be closer to his parents and help them in case of need.

He went on to teach computer aided design, automotive and pre-construction classes, and then woods 1-4 at Flathead. Finally, the time had come to launch the Student-Built House program. The need to replenish a skilled workforce in the valley was evident, as was the interest of professionals in the construction industry to help. The students were eager to register.

“I had a lot of students who took the forest program to go to college with their friends. It is not a good solution for them. They come back. They are asking for jobs. They are practical children and I really saw a need for this program to give these children more skills to enter the skilled workforce with tools in their toolbox per se, ”he said. he declares.

HAVE THE The ability to take a high school construction course versus on-the-job training allows students to learn, ask questions, make mistakes and correct them without fear of being made redundant. He said they also learn the ropes from professionals who partner with the program.

“We have students at different levels, you know, in their education, but basically we’re an applied science class here,” Anderson said. “We teach them math. We teach them the charging points. They are taught to calculate concrete volumes. We do the Pythagorean theorem every day, ”he said.

Students who complete the construction class receive 360 ​​learning hours registered with the Montana Department of Labor. Students also learn all areas of construction starting with finding property lines.

“Many children will find a job before they leave the program. The builders will come to visit us, ”he said.

It means a lot to Anderson when students get an apprenticeship or find they can comfortably make a living in the trades. Attending college shouldn’t be the only mark of a successful person, he added.

“I’m very frustrated with our company, and part of education, that they consider you to be successful as a student if you go to college. The professional fields, the apprenticeship program, in which these children are enrolled, are very important. Right now these kids – if they show up and have the right attitude and work ethic – they can move up the ranks pretty quickly. We have a lot of success with our students who come out of this program and go into the various skilled trades. Many of these children are practical learners.

“We are missing that niche with these students to give them the opportunity to use their hands,” he said.

OPERATION OF A a high school program like this doesn’t end when the “for sale” sign goes up.

Work continues to make sure everything is in place for the house built by next year’s students – permits, subcontractors, suppliers, schedules – mowing the lawn in the summer until buyers move in – And complete the work under warranty.

“You have to be goal-oriented rather than time-oriented,” he said.

The biggest challenge he has faced in managing the program so far is the closure of schools during the pandemic.

“The hardest part was when Covid hit and closed the school,” he said.

Anderson, volunteer instructor Tim McLean and his two daughters, both students at Flathead, had to complete the house that year, he said.

The million dollar question for Anderson is why does he continue to teach rather than go into the private sector?

“You know, if we don’t do this for the next generation, who will? I mean someone cared enough about me, ”he said, naming former carpentry and welding teachers at Columbia Falls. “You know, they did that and they could have gone into a business and managed on their own, but someone has to be there to teach these kids. “

“Sometimes you have to see the big picture,” he added. “Money is good, but what are we doing to help the community? What are we doing to help the next generation of students and the skilled workforce? “

TO TAKE CARE community is something Anderson hopes to pass on to students.

“These children meet a lot of people from the neighborhood. These children shoveled sidewalks for people. We help where we can – just trying to teach those kids to give back. Help where help is needed, ”Anderson said.

“I think it’s so important for these kids to grow up, to know what it’s like to help someone, especially with their skills,” he said.

Construction sites present many dangers. Ensuring each other’s safety is also an integral part of the construction job that it hopes will translate into everyday life.

If there is anything he hopes to instill as a teacher, he said it would be, “No matter what you start, finish it. Whether it’s college, apprenticeship, or military, you just need to complete it. If you want to invest in yourself, have the foresight to see it through, ”he said.

Journalist Hilary Matheson can be reached at 406-758-4431 or

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