A Passing the Torch Letter to a New Collision Repair Teacher

06/01/2021 by Val D'Anna
(with special thanks to Dennis Bruemmer of Nichols Career Center)
To the New CTE Educator Teaching Collision Repair Next School Year,
Welcome back to school on the other side of the desk! An opportunity awaits that’s going to reward you, frustrate you, connect you to a first-class network of your peers, and make you wonder, those first few years, if it ever gets any easier. It does, but it’s not the “gravy job” your former co-workers at the body shop think you took. The worst case of orange peel you ever fixed on a paint job is a cakewalk compared to keeping 20 fidgety teenagers interested enough to stay off Snapchat for an entire class period. 
Hold off on judgments and expect it to be tough. The first few months is way too soon to tell if you’re going to get the hang of it. Give it until your third year. By then, you’ll be measuring up to that favorite teacher you hold up as a role model. 
Teaching didn’t come naturally to me. But now that I’m retiring, starting my day without reciting the pledge of allegiance and taking attendance just isn’t going to feel right. My heart will probably always beat to the rhythm of the school year. What I’m trying to say is you made a good choice. If I could repeat the past 23 years, I’d spend them right here. Getting young people excited about collision repair and qualified for entry-level work when they leave here – what could be a better way to serve an industry I love and that’s in great need of new talent?
Being prepared is standard good advice, but just how do you do that? A good place to get your bearings is right here in your classroom. Take a good look around, because it may not be what you expected. There’s no chalkboard or overhead projector. No textbooks or gradebook either. We use I-CAR® curriculum for technical schools. You’ll be presenting lessons on the smart board connected to your computer and emailing worksheets to students. Your students will be taking classes and tests online, and grades will post to your online gradebook. If you’re out of your depth in a digital classroom, make haste to the IT department. They’re great people and won’t make you feel computer illiterate just because you don’t know what a browser cache is, let alone how to clear it. 
A heads up on the curriculum:  Enhancements are coming down the pike. Watch for updates that I-CAR will email you. In the meantime, you have access to more learning and teaching resources from I-CAR than there are colors on the collision tint guides posted on the shop walls. Realistically, you’ll be doing good your first time through the program just to be a few weeks ahead of your students. Try to spend even 15 minutes a day on Repairability Technical Support™ (RTS) for ideas for homework and extra credit assignments. Not sure how to navigate the Instructor Support Website (ISW) or where your online gradebook is? You’re part of a statewide network of collision repair teachers, all using I-CAR and all willing to help. Another helpful resource is the regional I-CAR manager.
As far as the shop, we have an active advisory board and grants from the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) to thank for our quality tools and equipment. Never hesitate to reach out to the local industry. Insurers supply us with wrecks; vendors with supplies like tape and sandpaper. As much as car models change, you might not have the right clamp for a frame machine, for example, and may be able to get a loaner from a shop. I’m especially proud of internship opportunities I’ve set up with area shops.
I figured I’d save my most important advice for last, to make it more memorable. Always remember that all students will bring joy to your day. Some when they enter your classroom and some when they leave it! (I figured getting you to laugh after all this serious advice also would help you remember what I most what to share with you – my insights about students.)
You are truly living the dream here, because our students have to prove they want in. Over summer, they complete I-CAR’s Intro Series of 14 online courses. From day one in your class, they know the vocabulary and tools of the trade and are primed for learning. It’s tight, but you can get them to be employable right out of this program. I do want to stress this: One of the biggest mistakes new teachers make is trying to teach too much. Only cover what you can teach well. Safety is one topic needing thorough coverage. Students shouldn’t set foot in the lab until they earn a perfect safety exam score. 
A favorite lab has been a fender project. The class learns how to shrink metal and pound, apply body filler and two tone, and how to mask. To draw on the power of peer teaching, everyone critiques everyone else’s work and we all talk about how to fix problems. Fenders are signed and hung on the walls until students claim them at the end of the program. Some of those fenders are on display in shops that former students now manage. 
You’ll have a lot of project ideas of your own, but you may need more help with the methodology of teaching. I explain on the first day that I run this class like a shop manager and view students as my technicians. I tell them I’m entrusting them, as a supervisor would, with expensive tools. Recognizing that students learn differently, I’m alert to whether a student learns best by reading, listening to lectures, watching demonstrations, or some combination.
You can’t go wrong relating to your students as you would to your children. It’s as important to make students feel seen and heard as it is to deliver a well thought out lesson. There’s something about the fresh start of a new school year that makes even the most cynical student hopeful that maybe this year will be different. Maybe this will be the year he or she’s going to love school. I hope that student shows up in your class, because that’s the chance we all want – to make a real difference, to become that standout teacher remembered for helping students navigate life. Though I’m leaving the classroom, my life will continue to be enriched by my students, because I run into them everywhere. Seeing how well they turned out, knowing I played a part in their success – what could be more satisfying than that?
Good luck, and if you ever need a sub, I hope I’m the first one you call. 

Bruemmer_Headshot.jpgThis letter was composed as a tribute to the high school and college educators who are transferring their knowledge and passion for collision repair to the next generation of industry workers. The fictitious letter writer is modeled on retiring educator Dennis Bruemmer of Nichols Career Center in Jefferson City, Missouri, an early adopter of I-CAR’s PDP-EE™ curriculum. While his reflections and advice were creatively interpreted as a “passing the torch” letter, anyone who knows Bruemmer will “hear” his voice coming through. Back in 1977, when Nichols Career Center started its collision repair program, Bruemmer was a student in the same class he’d end up teaching for 23 years. His teacher became his first employer, and eventually Bruemmer would operate his own business for 17 years. In the middle of that, he jumped at the chance to fill a vacancy at Nichols Career Center. In nominations for Nichols’ “Difference Maker” award (which Bruemmer won in March 2021), his peers and students describe this “fantastic role model and mentor” as follows: “made me more confident in myself to help find a job in auto repair. He doesn't judge people when he first meets someone”….“strong character and work ethic is demonstrated in his classroom/shop every single day”…“continually educates himself so he can remain on the cutting edge of his field”…“positively impacted the course of his students' lives, and opened doors that they would never have known existed”….“I am blown away by the growth of (his) students”….“shown that he knows what he is doing and uses his knowledge to help his students, specifically me. I struggle… because of (him) I am learning better.” Bruemmer looks forward to spending time with family during his retirement and is considering ways to volunteer his considerable talent to further the education of collision repair students.