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Five teachers. Five regions. One Advisor of the Year. And one thing in common ... a passion that despite life's turns, brings them back to their first love.

What occupation do you believe can change the world?

Ron McGuire

SkillsUSA posed the question to students at this year’s national conference. Their No. 1 answer: teaching.

The resounding response shouldn’t come as a surprise, particularly if you’ve met any of the five top teachers in SkillsUSA’s Advisor of the Year recognition program. And there are thousands more like them in the organization.

Yet that level of support from students is “very overwhelming,” says advisor Ron McGuire of Roseburg (Ore.) High School. “In fact, the only reason I’m here right now is because of my former students,” he told the interviewers who chose him as the year’s best advisor. “They’re the ones that originally nominated me for this award.”

And they’re the ones who say it best — like Kevin Mathweg, who calls him “a strong advocate for students and their participation in SkillsUSA. Ron’s leadership and enthusiasm have benefited students, advisors and the entire organization.”

A technical drafting instructor, McGuire has been a SkillsUSA advisor since 1993. He worked in industry for many years before returning to his first love, teaching.

His uncle was an automotive instructor, and his father, a carpenter, was a teacher in his own way by passing along his skills.

MCGUIRE ON ...

  • SkillsUSA in the classroom. With contests, it's "very easy" to attract students work industry updates into curricula. "The leadership aspect comes hand-in-hand with the skill areas," since it's needed in a job interview or technical presentation.
  • Community Service. Relating projects to skills brings them to "a different level." His students created 3-D walkthroughs of an abused children's center from a less intimidating perspective. They designed a performing arts gazebo for a local college.

Although he went into teaching after college, Ron McGuire left the profession and had been building homes for 19 years when oAlthough he went into teaching after college, Ron McGuire left the profession and had been building homes for 19 years when one of his former instructors called to ask about him taking over a night class at a community college. The call “rekindled a yearning,” he now says. He started thinking about what line of work would be the most fulfilling.

McGuire adds that when hired for the teaching position, he was asked, “‘Why would you want to give up such a successful building career to come back into education, when you know the salary is going to be much less?’ And I told them, ‘Because I’ve built and I’ve had fun building. I’ve gotten lots of clients, and I think it’s made a lot of people’s lives happier. But until you can get that self-fulfillment aspect of your life complete, you’ve not done what you’re intended to do.’ And that’s why I’m teaching.”

Finally getting her dream job

For Mary Beth Brace of Hackensack, N.J., it took 20 years to fulfill her dream. “When I was in high school, I wanted to become a teacher,” Brace says, “and at that time my guidance counselor talked me out of it.” Going into culinary arts instead, she found success in the hotel industry and her own business. “But I always wanted to teach, so I went back to school, got my certification and it came full circle.”

Now the chef instructor at the Bergen County Academies, Brace was nominated for the advisor award by student Tramaine Cooper. In five years, Brace’s SkillsUSA chapter has gone from “very small” to having Cooper elected state president. “We got to do many great things, and he’s quite an overachiever, so I think he taught me more than I taught him,” she laughs.

An impression lasting 25 years

Like many SkillsUSA advisors, Bonnie Holaday affectionately calls her students “kids.” Before starting 25 years ago at Southeastern Career Center in Versailles, Ind., she’d retired to have her own children, after eight years as a data processor. “The school needed a teacher, so I was recommended to them,” she says.

Holaday had never visited the school before, but she remembered “when I was working in industry and I took a teacher’s recommendation on a student at this facility. And we needed somebody quick, and I think the teacher wanted to get rid of the student, and it was not a very good match for us.” So after becoming a teacher herself, “I’d always relate that to the students, that I’d want them to be the type of students that would represent the program and would be someone that I would want to hire.”

Enjoying the work with students

Pam McFarland also went into teaching after starting a family. “I had seen the health careers students at the hospital when I was working there,” she says. “I had a tiny baby … and they scheduled me to work all these evening shifts and that didn’t work very well. So I saw the ad in the paper and thought, ‘Hey, I would like to do that, work with students.’ ”

Even 27 years after taking that job at Richland County (N.D.) Area Career and Technology Center, McFarland says she’s still having a good time. “I enjoy dealing with other people’s teenagers. The respect and everything is so much different than it is with your own kids.” Still, her daughter was the SkillsUSA state president for a total of four years.

Out-of-town students have stayed at the McFarland house in Wahpeton during their state conference, and there are reports that when her SkillsUSA members are staying in a hotel, the health instructor sits up in the hallway all night.

Facing a challenge and having fun

Like Ron McGuire, advisor Mike Howard made the leap into teaching after receiving a call from one of his former instructors. “A position had opened up at the same school, and if I could, he wanted me to apply for it,” Howard says. “This man was such a big difference in my life.” Although Howard was happy with his industry job, he took on the teaching position as a challenge to himself, “to see if I could do it and be as successful at it as he did it, and also to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Fifteen years later, as a drafting instructor at Griffin (Ga.) Technical College, he’s “a firm believer in making sure you get the work done and you get it done right the first time. But then you also have to have fun, because if you’re not having fun with what you do, why are you doing it?”

Fulfillment and fun: the best rewards. End of story

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SkillsUSA Champions | Fall 2004 | Volume 39, No. 1
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