Posted to Educators' Forum on 6/29/2012
How teaching safety became important to me
How teaching safety became important to me:
I retired at the end of the 2011 school year after teaching
automotive for 38 years.
While reading an IATN thread about safety last year (http://members.iatn.net/forums/search/search.aspx?action=viewthread&m=25056&t=25048&forum=forum7&ft=1&fv=4&qv=1), I realized how much I had learned about safety,
much of it while on the job. I really feel a need to share
some of those experiences with other teachers.
I had been teaching for only 6 or 7 months when the only
major accident of my career occurred. After I retired, I
started sorting through some of the things I had accumulated
over the years. One of the things I ran across was a
deposition to which I gave testimony after that accident in
which one student was seriously injured due to another
youngster's lapse in judgment.
Here's my story. My 1st period class started at 7:30 a.m..
Even juvenile delinquents can be pretty subdued at that time
of the morning and this was one of my favorite classes. I
used to have lunch in the staff room with other teachers and
staff. My vice principal, Buck Buchanan, was impressed
because I had so many of his trouble kids in that class and
during our frequent lunchroom encounters I often told him
that I thoroughly enjoyed my group. They had lots of
personality and I wish I had kept a log of all of the quirky
things they did. For those of you who are old enough to
remember, this was during the time of Welcome Back Cotter
and these kids were my Sweathogs.
Things were progressing as normal that morning when shortly
before 8 a.m. all hell broke loose. I had a top-notch senior
who was working with a younger team member who for no
apparent reason decided to turn the ignition key on a manual
transmission car that was in gear with the clutch out.
Remember, this was in 1973, before cars had the safety
feature to assure the clutch was depressed before the
ignition could operate. The car lurched forward, pinning the
senior student between the vehicle and a workbench and
giving him a compound fracture to his upper leg. Ill never
forget the sound of his screaming; like a dog hit by a car.
I had one of those moments where you hear about people
having superhuman strength, pulling the car off of that kid
and leaving tire marks on the floor.
A senior student from another of my classes was my tutor
during first period. He was one of Buck Buchanan's high
spirited kids and always seemed be in trouble in his other
classes for one thing or another. He and I got along fine,
however, and he was my hero on this particular day. We had
no phone in the shop and there were no cell phones in those
days. When I told him to get help, he literally jumped over
a workbench and was on his way, sprinting quite a long way
to the principal's office. The fire department arrived very
quickly after that, but this young man had already run back
to the shop to help me tend to the injured student.
The injured student was one of my favorites. He had signed
up on a waiting list to be in the Coast Guard before he was
16, so he could follow in the footsteps of his father and
older brother. This accident, however, disqualified him for
service. I'll never forget visiting him in the hospital with
his parents, his leg hanging in traction, when I learned
that he would not be able to be in the Coast Guard. The
accident was not my fault, but it occurred on my watch and I
still feel some responsibility for the way this changed his
life. Could I have done anything differently that might have
prevented this accident? I don't think so, but it still
One thing that really bothered me was that the school
district did not have an accident policy to cover this young
man's medical expenses and the family was forced to sue.
This was my introduction to the craziness of bureaucracy.
College prepared me in the many aspects of CYA. Fortunately,
I had done all of the safety instruction and had kept
records of each students safety test. After giving a
deposition to a couple of attorneys hired by the school
district, I never heard about it again.
This accident happened during my first year as a teacher. I
was only 22 years old and was already supporting a family.
Although I might have been wise beyond my years, I really
didn't have any clue whatsoever regarding the nuances of my
responsibility for the safety of my students. I was
traumatized, to say the least, by the accident. But during
my subsequent 37 years of teaching, this accident galvanized
me to want to do my best to scare the crap out of my
students so such a thing would never happen again while I
was responsible for their safety.
I'm proud to say I made it through the rest of my career
without anything more than a minor accident on my watch, but
I was also very lucky. In one instance, during the year
before I retired, I heard the sound of a lift lowering and
instinctively looked away from my conversation with another
student in the direction of the lift. The student had left a
high reach tall jack stand under the rear axle of the car
and was visiting with another student as he began to lower
the vehicle. I yelled at him and got everyone out of the way
in case the car fell. Luckily we were able to raise the lift
back up without the car falling.
It is so important for a teacher to keep an eye out for
everything that is going on! There were several other times
during my career where I was able to prevent potentially
serious accidents from occurring. But sometimes you are just
I have been in labs where I have observed teachers who
immersed themselves in a single project while other groups
of students are unsupervised. The more years under my belt,
the more difficulty I had in watching a teacher who was
unaware of the big picture. There are some really smart
people who are sometimes oblivious to the world around them.
Our students safety is our primary responsibility and you
just cannot take this for granted.
I was very lucky to have an excellent teacher for a really
engaging safety class during my upper division studies at
Long Beach State. His name was Dr. Earl Smith and he became
one of my mentors. We were required to write a safety test
in his class and I really struggled with that. My room mate,
a wood shop guy, had it so much easier; they lose fingers
and have table saw kickbacks and other obvious stuff in wood
shop. But, I had to write ten automotive safety questions
and I had a difficult time coming up with them. From this
end of my career, I have a hard time believing I was in that
place because it all seems so obvious now. As a college
student, I had lots of inert common sense, but I was making
too many assumptions and had no idea what I was in store for
as a shop teacher. Really smart people sometimes do the most
careless things. Thomas Jefferson said that all men are
created equal; however this refers to rights, not abilities.
Needless to say, the experience of having a serious accident
in my shop really left a lasting impression on me. Since
then, it has always been important for me to take pride in
teaching real-world safety presentations, complete with
stories. My intent was to scare my students with something
they would not forget, but in a humane way.
For those of you who will be attending the NACAT Conference
in July, one of the seminars I will be presenting will be on
safety. I hope you can fit it into your schedule. I will
explain how I teach safety in a way that keeps the students
engaged. My presentation includes some slightly gory photos
that I cannot include in the safety PowerPoint that I'll
post on my web site, but I will provide some insights on how
you can customize and personalize your own safety
Tim from California