Some might say the only difference between a teacher and a student is time and experience. I’m realizing it’s so much more than that.
My name is Cari Ebbert and I thought I was over getting lessons about the trades. I’m an IBEW electrician, 13 years in, and thanks to Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. I’m still learning new skills. Even though I didn’t go through their nationally-recognized pre-apprenticeship class, OTI has been with me in a myriad of other ways through my trades career and teaching me valuable lessons along the way.
Early on as an apprentice I was recruited by my union to stand at a table during a career fair and talk about being an electrician and how to get into the IBEW apprenticeship. I got to talk about something I really loved and steer people toward a rewarding career. I really had to break out of my shell to confidently talk to whatever stranger that breezed by. It took me about 3 years attending the Women in Trades Career Fair before I realized that OTI was the driving force behind the annual event. A few years later I was recruited to give seminars at the same Fair about solar energy. That was another experience stretching and building my skills for speaking in front of a large group. It turns out it was a joint idea between a few members of my union and Oregon Tradeswomen. Wow! Another great connection!
Now, I find myself with some free time. An unexpected layoff is both a blessing and a curse in the construction trades. Suddenly you have opportunities to devote lots of time to something, but not necessarily any money spend on it. Fortunately, that’s how volunteers are born, and I’m spending some of my time with the Trades and Career Class students.
OTI is in the process of remodeling part of their office space and I thought I would lend a hand as a volunteer instructor. A couple times during my career, I’ve taken over training of electrical apprentices while one the job. This, however, was a whole new ballgame.
I was tasked with helping a few students frame part of a wall and attach a wooden header to the ceiling. Now, I maybe be able to bend conduit into a pretzel or pull wire left-handed with my eyes closed, but teaching carpentry when it’s not my profession is another thing entirely. The students are teaching me in this case, not necessarily about carpentry (Thank goodness Amy James Neel is around for that) but about patience, and empathy, and clarity. I’ve had to give up my natural desire to JUST DO IT, and instead, I have to focus on the job process, and safety, and efficiency and how to convey those ideas to someone who may have never used a hammer before coming to this class. I’m constantly being challenged to communicate and try to describe the things that my brain and body have been doing for over a decade now.
Fortunately, what I’m lacking in carpentry skills, my students have been making up in commitment, determination and focus. Each one of those impressive women has made great sacrifice to be in the program and you can see it every day in their energy and attention. They show up on time, listen, ask questions, confront and accept failure and have the positive attitude to try it all over again. They know that this class, and a career in the trades, can be a real, tangible opportunity for growth and change. I hope I can continue to appreciate the lessons they are giving me.