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Bob the Would-Be Carpenter


A story for Chippewa Valley students planning for high school
By Michael J. McGahey


Bob was a senior in high school, and was looking forward to graduation in June, and to beginning a life away from school. But he did not know where he wanted to go or what he wanted to do, and he was not alone. His class had never received any career development instruction; they had never explored their interests and the world of work. Many of them lacked a sense of direction and plans.

When asked about post-high-school plans, one of Bob's classmates indicated that his plan was to buy a motorcycle, ride it out to California, spend a year cruising up and down the coast while learning to surf, and then he would come back to Michigan and get a job! There was no indication of how this adventure would be financed or what the job might be! One of the young ladies in the class said that her plan was to convert her part-time job into a full-time job, work and save money for a couple years, then marry, have babies, and stay home raising a family. Does this sound a little like the "Cinderella myth"? The reality in our world is that over 60% of women who have babies in the U.S. are back at work in less than 6 months. Career development is as important for females as it is for males.

Bob's English teacher became aware of this need for direction and he created a Career Development Unit for the class. Students completed interest surveys, researched careers, developed resumes, interviewed people in interesting careers, and wrote "Thank You" notes. This was interesting work. How could it not be? - It was all about them and they were interesting people!

As luck would have it, the school counselors had planned a Career Day at about the same time that the unit was ending. This event involved about 50 guests from a variety of occupations sitting at tables in the gym, available throughout the day. Students came with their English classes, because everybody had English, and they had the opportunity to talk with representatives from a variety of careers. There were travel agents, lawyers, accountants, nurses, radiologists, physical therapists, engineers, truck drivers, cosmetologists (who actually did a hair cut and styling in the middle of the gym). There were skilled tradesmen - electricians, plumbers, carpenters, heating and cooling technicians, auto body repairers, and many more. Mr. M's English class was finishing the career development unit and they eagerly went to the Career Day expo.

The class was gone for about 45 minutes. When they returned, Bob came in the door outrageously angry! Mr. M had never seen Bob angry like that. Bob couldn't even talk; he just snarled snarl and stomped around the room and snarled incoherently some more. He looked like he was going to put a fist through a cinder block in the wall! And Bob was a big, strong kid who probably could have done that! Mr. M finally got Bob to calm down and sit. He took a seat next to Bob and tried to find out what had happened, once Bob seemed able to talk.

"Bob, what happened? This was supposed to be a good experience; what went wrong?"

"Well, Mr. M, after doing this work in your class, I now know that I want to be a carpenter."

"Good. That's an important discovery. So what happened?"

"What happened is that I got down to the gym, and they had some skilled tradesmen there - an electrician and a plumber and a carpenter - and I thought ‘O.K., cool, this is just what I want.' And I went over and sat at the table with the carpenter and I told him that I wanted to be a carpenter and asked what I should do next. He said ‘Well son, first I need do know more about you. Tell me, what grade are you in?'

‘I'm a senior. I'll be graduating in June.'

‘Very good. Congratulations. And how much Math have you had?'"

Bob had been the kind of student who tried to avoid the challenging classes, the ones that might bring some more-difficult work with them. He had taken only the two easiest Math classes, the minimum required for graduation at the time.

"‘What? You didn't have any Geometry? No Advanced Algebra or Trig?'


‘What about Wood Shop? Did you take Wood Shop?'


‘Did you take any Shop classes?'


‘Did you take Drafting or Blue-Print Reading?'


‘Did you have a part-time or summer job in a cabinet shop or lumber yard or in any related work?'


‘Is your Dad a carpenter? Do you have an uncle who is a carpenter?'

‘No. No.'

"Mr. M, then he looked at me, and shook his head, and said ‘I hate to tell you this, son, but you better go talk to someone else. You're not going to be a carpenter.'"

The disappointment was written all over Bob's face. And then some of the anger returned to it. He looked at Mr. M and said "You know what makes me really mad, Mr. M? How come nobody did something like this 2 or 3 years ago when it could have made a difference?" He was talking about the career development unit.

Bob had a valid question. Today, Chippewa Valley and schools across the state are helping students to explore their interests and learn about careers. They are being helped to develop a focus and a plan for high school so that they do not miss the educational opportunities that are important to their lives. Chippewa Valley students have the opportunity to do some personal research and planning, and can avoid Bob's fate.

Bob was angry at the school. But he was also angry at someone else. Any idea who?

Himself! He was the one who chose the easy classes. (They were called "Mickey Mouse" classes back then; you call them "Blow-off" classes today.) He owned the choices; and he owns the consequences. When we have the feeling of regret, it's a pretty clear indication that we somehow defeated ourselves, that we made the wrong choices. As you progress through high school, you will have the freedom to make more and more choices. You own those choices and the results that they bring. Choose wisely and do it right. Take the cruise - the "Career Cruising" cruise. Do some research. Do some careful planning. Include your parents in the process; their support really is important. Make the most and take the most, of what Chippewa Valley has to offer you. Remember Bob, and don't go there.