Butch Can Teach Anything!!!

John “Butch” Dale

By the time spring of 1977 had rolled around, I had taught Social Studies, PE, and Health to students at Darlington Middle School and North Montgomery High School for seven years. That summer, Eual McCauley, the North Montgomery Superintendent, wanted to speak with me about the upcoming school year. He explained that there was a shortage of Industrial Arts teachers in the state, and he had been unable to fill the position at Darlington. He needed someone to teach shop class to 7th and 8th graders.

Mr. McCauley then quizzed me, “Do you know anything about metalworking?” “No, not a thing, ” I replied…”What about electricity?”…I shook my head, “Absolutely nothing. “…”OK, how about woodworking? “…”Well, I made some simple toy boats and other odds and ends when I was a little kid.” Mr. McCauley started to look somewhat forlorn. “Do you have any knowledge of motors, engines, and the like… “I tried to build a go-cart when I was 13, but it was a disaster. “…”What about drafting? “…”I never took that in high school, but some people think I am a fairly decent artist.” Mr. McCauley hesitated for a few seconds. He was getting desperate, “Butch, you grew up on a farm, right?”….”Yes.” “OK, that’s good enough for me. How would you like to be the shop teacher this year?”

Mr. McCauley was a good guy, and he had been a close friend of my Dad for many years…plus, he was the one who first hired me as a teacher…”Sure, Mr. McCauley, I’ll give it a whirl!” A big smile crossed his face, and I was the new Industrial Arts teacher at the middle school that September. He handed me the textbook, and I looked through it that evening. I was somewhat unsure how this would go over, but I decided that since it was junior high, I could manage. The students and I would learn together!

Since I grew up on a farm, I was familiar with several tools from watching and helping my Dad. So the first week’s lessons involved the identification of hand tools and power tools and their uses, along with safety. I decided that since I had no knowledge of electricity, it was best to skip that, so I had

everyone start a simple woodworking project, using hand tools only. The boys loved it! After a few more woodworking projects, I let them use some power tools…drills, portable saws, band saws, sanders, etc. and they thought they were professional woodworkers. I taught drafting for a couple of weeks in the classroom, but I could tell the boys wanted to get back in the shop room again, so we started on some simple metalworking projects.

Of course at that age, boys are starting to think about cars and getting their driver’s licenses in a couple of years. With not much money in the school’s shop supply account, I decided to purchase an old car with my own money and have the boys work on it. You should have seen the look on their faces when I wheeled a 1937 Plymouth coupe into the shop room one morning! We worked on it for a month, and the kids became “auto mechanic experts,” at least in their minds!

I taught that shop class for two years, and I can honestly say that I had as much fun as the kids. I even taught the 7th and 8th grade girls for a few weeks each semester while the boys took home economics and learned how to cook, sew, take care of a newborn, etc….all considered “female skills” back then…but not in today’s world.

One thing I discovered is that many of the kids who were not fond of math soon found out that basic math and knowledge of geometry are essential when building or making something in the shop room. I believed that shop class certainly helped to develop their math skills. Also, several students who took no interest, or who did poorly in other “regular” classroom subjects, really excelled in shop class. After high school many went on to become carpenters, auto mechanics, or other occupations which require specific knowledge and skills…certainly satisfying to them and beneficial to the community. My Dad always said that the main thing in life is to find something you love to do…and then become good at it.

Yes, I loved teaching shop for those two years. In 1998, after I had retired from the Sheriff’s department, the principal at Clinton Prairie called me, and asked if I would teach junior high shop class for a year until they found someone.

“I sure would!” I had another fun year! I eventually purchased several power tools from Sears and built custom wood cabinets as a hobby for a few years, and I enjoy working with my hands on all types of things. But as far as electricity goes, I can put in a light bulb…that’s about it. I cut a light cord in two with a pair of scissors when I was four years old. What a SHOCK…that was enough for me!

– John “Butch” Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 32 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.