Back to School: Issue 11

You can’t stay in your corner of your forest

HOW MANY WOODWORKING programs exist in schools across America by comparison to 50 years ago? As a high school shop teacher I heard many estimates, but no one really knows. I decided to follow the advice of A.A. Milne’s fictional character Pooh who once said, “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” Here’s why I think existing programs need to network, and why we need to share with our communities what we do.  


I’d like to begin in 2004 when I was introduced to Bob Spencer, director of education for Woodcraft Supply headquartered in Parkersburg, W.Va. The introduction was made by Doug Stowe, a woodworker and teacher in Arkansas with whom we were both acquainted. I mention that so you begin to understand the value of networking. During the first year, Bob and I discussed a variety of projects and ideas to support woodworking education. 

One idea was the development of a Web site for woodworking teachers,  Growth was slow during the first year so a discussion forum was added to the Web site in January of this year. The idea proved successful. At the time of this writing over 80 teachers have joined the forum. Our goal is to double that number by the end of the year. 

This relatively small number of teachers may reflect the infancy of this forum or it may reveal a larger concern. Shop teachers, according to my experience, are typically reclusive individuals who love what they do and spend their entire day helping students in their shops. In other words, they don’t get out much. I once mentioned to a fellow teacher from another school that I had gotten to know the woodshop teacher at his school. His reply: “I didn’t know we had a woodshop in my school.” 


We need to tell people about our programs because publicity strengthens programs. The future of many programs may some day rely on public support. We need to bring the public into our programs or bring our programs to the public. This past year I have had over 20 articles in local and state papers, magazines and trade publications about the program that I teach. Not long ago only my students knew what we did in this program. Publicity has dramatically changed the audience that now knows what we do and supports the program at Pinkerton Academy. 

To advance this idea, I approached the Guild of New Hampshire Woodworkers with a request to fund a program designed to help publicize New Hampshire woodshop programs. They offered the financial resources for NEAWT (New England Association of Woodworking Teachers) to contract with Sullivan Creative to help New England woodworking teachers learn to market our programs. This winter, a letter was mailed to all middle school and high school principals, school boards and directors of career and technical centers in New Hampshire. It contained testimonials, an explanation of why woodworking education is important and a list of “21 Reasons Why Shop Programs Should Be in Our Schools in the 21st Century.” Woodcraft Supply agreed to pay the mailing costs. The association will share the letter with anyone who wants to inform legislators and others. 

The second component was a workshop for woodworking teachers to explain why it is important to market our programs and how that can be done. At the workshop, teachers created an event to promote their program(s) and wrote a press release using guidelines from Sullivan Creative. It was a practical exercise not only for teachers, but also for any group that wants to promote its activities. The workshop also addressed how to photograph a student’s work, a popular topic to be addressed again at our November meeting.


1. Assists students in communicating and understanding ideas nonverbally, through pictures, sketches, and technical drawings. 

2. Enhances the skills of spatial visualization required for geometry, trigonometry, and algebra, thereby helping students to prepare for careers in engineering, architecture, and science.

3. Provides students with take-home, physical evidence of the mastery of their skills. The objects are prized and often kept for a lifetime. 

4. Instills a pride of accomplishment and self-esteem.  

5. Offers opportunities for students to go where their hearts desire by selecting designs and projects that motivate them not only as woodworkers but also as students. 

6. Provides opportunities for students to overcome setbacks that occur when working on real objects. 

7. Provides non-academic areas for demonstration of skills and pursuit of excellence.

8. Helps students gain confidence as real world problem solvers.

9. Helps students gain confidence in tool use and to learn safety considerations required for a career, a lifetime of general home maintenance or a lifelong hobby.  

10. Offers an appreciation for the values inherent in skilled labor and the work contributions of others. 

(For the complete list of “21 Reasons Why Shop Programs Should Be in Our Schools,” visit woodworkingteachers. com.)


Just as these workshops will prepare us to share our programs with our communities, the Woodcraft Web site forum will allow us to share our programs with teachers across the United States. 

What forum users are saying:

“With the loss of shop classes in many schools, there is also a loss of connection to other shop teachers. With the advent of this forum we once again have a community of teachers with which to share ideas, gain inspiration, and even on occasion, gloat about our students!” 

            Michael, California

“I think that this forum has the potential to be a tremendous resource for both new and veteran teachers. I have already found inspiration in some of the posts.”      

               Joe, Virginia

With continued support from Woodcraft Supply and others, we hope to encourage teachers to look at what is outside their forests. It would be nice to someday know how many woodworking programs exist in schools across America. 

— Jack Grube teaches and directs the woodworking program at Pinkerton Academy, Derry, N.H. 

Networking benefits Oakes, Pinkerton 

Graham Oakes, recently named winner of the 2006 Woodcraft Tradition of Excellence Award, represents Jack Grube’s networking philosophy in action. Readers may recall that Graham was profiled in the April/May issue of Woodcraft Magazine.

After completing a basic woodworking course under Grube as a sophomore, Graham entered woodworking his junior year and became part of a one-time program called Creative Enterprise developed by Grube and woodturning specialist Beth Ireland. Under Ireland’s guidance Graham discovered his immense natural talent for turning and how to market what he made. 

While Graham was honing his woodturning skills, earning awards and selling thousands of dollars’ worth of his wood creations over a two-year period, Grube was networking to spread the word about Graham’s phenomenal achievements as well as the Pinkerton woodworking program. As more people learned about Graham, opportunities opened for him as a demonstrator, presenter and teacher, and the Pinkerton woodworking program gained positive recognition. 

Graham continues to win awards and gain media attention for himself and Pinkerton.

Woodcraft selected him as grand prize winner from among monthly Tradition of Excellence winners in 2005-2006. Grube nominated him for the award initially, and Graham was one of the first monthly winners. Graham will receive a $1,000 Woodcraft gift certificate, and a $1,000 Woodcraft gift certificate will go to Pinkerton Academy. Publicity about the award reached media all over the country.

Not long after the award was announced, Graham was featured on “Chronicle,” a WMUR-TV show that is broadcast throughout the state.

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