Shop teacher is a rarity for the fieldSporting a key ring the size of a janitor’s, attached to a belt loop in her blue jeans, Ashley Johnson leaned back in her chair and said: “I’m kind of an odd duck.”
By: By Ryan Bakken, Forum News Service, The Jamestown Sun
FERTILE, Minn. — Sporting a key ring the size of a janitor’s, attached to a belt loop in her blue jeans, Ashley Johnson leaned back in her chair and said: “I’m kind of an odd duck.”
She was not referring to the rarity of being a female shop teacher. She was referring to the rarity of being a shop teacher who came from a metropolitan area and was without tool training at home. She’s from Champlin, a Twin Cities suburb, with a high school graduation class of 700.
“My dad took me deer hunting, but he didn’t do things around the house,” she said. “We never had a shop like a lot of these kids here have. I never milked a cow.
“I got interested in woods class in high school and just kept at it.”
Now, she’s in her first year at Fertile-Beltrami High School, teaching a woods class to upperclassmen to start her day and a welding class to finish it. In between are classes in small gas engines, seventh-grade industrial arts and computer-aided drafting, part of which requires constructing a robot for a competition.
Five subjects is a stout teaching load. However, the job has its pluses.
“One perk is that I get to wear blue jeans every day,” she said.
Stamp of approval
Even in blue jeans, Johnson has a runway model’s height and appearance. But she also has a glare that quiets the most rambunctious of seventh-graders, even more squirrelly than usual because of the newspaper visitors to the wood shop. A disapproving look is enough to restore order.
The seventh-graders are mostly oblivious to the rarity of a female shop teacher.
“At first, it was kind of weird,” Isaiah Horgeshimer said. “But she’s good at it so we all got used to it.”
Anne Sykes said: “Some jobs have more men than women and some jobs have more women than men. Usually, it doesn’t matter.”
And Dylan Van Den Einde inferred that she gained credibility — at least from the boys — by living the last two years in Alaska while her husband, Matt Johnson, taught high school shop there.
“She lived in Alaska, so she’s kind of a tomboy,” Van Den Einde said.
Gender-specific jobs disappear
Gender-specific jobs have gone the way of land lines. Many men are nurses and day-care providers; many women are doctors and engineers.
Johnson, 24, is far from the only female who is a technology education teacher — the fancy title for shop teacher. In fact, Fertile-Beltrami Superintendent Brian Clarke said both applicants for the position were women.
Clarke said plans are to hire an agriculture teacher for the next school year “and the majority of the candidates so far are females. Always, no matter the job, our focus is on hiring the best individual.”
Despite Fertile-Beltrami’s hiring experience, female shop teachers are rare. Johnson said there were no other women pursuing a shop-teaching major when she was at Bemidji (Minn.) State University, graduating from there in 2010.
“The only other female in the building was one of the teachers,” she said. “And she was by far the best shop teacher I had.”
Now, she’s in that role. And it has been everything she anticipated since aspiring for the job as a teenager.
“I like what I do. I like the kids. I like where I am,” she said. “It’s very rewarding work.”