Recently a former student stopped by to brag — “I’m making more money than you now!”— and I loved it. Elmer had enrolled in my Auto Tech class in LA Unified’s Adult Education program a few years ago because he knew he was not college material. From the time when he was in high school he wanted to learn how to fix cars. Elmer thrived in my class and after that rose in the ranks at a well-known car dealership in Van Nuys. Elmer thought he didn’t like learning, but it was just a matter of finding something that he was interested in.
We give people second chances—that’s how I think about Adult Education. If you open the door to an Adult Ed classroom, you’ll find people learning English, working on their GEDs, or picking up skills to be cosmetologists, electricians, plumbers, and solar panel installers. A lot of folks want to move out of their minimum wage jobs into something better. And our Adult Education program is affordable—most of our classes are free or low cost. When I taught Auto Tech at a private trade college, students there paid $20,000 a year for the same classes that go for $150 in LA Unified.
I have a degree in automotive technology, and I was a senior technician with Isuzu for 15 years. My classroom is a full shop, with a lifts, compressors, and all the tools we need. Many of my students are Spanish speakers, and auto work is a great equalizer because it’s so hand on.
Local auto repair shops and dealerships know my class, and people come to me and ask, “Hey, Aldo, do you have a promising student? We have a job opening.” Most students I’ve placed in jobs are still there.
I know I’m having an impact on my students’ lives, but being an adult educator in LA Unified can be a struggle. We don’t have the same job security as our K-12 colleagues—our teaching schedule can change year to year, depending on the whims of management. One year you could have a full load of classes, the next year only 10 hours. You can’t raise a family on that uncertainty. Tenure for adult educators would go a long way to strengthening our program, which meets such a huge community need.
Automotive Technology Teacher
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