Mr. Street's (un-)retirement

by Haley Carter for Silver Chips

In room 211, students can always count on the smell of fresh sawdust waiting for them. This room is anything but a normal classroom. Strange machines, such as band saws and drill presses, line the walls waiting to be used by the students.

In June, Blair tech teacher James Street thought he had finally bid farewell to MCPS after 40 years of teaching in the county and 11 years of teaching Research & Experimentation (R&E) for freshmen in the Magnet program. Little did he know that he would return in a few months. Unable to fill Street’s vacant position, Blair administrator Peter Ostrander asked Street to work temporarily as a long-term substitute in the classes he taught. “It was late in the summer [when Ostrander said], ‘We can’t find anybody. Can you come back and sub for yourself?’” Street says.

Street suspects he was needed back at Blair because very few teachers have the knowledge and skills needed to teach the class. “In particular [I have] the [qualification] of being able to use all the tools and machines and being able to teach how to use all those things,” he explains.

Street’s professional background includes an undergraduate degree in Industrial Arts, which trained him in woodworking, metalworking, metal machining, welding, and foundry, skills which equipped him to teach R&E. Street comments on how experience is also a notable factor in qualifications to teach this class. “Now, [the class has] evolved into technology education, where you’re still having [the] experience of making things, but you’re learning about how technology affects society and how the engineering process works,” Street explains.

Though it resembles a typical high school shop class, R&E differs in its approach. While students learn the technical skills of working with wood and an expansive selection of tools, Street places an emphasis on the experimentation process. “My class is [all about] figuring out how this whole process works, researching, [and] experimenting,” Street says.

Above all, Street has worked to make his class as authentic to the engineering process as possible. “When you’re done, I don’t give you the answer because that’s real science, right? If we knew the answer, why would we do the project?” Street says.

After returning to Blair, Street was able to focus more on his teaching since he didn’t have to attend staff meetings or complete other full-time teacher responsibilities. “I had other responsibilities before too that are now all gone. It’s mostly just about showing up and doing the job and grading a few papers and stuff like yelling at the children,” he says, laughing.

For Street, the most rewarding aspect of teaching is hearing from students who return years later that he helped them find their interests. “It’s probably the most gratifying when your students tell you that they learned something from you.”