Sometimes you know exactly where you want to go in life. Other times, your path needs to be guided by faith.
“My father earned his PhD, and was a full professor in farm power and ag mechanics,” explains Joe Hires, Automotive Technology Instructor at Nichols Career Center, part of the Jefferson City School District in Jefferson City, MO. “He was always going out and working on people’s tractors, and of course, I was tagging along. In school, I could handle the technology, but I did not do well in academics. I barely made it through most of my classes, but when it came to shop class, I had an A. He wanted me to go to college, and I said, “No thanks. I’ll pass. I’ll never be a teacher in my life.”
From that humble beginning, Hires has now become the November Finalist in the B’laster/Tomorrow’s Technician “Instructor of the Year” program.
“I told him I’ll never be a teacher – boy, did I eat my words!” laughs Hires.
The Instructor of the Year program, sponsored by B’laster and Tomorrow’s Technician, tells stories of excellence in education through nominations made to the website, tomorrowstechnician.com.
“In 1980, the month after I graduated from high school, I started as a tire technician at a tires store,” Hires says. “I was in that business for 15 years, two years running service trucks and helping change tires, and then 13 years running the wheel alignments, steering and suspension. I was in a pit, four foot in the ground, for the most of my days.
“In 1995, I bought a business with a partner and we ran it for 10 years. Again, I did a lot of steering and suspension, as well as auto repairs of all kinds except automatic transmissions.”
Hires explains that he continued his passion for industry training throughout his early career. “I did a lot of supplier training, I went to the Vision Conferences, I kept trying to keep up with everything. It’s constantly changing in this industry, so it never stops, you’ve got to keep training.”
Finally, he says, he’d had enough of working for other people and decided it was time to offer his services in other ways.
Hires says he was burned out on business, but didn’t know what to do. “I spent a couple years in reflection and getting to know the Lord real well. And then I asked, ‘What could I do different?’ One day a young man walked up my driveway, and we started talking. He was telling me about how bad his life is and all the things are going wrong. His dad’s in prison, his mom doesn’t have money. I asked him about his bicycle because I saw him walking. He said it was broken. I told him to go get it and we’d work on it.”
Hires said the two started working on the boy’s bicycle, but he was offering more than just mechanical service. “He told me he was in trouble with the law, he was going to go to juvenile center because he couldn’t get his community service hours. I found out that through our church, I could repair bicycles for donations to a Christmas program. He and I fixed 30 some bikes that year, and the next year we fixed 60.”
Together, they teamed up for three years. “I think in total we fixed 120 bikes,” he says.
Hires says that humble beginning led him to think that his future would be working with students, working on cars, teaching them what he knew and had done for his whole life.
“At the end of the third year, I walked out of the business and handed the keys over,” Hires says. “Then less than a month later, I walked into Nichols Career Center and started teaching. I went from one extreme to the other.”
Hires says he won’t only teach his students how to do a repair, he teaches them to do the job right. “I stress to my students that we can’t cut corners when we’re working on cars. Those cars have to be done right and I won’t accept halfway. I keep up with training. I try to volunteer and help as much as I can.”
Hires says he has continued to work with the local and national organizations, including Skills USA and with Working Wheels for Working Families. “This included cars getting donated to this group, and we would get them here to school, and go through them. The students and I go through them, make sure they’re worthy of being donated to a family. And if they were, we would fix them and take them to a shop and then they’d double check our work, and then they got donated through a grant program.”
Hire says that, unfortunately, that program was interrupted at the beginning of the COVID pandemic and he hasn’t been able to find another program yet, but he continues to search. “I’m still looking for another program like that where I can work with outside interests to help people in need who need their cars worked on. I guess that’s been, in a nutshell, about what I do, just trying to help everybody out, trying to help other people who have less than I have.”
Making Lessons Accessible
Hires takes pride in how he has modernized his classroom teaching methods. “When I started, it was textbooks and worksheets and PowerPoints and all that good fun stuff – I don’t like PowerPoints. I can’t stand sitting in a meeting watching some guy read a PowerPoint to me. So I started looking for different avenues, different curriculum. And around 2009, after going to iATN and I was introduced me Electude, the online learning program. I signed onto it and have been on it since 2009. I was one of the earliest ones in the Central US to get it, because I like the way it teaches.”
Hire says for students who learn like he did, innovation is critical. “I want to be able to teach the way I like to learn, and not have to be doing as much reading. It’s more interactive; it’s got more of a gaming program look to it. I just always look for something new. We use Google Classroom now, it’s all online, which makes it easier in some respects. It doesn’t ever stop changing.”
His methods have met with success, as evidenced by his placement success.
“At some points throughout the last 10 or 12 years, I’ve had former students at every dealership in Jeff City. That includes former students at seven or eight dealerships, small local independent repair shops and transmission shops. In fact, one of the top techs at the GM center up here who does all the EV vehicles, is a student from 2007,” Hire says. “He’s one of the top techs in the GM line, and he’s brought electric cars in for us to look at and he’s explained all the systems on the new cars.
Other students have had success in other aspects of the automotive industry as well and, while Hires says he’s proud of their accomplishments, he is reluctant to take full credit.
How Satisfying Is Being Named An Instructor Of The Year Finalist? “Well, it’s pretty humbling because I know a lot of great teachers and I always think that I can improve and do better,” Hires says, “and I keep trying to look for making the classroom interesting and fun. I’m getting students who have never touched tools before, so that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing with the Skills USA fundraiser and letting students work on different projects.”
The fundraiser, Hires explains, allows students to create artwork from old car parts. He says he’s always amazed at what they come up with.
“I have great administrators, who let me and the students be creative. It’s fun for me when they’re putting something together out of car parts and they are proud of it, when they work on a car and they get the car fixed and they’re proud of that too, so it’s always kind of fun to have that done.”
Hires says he plans to continue learning for himself and his students for as long as he can. “I started out changing points on a 1950 Chevy truck and now I’m going to self-driving cars – we’ll just continuing learning all about the new systems, ADAS, the electric vehicles and all this stuff, and keeping up with Vision. The need doesn’t change. You’ve got to just continue keeping up with everything.”