Like many young people who graduated from high school in the 1980s, Dale McCraw was identified as “college material.” Today, he’s proud to help kids get even more out of their expectations.
“That was the whole story back then: go to four years of college, doesn’t matter what for, and a great job will be waiting for you,” recalls McCraw. “And it just wasn’t true, and I don’t know why they pushed it. If you WEREN’T going to college, it was like there was something wrong with you, which is bizarre, especially at the intelligence level you need to be able to work on cars today.”
Dale McCraw, with a passion for automotive repair, DID go to college to become a teacher, but found a different career path and ultimately became an educational RESOURCE and for the past 39 years has been helping to guide people into the automotive industry in numerous ways.
McCraw, automotive instructor at the Madison Career and Technology Center in Madison, MS, has been named the December 2022 finalist in the B’laster/Tomorrow’s Technician “Instructor of the Year” program.
“I’ve worked on cars my whole life. After high school I moved to Missouri for college, and worked in a shop at night and on the weekends while I was going to the University of Missouri and Southeast Missouri State University. And I thought I wanted to be a teacher, even though I love cars. At that time, you couldn’t get a degree teaching automotive. They made you take certain classes and jump through certain hoops, so had a lot of college hours, I just never finished a degree,” McCraw says.
He says he took a position at a local Ford dealership when the local tech job at the high school came open. “I knew I wanted to teach and I love cars – maybe this is for me.,” he recalls. “I was really worried about my credentials, though.”
He says his experience (and size) were enough to qualify him to teach automotive shop. “And to be honest with you, they were like, you’re 6’2, 200 something pounds from a military family. Okay, you got the job.
“I had to talk to probation officers. I broke up five fights. It was mayhem. Back then, I hate to say it, but shop class was a lot of dumping ground in a way,” he says.
McCraw says he taught at one Missouri high school for 18 years, and then at a big career center in Cape Gerardo. MO for another 7. “I was able to get my ASE certifications and taught an ASE-certified program. While in service to Cape Public Schools my students competed in Ford AAA every year and went to the state finals several times. Our program was NATEF certified and was a mentor program to Trezavant Career Center in Memphis Tennessee. I retired from the state after 25 years in 2009.”
Not being able to stay away, McCraw soon moved back home to Mississippi and joined the Madison Career and Technology Center as automotive instructor. “Here at the MCTC program I am the Automotive instructor and department head for Trade and Technical, on the leadership team, Skills USA advisor, and on the school’s safety team,” he explains.
“At present, I teach around 60 students a year; during my time at MCTC ,I have taught classes for other instructors, helped write the current automotive curriculum and testing for the State, participated in the recent restructure of the grading for CPAS scores at RCU MS State, and was asked to be the head of the state of Mississippi’s automotive area but had to turn it down due to long hours away from home. In 2017, we were the first school in Mississippi to receive NATEF national accreditation for the program under the new mandate. My class has gone to the Ford AM finals seven out of eight years and had the highest test score one year. We have also had the highest test scores in the state individually and as a group on several occasions.”
McCraw has received honors for community service as a class, high CPAS scores, was named his school’s Teacher of the Year twice (in 2013 and 2018), his district’s Teacher of the Year (in 2017) and was named Teacher of the Year for all of Madison County in 2018.
Yet for all the accolades, McCraw says his focus is on his students.
“I sell them on this industry every day, I try to give them their money’s worth,” he says. ” Sometimes my classes will come in complaining that some of their friends at their home schools are having a party in their classes and we’re doing work. I have to explain, ‘Kids, I’m trying to make sure you’re ready for either post-secondary or working.’ My whole classroom is structured around learning how to be a professional, how to be accountable for your actions. In the classroom, I’m a big entertainer. In the shop, I’m a very serious technician.”
McCraw says he demands safe working practices from each student and expects them to show show respect to each other. “In my classroom, I explain to the students on Day One that this is a safe place. We treat each other equals. There’s no racism, there’s no sexism, there’s no financial levels here. We’re all the same. I always tell them, you don’t know what the guy beside you is going home to every day. This might be the best two and a half hours of their life I don’t know if everybody is, but we try to have a classroom they love to come to.”
McCraw says he’s shocked and honored to be named a finalist in the B’laster/Tomorrow’s Technician Instructor of the Year Program. “I’ve been doing this a long time and we don’t exactly make millions of dollars doing it. So when you get validation that your hard work and your investment in the business and in these kids, is worth something, it really feels great and it really is an honor.”
McCraw is proud to contribute to an evolving educational atmosphere. “I think there’s a lot more inclusion It’s not a mind blowing phenomenon anymore for a female to take my class now, where in the past I’ve had girls say, ‘I wanted to take your class, but the counselor or my parents wouldn’t let me.’ And I still occasionally have that with even male or female students, but we’ve come a light years away from the stigma of being a ‘grease monkey’ People realize kids can make good money at this.”
He credits his administration and his advisory board with supporting his program – in fact, the two are inexorably linked. “I’m really blessed,” McCraw says. “Nine of my advisory board members are former students who are working in the industry.”
For more information on the 2022–2023 B’laster Instructor of the Year program or to nominate a worthy instructor, visit Tomorrow’s Technician today.