B’laster Names February 2022 ‘Instructor of the Year’ Candidate
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B’laster Names February 2022 ‘Instructor of the Year’ Candidate

John Stratton, from OHM BOCES in New Hartford, NY, is the February semi-finalist in the Instructor of the Year Program.

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John Stratton, automotive instructor at Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES IN New Hartford, NY, says he’s proud of his career, but is reluctant to bask in any self-promoting spotlight.

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John Stratton – February’s B’laster Instructor of the Year Semi-Finalist.

That’s what makes being named the February Finalist in the 2021-2022  B’laster Instructor of the Year program such a double-edged sword.

“I actually prefer to stay in the background and do my work without personal recognition,” Stratton says. “But the reason I would even apply for something is to bring recognition to our program and hopefully promote more students to take an interest in it and to take an interest in attending our school”

Gaining recognition for his program and boosting the reputation of his industry has been Stratton’s passion since about as far back as he can remember, he says.

“I guess the start was as a very young boy, back in the ‘60s, when I would tag along with my dad when he’d take the car to the repair shop. I remember just being fascinated by what was going on there. So, from a very young age, I always wanted to be in the auto service field.

Growing up, Stratton says he was always tinkering with small engines, starting with mini bikes and moving up to old cars, and developing from there. He took a couple years of auto mechanics in high school then went to SUNY (State University of New York College) at Canton where he earned his Associate of Applied Science. He started working as a technician, primarily in new car dealerships, eventually promoted as a shop foreman. He soon joined the area’s new Acura dealership as a service manager and parts manager.

He is ASE certified as a Master Automotive Technician, and in Maintenance and Light Repair, and Advanced Engine

Performance and Stratton says he was able to hold just about every position possible in automotive service departments. These experiences led him naturally to his current role as instructor.

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“As things went on as a shop foreman, I began doing some training of, not just younger, but older technicians too, with some of the new technology. I started taking some college coursework (at SUNY Poly and SUNY Oswego to get certified as a teacher. While I was doing that, an opening came up in the Adult Ed program here at OHM BOCES, so I taught adults for a couple years. And then the full-time day job became available and I decided to take the plunge then.”

Stratton says he didn’t have only grease and the oil in his blood, but an  educational background as well.

“My father was an educator, so I guess it’s been in my blood as well, so I decided to take the plunge full time and leave the dealership world and come here to OHM BOCES,” he says

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“Back when I was going through high school, and maybe unfortunately still somewhat today, the word you got back at your home school was, ‘If you went to the BOCES, you couldn’t go to college.’ So I didn’t attend BOCES here, but this is still in the local town that I grew up in. I went to high school in New Hartford, so it’s a Welcome Back, Kotter thing where you come back and teach the kind of kids that you were in high school. So it’s fun.”

Luckily, the short-sighted view about the trades is no longer the primary attitude and Stratton encourages his students to prepare for a successful career. He is a co-advisor for SkillsUSA, and a member of ACTE, the North American Council of Automotive Teachers (NACAT), and the National Auto Service Task Force. The OHM BOCES automotive technology program received international recognition when he was chosen for the 2018 NACAT/SEMA Award. Stratton was named as the 2020 SkillsUSA New York State Advisor of the Year and 2021 SkillsUSA Region 1 Advisor of the Year.

“The nice thing about SkillsUSA, is it really encompasses all of the programs and curriculums that we have in our school. We really focus not just on the hands-on auto tech or welding skills, but also the personal skills, workplace skills and technical skills, all grounded in academics. It’s a student-run organization and leadership community service is a big part of it.”

I’ve been involved with those, at local level, at the New York state level. I’m the mechanics cluster chair, so I oversee 11 different mechanical contests. At the national level, I’ve served a few times as a judge at the national contest. So, SkillsUSA is something that I really believe in, I’m a chapter advisor here. 2020, I was fortunate to be selected as a New York state advisor that year. Then last year, went on to become the Region One advisor that year, which encompasses the Northeast United States. It’s something I’ve been involved with for a long time, a really solid believer in what they do. Especially with our officers, the growth that you see in students going through the SkillsUSA programs is just amazing. It’s a big part of what we do.

While the big draw for the students may be the SkillsUSA area, state and national competitions, Stratton says he does not focus on winning competitions. “I just don’t believe in focusing our whole curriculum on what they may face in a contest. We work mostly with live work, live vehicles, customer cars, and real-world situations, rather than simulators and training stations that may benefit some students at a contest level.”

Stratton says his selection criteria for contest participation isn’t necessarily who might do best, but who is most deserving of the chance to participate. “I might select the student who shows good attendance and work ethic and to me deserves the chance to go and attend and experience the competition. We require community service at our school before we’ll send anybody to a competition,” he explains.

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“We’re focusing on the whole student, not just auto skills. When we get potential employers who come into our consultant committee, they say, ‘Okay, it’s great the kid can turn a wrench, but a lot of the kids who can turn a wrench the best are not employable,’” Stratton explains. “If they can get a job, they can’t keep the job because they don’t have those personal skills and workplace skills with regard to teamwork, communication, work ethic and integrity and all the other things employers are looking for.”

Stratton know what he’s talking about regarding employability. “I was the same way – when I was a service manager, I passed up lots of good technicians who had good technical skills but seemed to have an attitude issue or a chip on his shoulder or something. That guy will chase out the rest of my good technicians. We’re focused on more than just wrench skills or scan tool skills or whatever it is, we really want to try to develop the whole student.”

Promoting greatness to his students does not mean maximizing his own self promotional opportunities. In fact, Stratton is reluctant to draw any attention to himself.

“I told our state director at SkillsUSA, that I’ve been able to dodge awards for the past couple of years because the competitions have been virtual. I didn’t have to go on stage to accept any awards because we’ve been remote for the past two years. I prefer it that way. When our chapter is recognized at our SkillsUSA conferences, I make my other co-advisor, go up and accept the award. Her name’s Kimberly Petronella, so obviously when they call my name and she goes up to accept it, it looks a little funny, but I don’t care. I try to stay off the stage.”

Instead, Stratton plans to use any recognition he receives to do what he always does – deflect to his program. “Maybe a kid will see this and be curious about our program and decide to look into what we offer. Even if it’s not automotive, maybe they want to be a welder or a carpenter and they’ll check out some of our other programs. Personally, I’m not necessarily a big fan of recognition and I shy away from it. Sure, it’s nice, but I like to stay in the background.

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In his free time, Stratton has volunteered as an AYSO soccer coach, Boy Scouts of America scoutmaster, and BSA summer camp director, and enjoys hiking and camping.

Are YOU the next B’laster Instructor of the Year? Nominate yourself or another worthy candidate today.

For more information on the 2021–2022 B’laster Instructor of the Year program or to nominate a worthy instructor, visit Tomorrow’s Technician today.

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