Jack Stow: Showing the Way

Jack Stow: Showing the Way

Academic standards are not keeping pace with industry needs – Jack Stow is determined to lessen that gap.

Academia has a reputation for being caught up in its own little bubble, lagging behind what’s taught or used for work in “the real world.” Being an educator is demanding enough, so it makes sense that teachers often prefer to tweak lessons plans only so much year after year. But for Jack Stow, automotive technical instructor for North Kansas City Schools in Missouri, that’s not enough. His goal is not only to advance his students’ knowledge every day but also to update automotive education standards in Missouri to keep pace with a fast-moving industry.

Learn more about Stow’s views on:

1:12: The state of automotive education

3:44: Automotive instructors: recruitment issues and nationwide collaboration

8:01: Advancing automotive technology curriculum standards

12:13: How to recruit students and teachers

16:27: The role of industry professionals in education

18:19: The future of automotive education.

Teacher’s Blues

“I don’t think the education side’s able to keep up, because just like with computers, by the time it gets out to the public to educate, it’s outdated. So, I don’t know the fix it, but that’s what I think is going on,” Stow says.

Outdated curriculums aren’t the only problem. An outsider might look at the situation and say, “Well that’s easy — hire younger instructors who know the new tech!” Unfortunately, the pay gap between teaching and being a technician has widened substantially in recent years — and not in teaching’s favor.

There’s a common saying among educators: “I’m not in it for the money.” In a line of work that’s often underpaid, it’s true that most instructors are in it for the students and the love of teaching. And while it wasn’t very lucrative to be an automotive technician in the recent past, times have changed, and so it takes an even greater sense of devotion to work in the classroom rather than a shop. With technicians now being able to make upwards of $100,000, the biggest challenge Stow sees for the automotive education industry now is being able to draw instructors from the tech pool. Teacher salaries just can’t compete with technician ones.

Jack Stow teaching his students
Stow found his passion in teaching kids how to repair cars.

Despite these challenges, there’s a bright side. Stow celebrates the collaborative efforts educators across the country have taken in recent years. The rise of social media has allowed instructors in far-flung school districts to connect with and learn from each other. Stow admits to “stealing” plenty of good ideas from other teachers he would have never gotten to meet otherwise, simply because they worked on another side of the country.

In addition, he applauds equipment companies, such as Hunter Engineering and Tekmetric, for stepping up to help out schools by donating equipment and services. For instance, Tekmetric, a database system, actually approached Stow a few years ago to work with him on a program tailored for automotive instructors and their students to use free of charge. This sort of partnership has been tremendously helpful for Stow, who notes that databases are difficult for teachers to use, because their live shops still have to run tickets with parts in them, but it’s the students who have to fill out these tickets. 

Jack Stow showing scan diagnostics to students
Stow’s classroom is a live shop, and he works with equipment companies to make sure his students learn with what’s being used in the field.

“Let’s say [the students are] working on brakes. They can check off which task that they’ve completed during this job to fulfill that,” Stow explains. “Tekmetric helped me build that. They’ve shared it with other schools. So, there’s a lot of companies out there that really do step up and help the schools in that way.”

With all that said, Stow shows a great deal of optimism in the future of automotive education. “It’s bright,” he declares. “There’s such a need for what we’re doing — [it’s] a big job for instructors and administrators conveying that need. But more importantly, instead of just saying, ‘You can go get a great job,’ they also have to say, ‘But you’re going to have to work to get there.’ And every day is precious. Time and again, kids are kids, but you have to get them to invest in that future. So that’s going to be huge — bridging that gap for students to understand how much effort it takes to get into this killer income job.”

Old Enough to Know

Stow says that kids, no matter the age or generation, don’t change, so as difficult as they can be, they’re also predictable. On the other hand, technology has been evolving so quickly that it’s been difficult to keep pace with.

“We’re seeing things that are coming in [to the shop] that were concepts just 10 years ago. The change is happening so fast that, for ADAS driver-assist stuff, we don’t really have curriculums to teach that, but it’s on the road,” Stow admits. The same goes for electric vehicle (EV) technology. And with so much new information coming out, Stow doesn’t have much time to delve into learning all the new information, let alone change his curriculum.

Jack Stow and his class at SEMA 2023
Stow brought his students to SEMA in 2023 to show them what’s happening in the industry.

With this in mind, Stow knows his time as a teacher is coming to an end; in a few years, he plans to retire. But before then, he needs to find a successor. Just as Vetters tapped Stow for this position, Stow too has been looking at many of his potential past students as possible replacements for him. Some of them, who are well into their forties are doing “amazing things,” Stow says, but they would have to take a serious pay cut to become an instructor. So for now, Stow is still looking.

But when he does find his successor and retires, he still plans to be a part of the industry — though with a caveat. “When Bob retired, he did something that I didn’t understand until now. I worked with him a semester before he retired so I could learn, because I’m running a shop, I’m teaching. It’s a business, but it’s a business that can’t make money. And a semester went by really fast. In the end he said, ‘Jack, I’m not going to show up for a couple of years. I don’t want a sub. I have to distance myself. It has to become yours.’ And that was one of probably the biggest gift he could give me. He was always a phone call away, but he didn’t want … those kids to think, ‘Well, it’s Mr. Vetter’s program.’ He needed it to be handed off to me. So, with all that said, I’ll be there. Whoever needs me, I’ll be there. But it can’t be my program anymore.”

Jack Stow with students dressed as KISS band members
In addition to instilling the ethics of hard work and responsibility in his students, Stow also leaves a legacy of fun.

As much as Stow loves being a teacher and friend to his students, the legacy he hopes to leave behind isn’t so much about fixing cars. It’s about turning students into great workers.

“I was lucky when I was a kid that I got into this program. I worked with an amazing instructor that helped guide me through a whole lot and continued up until his passing. I hope, if anything, that I have been able to do that for students,” Stow says. “But who cares if they can fix cars, you know? If they’ve learned the importance of getting to work on time [and] while you’re there, do a good job, be a great employee — if that is something that I could give to students, that’s what I’d hope would be [my legacy].”

They say those who can’t do teach, but that certainly isn’t the case with Jack Stow. His passion for all things automotive fueled a desire to share it with others, and he takes pride in his students’ progress. With each successive class of students, he not only gains new friends but also promotes the trades to more and more youth, advances his students’ knowledge and works to make sure educations standards keep pace with a fast-moving industry — all of which make him a true Vehicle Care RockStar.

Jack Stow with rock star memorabilia
Stow, a musician in his own right, is not just a fan of rock music and stars; he’s a Vehicle Care RockStar.

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