Teacher of the Week: Jim Standerfer, Industrial Arts, Monticello High School

By Chicago 6 Min Read

Thirteen years ago, Jim Standerfer made a career change, leaving the classroom, where he taught English, to open “Lumbering Behemoth Construction & Design,” a furniture and carpentry business.

Last year, the Sullivan native, who spent some of his childhood in Champaign, began teaching in a classroom of a different kind as Monticello High School’s industrial arts teacher.

“What impresses us the most about him is his philosophy towards education. Mr. Standerfer is the true definition of a lifelong learner. He is constantly trying to learn his craft and not just from his colleagues’ perspective but from his students as well. He looks at every situation as an opportunity to learn for his students. When looking at a lesson plan, Mr. Standerfer asks, ‘How can our students learn this objective, in a real-life application setting?’ He’s fun to watch.”

I find my work important because … William Butler Yeats says that “Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire.” Einstein says, “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

As I understand it, true metacognitive education is motivated by the learner, executed by the learner, and serves the learner. The best thing a teacher can do is create a safe environment for students to experience wonder, to be confused, to ask questions, to experiment and to fail. The best, most important thing we can do as teachers is to give kids opportunities to discover. If we pay attention (and if we set aside the expected results and answer keys that we’ve maybe grown a little too comfortable with), maybe we’ll learn something, too.

I became a teacher because … I didn’t like school. I didn’t find any real purpose in anything I studied until I got to college. That’s not to say that I didn’t have some great teachers, but nothing resonated with me or even gave me an inkling that there was a purpose in classes I was taking or the work I was doing. It didn’t seem like it was about me.

My experience in college was very different. Many of my professors in the English and philosophy departments at EIU taught classes that felt like they were expressly intended to give me an opportunity to make meaning from the material we were studying, and they were great at supporting that process, acting as guides, coaches and counselors as I made discoveries and connections to my own life. I became a teacher to try to give that opportunity to kids who are looking for it.

My favorite or most unique lesson that I teach is … The great thing about being a shop teacher is that all the lessons are “unique” in the context of the school. We do very little seat work and lots of hands-on, creative work. Students have lots of opportunities to bump into problems and exercise their critical thinking skills. They get their hands dirty. They get frustrated. They get tired. And they find their way to a satisfactory result. I feel very lucky to get to teach in this kind of space.

My most fulfilling moments on the job are when … Nothing makes me feel better as a teacher than when I see my students working on “service projects,” projects that are not for them to keep but are instead a contribution to their community. We make lots of furniture pieces for other teachers and for the larger school community. When these projects are underway, students will ask if they can come in during their lunch or stay after school to keep working on them. No grade-based motivation. No pay. No end-product that they get to take home. They just want to use their hard-earned abilities to contribute to their community. It’s pretty amazing.

I keep students engaged by … I respect my students and treat them like human beings. I also give them the opportunity to utilize sharp, powerful, high-speed machines.

Something else I’m passionate about is … I enjoy designing and building furniture. I also write, record, and perform music with my band, Modern Drugs.

My favorite teacher and subject to study in school was … At the risk of sounding hokey (and breaking the implied rules of the question), my favorite teacher is my dad. I worked for my father’s construction company throughout my 20s. His methods of teaching the necessary skills of the trade inspired my own pedagogical philosophy.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t give huge credit to my fellow Monticello industrial arts teacher and unofficial mentor, Ryan Woodham. It takes a very unique and skilled teacher to develop a safe and functional community in an industrial arts lab. I am fortunate enough to have been paired up with the best.


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