South Elementary School Principal Francis Alonzo (left) & Asst. Principal William Funk (right) present JW Tabor with the Helping Hands Award for the items his students built for the school

Texas Construction Trades Teacher Makes Connection Between Lesson Plans & Real Life Service

In January of 2015, Lubbock-Cooper High School’s Construction Trades teacher, JW Tabor, launched a program that introduces students to the carpentry craft. Today, his classes have doubled – causing him to hire another teacher and enlarge his shop just to meet the demand.

The program, called Career Connections, is provided to teachers like Tabor by a community’s local carpenter union training program. It was created by the Carpenters’ International Training Fund (CITF) to teach students the skills of carpentry and the benefits of becoming a professional carpenter as a career choice.

And training is more than hammer and nails. The Career Connections curriculum also focuses on teaching the skills employer’s value most: goal setting, good attitude, punctuality, teamwork and taking imitative.

Tabor considers teaching these core values and skills one of the most rewarding parts of his job. He said many students start out doubting their capabilities but end up saying, “I can’t believe I built that.”

He encourages them by saying “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough.”

Tabor finds it “gratifying to see the students learn how to do things for themselves, develop pride in their work and a sense of accomplishment from what they create.”

Tabor and his students also used the program to help others.

First they built 40 stepstools for the Lubbock-Cooper South Elementary. The teachers were thrilled and the kids used them to reach the water fountains, and get into their cubbies or other hard-to-reach places. Tabor’s students also made tote boxes for South Elementary to store supplies.

They also made lockers for the varsity football team and rolling tables for the robotics class. And picnic tables for the Boy Scouts and the White River Youth Camp.

When his students aren’t working on class projects, they do cabinet-making, house framing, help build props for school plays and band competitions, or complete personal projects like making tables, furniture, and beds.

Tabor continues to add more of the Career Connections materials for his first year Principles of Architecture class, second year Construction Management class and his Advanced Construction class for seniors.

“We place a high priority on educating students about the many benefits of becoming a professional carpenter,” said Jason Engels, executive secretary-treasurer of the Central South Carpenters Regional Council.

“Through the Career Connections curriculum and dedicated teachers like JW Tabor, students now have the ability to test-drive a viable career that will give them a great quality of life for themselves and their family.”

In the front of the Career Connections book is a list of every carpenter from all over North America that helped put the book together. Every contributor is a professional union carpenter who has both teaching and field experience – essentially providing the skills, knowledge and wisdom learned and passed down from generations through 100 years of carpentry.

Tabor believes the curriculum represents every level of student from beginner to advanced. He was drawn to the introductory material because it was a good basic carpentry book and easy for beginners to do and understand. The lesson plans have specific step by step projects with blueprints, drawings and tips. 

The content of the program not only makes it easy for the students to learn, but for teachers as well. They have an annotated book and The Virtual Shop, an animated software program with step-by-step demonstrations of the projects. 

The teacher-annotated book contains the same content as the students plus helpful tips, facts and reminders in the margins. This is beneficial for those teachers who might not have hands on carpentry experience. The book’s organization and layout can help anyone teach like an expert.

JW Tabor’s students however, couldn’t be in more capable hands. In addition to 37 years as a Construction trades teacher and long-time member of the Texas Industrial Vocational Association (TIVA) and the Texas Construction Crafts Instructors Association (TCCIA), Tabor is a highly skilled and experienced carpenter.

As part of the Seabees, the US Naval Construction Force from 1969 -1973, Tabor forged his skills building bridges, bricklaying and working on projects as diverse as building a club in Guantanamo Bay Cuba, a swimming pool in Italy and a fire station at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

Getting the program into Tabor’s hands was David Barron, Texas’ training coordinator for the Central South Carpenters Regional Council. David was new to his position back in 2015, and wanted honest feedback on the Career Connections materials. 

“I couldn’t think of anyone with a better reputation in 37 years of teaching, than JW Tabor. I knew he’d give me his honest opinion, “ said Barron.

Tabor and Barron had become friends through 25 years of involvement with the Texas Industrial Vocational Association (TIVA) and Skills USA, a workforce development organization comprised of students, teachers and industry representatives.

“The process for trying-out the program couldn’t have been any easier, thanks to Council rep Dave Wetmore,” Tabor said. “He insisted on hand-delivering the materials and has since stayed in contact and helped with anything I need with the program.”