August 01, 2002 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Armchair Educator

A woodworking instructor hammers home life lessons.

In an industrial arts classroom filled with chatty high schoolers, Jim Quinlan begins to teach but does not say a word. Upon gathering the necessary tools for the day’s woodwork-ing project, he dons his safety goggles and starts to measure, drill, and file. Soon, intrigued by the teacher’s craftiness, the class is silent and intently following the lesson.

“That’s ‘the silent treatment,’ ” explains Paul Rolando, a student of Quinlan’s for two years. “Works every time.”

The silent treatment is just one of many unconventional teaching methods that Quinlan, a woodshop instructor at Vernon Township High School in New Jersey, has tweaked to perfection in his 26 years at the school. Quinlan trains students who have a variety of mental and physical disabilities. “Unlike most teachers, I don’t prepare my students for college because generally that’s not where they’re headed,” he says. “Rather, I try to provide the skills necessary to survive in the workplace-like punctuality, honesty, pride, and responsibility.”

This goal inspired the teacher to create the Roaring Lion Chair Co. about 10 years ago. Technically it’s a class, but Quinlan runs the endeavor as if it were a bona fide small business: Students manufacture and sell $75 Adirondack chairs, investing any profit in new equipment or special activities such as the annual “company picnic” at an amusement park. Roaring Lion students also contribute some of the 50 or so chairs they produce each year to school and community fund-raisers. And they’ve presented their chairs to prominent figures such as George Bush, who keeps one at his home in Kennebunkport, Maine. But, stresses Quinlan, Roaring Lion-named by a former student with a fondness for the king of the beasts-is not about money or fame.

“Our profits are not measured in terms of dollars but in terms of personal growth,” he says. And the many tasks involved in a business venture give the teacher ample opportunity to tailor activities to individuals’ capabilities and goals. “I offer an array of jobs-from foreman to filing clerk and everything in between-so everyone can participate,” Quinlan explains. All students are required to follow written directions, keep records, and correspond with customers.

Rolando, a 2002 graduate, praises Quinlan for sharing these real-world skills- knowledge he’s finding useful as he adjusts to life after high school. “He made work interesting but, at the same time, taught us that we can’t fool around on the job,” the former student says. “I will never forget that.”

—Sarah Wassner


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: June 19, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated: June 12, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Briefly Stated: May 29, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Briefly Stated: May 8, 2024
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read