“Teaching now for 19 years I find that my passion is even stronger now than when I first began. I related to my students on a personal level, now I still relate but have the experience in life to guide them. I am blessed to have the opportunity to forge the future workforce in welding.”

As a high school student, Brent Tuttle found his passion for teaching through SkillsUSA, a national nonprofit organization that supports career and technical education students. While working full time as a welder at night, Tuttle earned an associate degree from San Bernardino Valley College.

Tuttle, a 19-year veteran teacher who has taught more than 2,700 students, instructs welding students at La Mirada High School, guiding them through a four-year program that provides more than 1,000 hours in the welding shop, in addition to the completion of all academic classes, by graduation. Students learn shielded metal arc welding before moving on to plasma cutting, welding fabrication and welding sculpture. Working in teams with a student leader, dubbed the foreperson, students gain increasing independence over their time in the program, eventually pursuing projects largely independently. Students routinely participate in SkillsUSA welding competitions—with Tuttle sending 25 to 30 students to state-level contests each year—and earn college-level credit. Students who complete four years of Tuttle’s program graduate at a rate of 98 percent.

Tuttle’s classroom has an “open-door policy” with the La Mirada community, where anyone can walk in with a project for students. Students practice budgeting and complete customer projects—one student made $10,000 producing smokers and barbeques and, as Tuttle wrote in his prizewinning application, “learning that people would pay for good work.”

“This is the best lesson students can learn,” Tuttle said. “They now value their work and their time.”

Over the past several years, Tuttle has transitioned his class to entirely digital and shop-based, pursuing professional development on how to go digital with a welding program, preparing himself and his students well for learning through the pandemic. “Teaching is changing,” he said, “and teachers need to be in the forefront to make sure we continue to produce a skilled workforce.”

In 2016, Tuttle was selected as National SkillsUSA Alumni of the Year. Tuttle was a finalist for the 2019 Prize for Teaching Excellence.

“Most high school students are job ready when they graduate. My program impacts my students’ lives by making them career ready. I teach my students the difference between a job and a career. They understand a career should be something you are passionate about, so you enjoy going each day.”