“I feel like if I can do right by my students and give them the most up to date training and the most professional and personal education that I can give them, then the results will be measured by their employment and their successes in their own careers. It also can be measured by the fact that companies will hire my students again and again, so we can repeat the process year after year.”

Derek Wray was working as the foreman at an independent repair shop when he received an unexpected call from the principal at an area high school.

“The principal told me that they had hired a new automotive teacher and that he was called to active duty in the national guard on the first day of school,” Wray said. “He had been contacting people from the automotive industry all day and my name kept coming up as someone who people thought would be a good teacher.”

Four days later he started his new job as the career automotive and diesel technology teacher at the Salem High School in Salem, Virginia.

“I spoke to my boss about it and we both agreed that I had to take this exciting opportunity, so I did, and it has been so very rewarding in so many ways ever since,” Wray said. “At first I was worried about making less money but I soon came to realize that helping young people shape their future is what I was meant to do.”

That was 17 years ago.

Wray has assembled an advisory board for his class made up of service directors, shop owners, managers, technicians, former students, and administrators from the school. The advisory board helps guide his training program and helps shape the curriculum so Wray can always teach the most relevant and necessary information to my students. Students run the advisory board meetings as a way to build leadership skills.

“These important connections with key industry people give my students a foot in the door when they want to find their home in the field,” Wray said. “As a critical part of my advisory committee, I bring in my students to showcase their leadership skills by having them run the meetings.”

In 2021, Wray had two students working as apprentices at car dealerships, five students working at apprenticeships at independent repair facilities, and two students registered for post-secondary technical training at an automotive and diesel school.

“I am passionate about teaching my automotive students and helping them start their careers in the industry. That is my favorite thing about teaching. Watching them enter the workforce and seeing all of their hard work pay off is amazing.”