“In construction, you have to learn many small skills along with how to use hundreds of tools before you can build or create a large scoped project. But after my students master the little things, they are given a blueprint (or create their own) and then build it.”

Jason Werstler teaches construction technologies at Washington High School in Massillon City, Ohio. His construction skills first developed in high school with the mentorship of a family friend, who asked for Werstler’s help with some home maintenance and improvement work. As time went on, he advanced from landscaping and painting to plumbing installation, concrete laying, and constructing a brand new addition. Thriving in hands-on learning, Werstler went on to buy his first house at age 18 and started remodeling it. There was much trial and error, but the process taught him how to reach out to professionals, continue his learning, and advance in his skills. The value he found in those mentorships eventually inspired him to go to college to become a teacher.

Werstler taught math and science for 17 years before returning to college to obtain his career technical teaching certification. His favorite part of his pivot to teaching construction is being able to share his past experiences with his students. Through teaching them, he recalls all the small skills one has to pick up with tools in order to build toward large projects. He focuses on encouraging and empowering students along each step of the process, often letting them work independently or cooperatively in small groups. In the interest of continuous improvement, Werstler regularly asks his students for feedback on his instruction, letting them share with him just as much as he does with them.

Werstler has a number of systems in place to ensure his students have the technical skills and confidence to enter the construction industry. He utilizes curriculum created by the International Carpenters Union to ensure his students receive the most up-to-date and hands-on training possible. He starts new students with the foundations, emphasizing safety measures and organization of materials to help them get familiar with their tools. He has small groups operate on projects with one student designated as a foreman to optimize collaboration and encourage leadership experience. To encourage entrepreneurship, he has converted the back of the shop space into a store so students can sell projects like picnic tables, tools, cabinets, and more to the local community. Students put their many skills to the test competing in carpentry competitions at SkillsUSA Ohio, and by building a house in a nearby neighborhood with Habitat for Humanity each year.

Complimentary to the skills he teaches are the opportunities Werstler affords his students. His connections established through his advisory committee, construction peers, and local construction contractors open doors to future employment. He often takes his students to visit the local carpenters union so they can see the apprenticeship program in action. On average, over 90% of his students annually leave high school with a job, enlisted in the military or enrolled in college. What encourages Werstler the most is when graduates come to his annual bonfire party to reminisce about their time in the program, share what impact it had on their lives, and talk about their plans for the future.

Werstler obtained a bachelor’s degree from Kent State University and a master’s degree in administration at Ashland University.

“I am most passionate about passing on my skills to my students, watching them experiment with different tools, hone their skills and seeing my students learn autonomously when given different tasks and put in unknown learning situations.”