“I love the connections I get to make with the next generations of leaders. I love to see the joy on their faces when they solve a problem or can be successful at something that no one else in their family can do.”

Jeffrey Bertke has been an electrical trades teacher at Upper Valley Career Center in Piqua, Ohio for 11 years. After graduating from the program in 1999, he earned his journeyman license and entered the industry with passion for the trade and a love for learning. After six years of industry experience, he was put in charge of teaching apprentices at his place of work—something he truly enjoyed and came in handy when his former high school teacher reached out to him in 2010 to ask if he was interested in teaching.

In the years since accepting his current position, Bertke has never stopped learning his craft. His continued education has earned him a variety of certifications in thermal imaging, fire alarm installation, contracting, mental health, and first aid. He attends college courses in pursuit of a master’s degree in Education. This passion for learning is something Bertke hopes to pass on to his students. “I need to keep ahead of the curve so my students can stay ahead,” Bertke said.

Despite complications this past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bertke persisted by including electrical simulators, online OSHA and employability skills training, and Cengage electrical curriculum to keep his students on track. He even taught students in-person from the school parking lot at times, maintaining distance and proctoring tests from his car. Twenty out of his 23 seniors qualified for a pre-apprenticeship through the Ohio Apprenticeship Council, meaning they can get their journeyman credential a year ahead of others around the state. The remaining three seniors qualified for other placement opportunities in electrical supply and maintenance. His program is one of three programs in the school that fill up within the first 24 hours of availability and has a waiting list.

Bertke’s base curriculum is NCCER Core and Electrical Level 1, which saves his students one year of apprenticeship training. He revisits the curriculum every year with his board of advisory members and makes modifications where necessary to keep the program strong. Bertke starts students in his program with an emphasis on lab and tool safety before moving them to hands-on work. Projects increase in challenge as students become more comfortable with using tools and show safety consciousness and significant competency. With the blessing of building inspectors, Bertke and his students even complete projects throughout the community for real-world experience.

“One of the neatest things as an educator is I have been in the classroom long enough where my former students are hiring my new students and others are foremen over the apprentices.”