“The thing I love most about being a skilled trades teacher is seeing bright, energetic young people finally get their chance to excel in a school setting. I guess this means so much to me because I was one of those students. I drifted through high school putting forth a minimum of effort until I got into automotive classes. Then it was like someone flipped a switch! I found something in school that I was passionate about. Having an interest in school even helped my performance in my other classes. I get to see the same results in my students.”

John Stratton has been teaching automotive technology at Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES in New Hartford, New York for the past 19 years. Inspired by his father who was a teacher and school administrator and his high school automotive teacher, Stratton pursued a love of all things mechanical and the goal to reach students “who were never considered to be good students.” Prior to teaching, he worked as a technician, shop foreman, and eventually service manager for 27 years, where he began mentoring both younger and older technicians. Stratton earned his Associate’s Degree in Automotive Technology from SUNY Canton and has been employed in the automotive industry ever since. He later continued his education at SUNY Oswego.

Stratton emphasizes a classroom culture of professionalism and collaboration, instilling students with a sense of pride and ensuring that they are ready for college and a career. The employability skills that students learn will transfer to any career and Stratton urges students to view education as an ongoing pursuit, using himself as an example. In their shop environment, students work largely on actual customer vehicles. While potentially stressful, Stratton has found that his students are much more engaged when working on something students see as real and relevant. Students work as a team with varying experience and skill levels and learn to understand that “none of us are as smart as all of us.” The curriculum starts with learning about tools and repetition through constant coaching, along with safety seminars with tool industry representatives. Every day in Stratton’s classroom, students use a broad range of tools – from wrenches and ratchets to computer scan tools and oscilloscopes. Students also learn the nuances of working in
the automotive industry by creating an employee handbook for a fictitious automotive business they create. Stratton’s program is even a licensed New York State inspection station.

As an Automotive Service Excellence Education Foundation accredited program, Stratton’s courses are aligned to industry standards and are reviewed by an outside team every five years. While almost every student earns at least one ASE certification, many of his students earn all ten ASE certifications in his classes.

Students and alums have a variety of opportunities to grow outside of the classroom. Students participate in valuable internships in both automotive and heavy diesel settings, and in 2021, two students were hired by their internship site before they graduated. Stratton takes them on field trips to local automotive shops, and local employers in the automotive industry and beyond come to speak with the class about potential careers. Colleges regularly visit the program to recruit, including SUNY Morrisville, UTI, University of Northwest Ohio, Ohio Technical College, and Lincoln Tech. Nearly every year, Stratton has at least one student who chooses to serve our country in the military.

Stratton is an ASE-certified Master Automobile Technician and also holds the Advanced Engine Performance and Maintenance and Light Repair certifications. He is a member of the North American Council of Automotive Teachers, and received the NACAT/SEMA award in 2018 at the SEMA show. His program has been selected as a Top 20 School in Tomorrow’s Technician magazine’s contest several times. Stratton was the 2020 New York State SkillsUSA Advisor of the Year, and the 2021 SkillsUSA Region 1 Advisor of the Year.

Stratton was previously a finalist for the 2018 and 2021 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.

“When it comes to impacting student lives, there are many ways to look at that aspect of our program. Perhaps the first impact the program has is an appreciation for diversity. We serve twelve school districts and have students from rural farms, the toughest inner-city neighborhoods, and upscale suburbs. It is great to see these students, many of whom have never met people from a different background, bond, form a team, and develop friendships.”