“Improving your teaching is a daily process. If your students are not successful in what they do, then it is time to reflect on yourself, the instructor, to determine what you could improve.”

Kyle Thompson hails from generations of tradesmen: his father worked in the trades and his grandfather was a carpenter who taught him how to work with tools as a child. He went on to work in a lumber yard, loading trusses and moving lumber while learning the ins and outs of residential construction. Thompson became a general contractor, doing masonry for homes, and even had a stint selling hand and power tools.

As an educator, Thompson has taught every grade, kindergarten through 12th, focusing on students who faced emotional and behavioral challenges. When a position opened to teach trades to students with disabilities, Thompson took the job. His success led his district to create a larger trades program at Middleton High, where Thompson has taught for the past eight years.

In the classroom, Thompson focuses on key trades skills. Beginning students learn the basics of safely using hand and power tools, completing an Occupational Safety and Health Administration 30-hour training. (Thompson is an OSHA-500-certified instructor.) As much as possible, his shop resembles a job site, and students are encouraged to ask each other for support before asking Thompson. Students learn how to frame, build stairs, layout rafters and install plumbing and electrical. “If students can’t earn a living working on a project in class,” Thompson wrote in his prizewinning application, “then they shouldn’t be working on it.”

Last year, nine of 33 of Thompson’s graduating seniors secured placement in the construction industry and have found success and pay raises thanks to certifications earned in Thompson’s classes.

“If students can’t earn a living working on a project in class, then they shouldn’t be working on it.”