“Passing along knowledge to the younger generation is something I think most people enjoy doing. I like working with my hands and love to see the students connect to working on their manual skills, at the same time learning to problem solve, design and become well-rounded individuals.”

Steven Ratzlaff teaches the building trades at James T. Hutchison High School in Fairbanks, Alaska. After graduating from college with a degree in resource management, he discovered his love for building when he started working in construction. While continuing to work in the trades, Ratzlaff went back to school to obtain his teaching certificate, and has been a teacher since 1998. Ratzlaff, who has a master’s degree in special education, also teaches skilled trades classes to special education students during the summer. This work earned him the career guidance award from the Alaska Association of Career and Technical Education in 2016.

Career guidance is one of Ratzlaff’s main classroom objectives. He loves seeing students working with their hands, but he also understands the importance of professional skills and teaching career readiness. As students progress from freshmen to seniors in his four level trades class, they take on increasingly complex projects and work with a growing degree of independence in the shop. At the end of his program, his students will have gained not only a wealth of experience in construction, but also maturity and confidence. Equipped with this knowledge and skills, Ratzlaff’s students complete projects like adirondack chairs, accessible picnic tables, sheds, and even a tiny home.

Ratzlaff gives particular emphasis to including technical math in his daily curriculum, believing that contextual application of these concepts gives students deeper knowledge and confidence in their skills. He continuously improves his classroom curriculum by consulting an advisory group of industry professionals and attending conferences where he learns about new technologies and trends in his field.

Ratzlaff is the first ever winner from Alaska. With his comprehensive and layered curriculum, his program prepares students for the future Alaskan workforce with a high level of technical construction skills, and the professional and problem-solving skills to ensure their success in their chosen careers.

“I think my students would say their most valuable lesson is to learn how to work, to take pride in their work and do the best they can in any endeavor they participate in. I often focus attention on how professionals who are happy in their careers are proud of the work they do. Without pride, I believe it is difficult to be happy in a job.”