“Not every student will become a talented welder, but every student who works hard and learns from failure will be an experienced welder. My students are taught every week that hard work always beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
While pursuing a master’s degree in education, Jacob Leair paid his way through school by working in plumbing, building line shaft and submersible turbine pumps, and in welding. When he finished his degree, he balanced working in the trades as an RV repair technician with substitute teaching, where he developed a niche as the skilled trades substitute.
After six years substituting, Leair applied for a skilled trades teaching position at his alma mater, Grants Pass High School, where he teaches welding, fabrication and manufacturing. His curriculum is aligned to the needs of the local and regional welding industry, offering American Welding Society certifications in multiple processes and partnering with the local plumber’s union so students can apply to join while still in high school. His courses are transferrable for credit at a local community college. During summers, Leair’s students often have paid internships, including in CNC design, fabrication, welding, boat building and millwrighting. Leair hosts a STEM-themed summer camp for middle school students, introducing them to welding, CNC, drafting, plastics and computer programming.
By the time students reach Leair’s advanced metals class, they operate with complete independence in the lab, pursue work-based learning opportunities and even create their own personal projects after school. His class collaborates with geometry students to create model steel bridges, with the chemistry lab to etch metal, and with the entrepreneurship class to create and sell Christmas gifts for customers. A SkillsUSA chapter, which Leair has grown from bare bones to 50 students strong in the past four years, has helped students become state welding champions. “My educator friends across the country and I are in the business of changing lives,” he said. “That is our passion, that is our drive.”
Leair’s students graduate from high school at a higher rate than the overall student body and have better attendance records. All 14 of his graduating students in 2019 finished high school with job offers in the trades or admission to technical school. One 19-year-old recent graduate even donated $1,000 to the school’s SkillsUSA chapter to help cover travel costs. (Harbor Freight Tools for Schools also provided travel scholarships to three Grants Pass students through a competitive application process, overseen and judged by SkillsUSA.) His students placed sixth in welding and 10th in welding fabrication at the national competition in 2019.
“I absolutely love when I get new students who aren’t involved with and have zero buy-in to the school or community. Then, when they leave my program, they are 100 percent bought in.”