WESTMINSTER — Years ago, students enrolled in vocational courses in Carroll and elsewhere would learn how to make a tie rack out of a piece of wood or a tin man out of a sheet of metal.
Today, vocational-technical education is a more complex affair, and was marked last week by Vocational Education Week.
Vocational schools across the state have become career and technology centers, offering students a wide variety of trades to pursue. These include everything from auto and diesel mechanics to horticulture and cosmetology.
Along the way, teachers, too, have become more sophisticated. They have come to schools like the Carroll County Career and Technology Center with many years of experience in their respective trades.
In addition, once they begin teaching at the school,which has an enrollment of about 500 students, they must take 21 credit hours in courses, such as special education and curriculum development, to become certified.
At the Carroll center, the average teacher has 13 years of experience in his or her respective trade and 15years experience teaching.
The school's staff numbers 29, which includes administrators, a counselor, teachers and two part-time instructors in the school's assessment center, which matches students to programs.
Despite those credentials, vo-tech teachers, not unlike their students, are seen as something less by the community.
"There's a stigma across the state and across the nation," said Principal Robert Gebhart. "I know it's there. I don't think the stigma is as badas it used to be, but it leaves a lot left to be desired."
Ask almost any teacher at the Washington Road campus and they'll tell you astory about a comeuppance for a teacher from an academic high school.
"We're forever hearing, 'I didn't know you did that here. I didn't know you had all that,' " said Belva Ayers, a textiles and fashiondesign teacher.
Roland Backhaus, a horticulture teacher, said thepublic has not kept abreast of the changes at vo-tech schools.
"There's a holdover from the old days with the public and with other teachers," he said. "They haven't kept up with the changes."
Gebhartwill tell you that vo-tech teachers sometimes face a more daunting challenge with their students, some of whom come to class lacking basic skills in reading, writing and math.
And many courses, such as auto and diesel mechanics, require high levels of math, such as calculus, geometry and algebra.
"There's no such thing as a dumb kids," Gebhart said. "We sometimes hear that about kids coming here. But kids learn it here, because they know they have to apply it. They see how it works."
Ayers, who has been teaching at the school since it opened in 1971, has found her career at the vo-tech center rewarding.
One comment visitors often make, she said, is that the school is "a warm place."
"I think when you hear something like that, you know there's a good relationship between teachers and students," she said.
That relationship, she said, happens for several reasons. Classes are usually smaller. Teachers can provide more individual instruction. And they also spend more time with their students -- a few hoursevery morning or afternoon for two years.
"I think it takes a patient, dedicated person to become a vo-tech teacher," Gebhart said. "This is a special staff."