Kelly, 41, is from a small town called Borger, Texas, just north-east of Amarillo. Kelly is an Electrical Instructor at Tulsa Welding School. He teaches four different commercial wiring classes to students in both the morning and night shifts. Kelly has been with the school for about seven months but has worked in the field for 19 years.
Thanks for your time, Kelly. What brought you to Oklahoma?
I came up here for vo-tech college in Shawnee, Oklahoma, back in 2004. That’s when I first got involved in the electrical field. I decided to continue my education, so I went to OSUIT in Okmulgee, OK, and just fell in love with the area and stayed. I’ve kind of always lived in the Tulsa area since then.
Highlight those 19 years of electrical experience for us. What kind of work have you done?
To be honest, I did a little bit of everything. I did a little bit of residential, but I worked mainly on the commercial side as a commercial electrician. I started doing some fiber optics and data, a little bit of that telephone stuff. I kind of went off into that side for a bit. Fire alarm, cable, I’ve done that. So, I’ve had the privilege to do a little bit of everything, and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.
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As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a physical therapist as odd as that sounds, and I’m not sure why! I think I had an injury when I was younger. I had to go to physical therapy, and I had a good relationship with the guy. It was just a childhood thing, though. I let that go and started playing guitar, and then I wanted to be a musician. I still play guitar today. I really enjoy it.
Why did you decide to go into teaching last year?
Looking back, I’m not sure. The school found my résumé on Indeed. I was working, just doing my thing, and they called me. Never ever would I have thought that I’d become a teacher. However, in college, my instructors always told me that I was either going to be a salesman or a teacher! But I enjoy it. I’ve always enjoyed showing people how to do stuff on the job site, just furthering their knowledge, letting them know what I know. I’ve always enjoyed that. So, I don’t know, it feels like I fit in here a little bit!
I’ve heard the ‘older’ guys aren’t always generous with their knowledge out in the field. Is that true?
Absolutely, and I was always against that. Having been in the trade so long, and having worked at many different shops, there were absolutely those types that were like, “If I know how to run fiber, I’m not going to show anybody else how to do it because that’s job security.” I was always anti that. My thought was always let’s have everybody learn, so everybody can do it, and everybody can be successful. There’s no reason to pin anybody down or hold anybody back in my book. We should all be successful.
Seven months in…what do you enjoy most about teaching?
It’s really just the student connections, just whenever you finally see it click for them, and you know you’ve connected with them. Because they’ll hear you talk all day long, but once they get going and they see it click for themselves in practice, that’s so very addicting. You can see it in their eyes; they just get so much confidence out of that. I don’t know if or how they apply it to their personal lives, but just giving anybody confidence is very, very addicting.
Tell me something most people don’t know about you.
I have no idea, I’m pretty open. Not a lot of people know I play guitar. Of course, I’m not going to bring my guitar up to school…but maybe I should sometime! But I’ve been playing guitars since I was probably six or seven years of age. I used to just sit there and watch my dad play. I really wanted to learn how to do what he did but to be honest, he never had the patience to teach me. So, I would just watch and then go mimic him. One day he heard me in the next room, and said, “Damn, that sounds really good. How’d you learn that?” Then he figured it out and was a little bit more open to teaching me.
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?
I would say Nikola Tesla. I would like to just sit back, pick his brain and see how he thought. To see how he held a conversation, and just to understand how that beautiful engineering mind actually worked.
Tell us about your family, Kelly.
I’m a single dad of three children, I’m so very proud of them. My daughter Emily is 14. My next youngest is Kelly Junior, he’s 12. My youngest son is ‘Hank’, Henry Allen, and he just turned 10.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you’d give to new students just starting out?
Just keep going and finish. Whatever you’re going through, just keep going. It will be worth it. There’s really no reason to stop. The only person stopping you is you. So, please just keep going with the program no matter what you’re going through and do your best to finish. It will absolutely be worth it. Don’t give yourself something to regret later in life.
If you got an unexpected morning off, what would you do with that time?
Either go fishing or golfing for sure, especially with the beautiful weather right now. That’s what I’d do – one of those two things.
Do you still do any work in the field?
I’ve put the tools down. I’m teaching classes in the morning and the evening, so I really don’t have time. I’ve also really tried to just focus on teaching these past seven months. I’m just trying to get the lesson plans down, to get the information across, to get the understanding. I’m an electrician trying to learn how to teach, so it’s hard. But once I get it, I’ll get in the groove and sit in the groove!
Do you see yourself staying in teaching?
I would love to be able to call it, yes, this would be a great way to move into retirement. It’s almost a sense of giving back to the community too. Trying to get these kids up and involved in the trade.
Did you have a favorite tool out in the field? Something sentimental and/or practical?
I always carried my grandfather’s scratch awl. My grandfather was an electrician in Texas. I never saw him working with tools, but I always knew he used to be an electrician. I knew him towards the end of his life, and I didn’t know him that well. But I knew he was an electrician, and my dad gave me his scratch awl. It’s like a pointy screwdriver with a sharp point on the end of it, so you could start drilling holes or something like that. I always carried that; it was always very sentimental to me.
What was your favorite part of being in the field?
I really enjoyed the commercial side, especially commercial new construction. I made a lot of commercial service calls, but the main thing I used to love to do was new commercial construction. It was fulfilling to be able to build a building, then be able to drive down the street six months later and brag about it! “Hey, I wired that!”
I also really enjoyed the sense of community you build with a lot of these electricians and guys in the other trades. I’ve got some really good plumber friends, some really good sheet rocking friends, so there is really a big sense of community out there.
If you were to tell someone “Thank You” for helping you become you, who would it be and why?
My father, Gary, for sure. He just really persevered, showed me just how to keep going in life, no matter what. He would be like, ”Oh, you’re having a bad day, well that sucks. Go ahead and feel that it sucks, but in the end, you’ve got to just keep going.”