Faculty Appreciation Month – Phillip Stanley

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Phillip, 34, from Talala, OK, is a welding instructor at Tulsa Welding School. He has been with the school for almost a year; he started in June 2023.

Thanks for your time, Phillip; how long have you been welding?

My dad was a welder my whole life, so I grew up around welding. I played with it a little in high school. Around 2005, when I was 16, I started getting more into it at the house, but just as a hobby. But when I turned 18 in 2007, I actually dropped out of high school, got my GED, and went on the road with my dad as a helper building oil tanks. I was making $17/hour. I was also a dad at 18; my daughter was born in my senior year. Things didn’t work out with her mom, so I just kept traveling and making money, doing my part, doing what I could to help provide for my daughter.

I also joined the military in 2007; I was in the Army Reserves. I came back and forth to do my Army stuff whenever I needed to because it wasn’t my everyday job. I wasn’t active duty. So, I was out there on the road for a while until I got laid off. Then I came back home and went to welding school.

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Was that Tulsa Welding School?

Actually no. I didn’t know anything about Financial Aid, so I thought I had to pay out of pocket. I didn’t think I could afford it. Also, I was laid off for 12 weeks, so the TWS program was too long. I found a basic program that was only nine weeks. It was going to get me to where I needed to be to pass my weld test. 

So, after welding school, take us through your welding career.

After I passed my weld test, I was 19 years old and making $27/hour and about $500/week just in per diem; I thought I was rich. I just kept on rolling. After I got out of the military, I kept on traveling, welding, and working. It became more of a lifestyle and not so much of a job. I came home two weeks before my youngest son was born in 2019, and I’ve been home since. I went to work at a big shop – Victory Energy in Collinsville, OK, 20 minutes north of Tulsa. I was there for two years, and then I worked for HD Fabrication. They build tornado shelters; I worked there for about 18 months before I came to Tulsa Welding School.

What made you decide to get into teaching last year?

I went from being a helper to being a superintendent, building tanks. So, for the last three and half to maybe four years on the road I was actually running the jobs, I was the boss. So, with my experience of starting from the bottom and working my way to the top, I had to train people…a lot. To a point where it was almost like a welding school sometimes. One day I was looking for a new job – building tornado shelters was too seasonal – and I saw an ad on Indeed that TWS was looking for an instructor.

Cool. Let’s back-track a minute. As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I had two things when I was a little kid, and this was before I got introduced to a dirt bike! The number one job that I wanted was to be a trash man. I wanted to be the guy that rode around on the back of the trash truck because I thought that guy was just kind of cool when he came to pick up our trash! Then as I got a little older, probably second grade, I started thinking about being a police officer. I wanted to be a highway patrolman. So, that was my back-up if the trash truck guy didn’t work out.

What do you like best about teaching?

Since I’ve been here, I’ve actually figured out why I took the job, more so than I knew when I applied for it! I figured I’m just going to go work at a school, show people how to weld. But almost a year into it, I now see the difference in personalities and the ways/speeds people learn, and I can adapt. The feeling of somebody telling me, “I don’t know if I would’ve made it through this without you” is a pretty cool feeling. It’s just a really rewarding job. I didn’t know if I’d like it at first, it was something completely different and out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t a welder anymore, I’m a teacher. 

You like working with your students?

My students are awesome. Most of my students do really well. The ones that do struggle, I do have to work with them a little more, but I’ve figured out different ways of showing them how to do something. Perhaps somebody else I’ve worked with had similar issues and learned it easier in a different way. But when it clicks for them, I like the feeling of it. I like the fact that I’m making an impact on someone’s life, whether it be that they got a job, a new career, or that they just had somebody to talk to.

When I was growing up, half of my family were welders or in a blue-collar industry. The other half were in the medical field. My mom now has her master’s degree in social work; she’s a social worker for public schools here in Oklahoma and works with little kids. I’ve learned a lot from her by listening to the advice she’s given me when I’ve gone to her with an issue a student may be having; she might give me a couple of little things to talk to them about. So, the impact I can have is probably why I took the job, the impact on my life and on other peoples’ lives. That, and I want to give back a little of what I’ve learned.

Tell me something most people don’t know about you.

A lot of people know that I raced dirt bikes, but people don’t know a lot about my background. I grew up in a country town of about 260 people – Talala, OK. We just did a bunch of dumb, farm boy stuff, we’d go cow tipping, knock Stop signs over, just do stupid stuff. People won’t know that I played soccer my entire life. Once I got into playing soccer, my goal was to make it as a professional either in dirt bikes or soccer. My little brother and I were really good. Now I have a daughter who plays, and she’s an absolute stud!

Tell us more about your family.

So, I have four kids. I had my eldest daughter when I was 18, so she’s 16 now. I have a 14-year-old boy, a 9-year-old girl, and a 4-year-old boy. My wife Amber and I have been together 11 years in November. My two youngest are with my wife. I have an ex-wife with my oldest boy, and then I had my eldest daughter with the girl that I dated all through high school. 

If you could choose to have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would that be?

I would say one of my favorite musicians, Jelly Roll. He’s helped a lot of people I know with his music, just bringing them out of a dark place. He’s got a big story, and I would love to hear it.

What’s the biggest piece of advice you have for new students just starting out at TWS? 

Don’t be intimidated by welding and have confidence. A lot of them seem intimidated. When they get intimidated, it brings their morale down and then makes their confidence level go down. I have students bring me stuff that looks really, really good. Their welds are great and they’re like, “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t like it.” I tell them they need to give themselves a little more credit, be a little more confident in what they’re doing. If you’re not confident here at school, then you’re not going to be confident in the real world. If you get out there doing a job in industry and you’re not confident in what you’re welding, then that tells me that there could potentially be a broken weld out there. If it’s a base weld on a skyscraper, you want it to be good. You want to have confidence that that’s going to be good for the next hundred years. When you get more confident in what you’re doing, you will do a better job. 

How do you help them build that confidence?

I tell them to set appropriate standards; don’t set your standard to be like me. I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years, you have been doing it for what, 20 days? Yes, eventually, make that your goal, but right now, your goal is to be able to get out of here, pass your weld test, and then have the confidence to really learn the trade on the job. It’s a cliché, but it’s true – you’re’ only going to get out of this school what you put into it. Ask questions, get involved. If you come in to weld just one plate every day, then take the other four hours of the day to do whatever you do, you’re probably not going to make it as far as a student who puts the extra hours in, just to get more booth time. The people who put in the work are the ones that are going to make better welders in the real world.

You get an unexpected day off, what would you do with that time?

I’d probably load the dirt bikes up, go to the mountains, take the family, and go do some trail riding! We like the outdoors. We go hiking, fishing, camping. Anything we can do to keep our kids away from a screen! We try to go places where, even if they have a screen with them, it won’t work!

What was your favorite part of working out in the welding industry?

I think that there’s a couple of different things. I could say the financial freedom was awesome. I didn’t have to worry about a whole lot. Other than that, knowing that no matter what I do in life, whether I decide to stay teaching, or if I go…I don’t know…become a truck driver, there’s one thing I’ll always be able to go back to, and that’s being a welder. Having this trade behind me means I’ll always have a plan B. 

One more thing if I can, the traveling was awesome! I loved traveling. I miss traveling. I have that gypsy soul. So, whenever I got tired of being somewhere, say I’ve been there six months and feel I needed to leave, about that time they’d be like, “All right guys, we’re heading out, this is our next job. We’re leaving next Monday.” And I’d be “Alright, cool!” I’ve been pretty much everywhere in the United States, to maybe 40+ states, and it’s all because of what I did for a living. Being a welder took me all over the place; it’s giving my kids a good life, and it’s given me a pretty good life.

If you could tell anyone “Thank you” for helping you become the man you are, who would that be?

I would say there’s been three people. I told you I went on the road with my dad, he’s actually my stepdad. I have a relationship with my biological dad and my stepdad. I call them both dad, but my stepdad – Sam – is the one who got me into welding and took me on the road. He and my mom Kelly have been together since I was two. So, he’s been in my life the past 32 years. All three of my parents – my mom, and my two dads – have been a huge inspiration in my life. My mom has been through a lot health wise; but she keeps me motivated and keeps me pushing forward. She was my biggest supporter when I took this teaching job.

Thank you, Phillip for your contributions to TWS!