Brad Borkowski has a Midwestern work ethic that seems increasingly uncommon, but he’s committed to passing it along to his students. Borkowski, 26, is nearing the end of his fourth year as an industrial technology instructor at Manitou Springs High School, where he teaches courses on woodworking and is the head wrestling coach. The Sioux City, Iowa, native spoke to the Business Journal this week about his well-rounded upbringing, his love for what he does and what he hopes his students will learn while enrolled in his classes.
Can you tell us about yourself and what you do?
I’m the wood shop teacher here at Manitou Springs High School. We start off each semester with beginning woods. My beginning students are usually freshmen and sophomores who don’t really have any idea what they’re doing in here, so the course is really bare bones when we start off. We show them how to measure, the difference between lumber and plywood … how to use all the different tools, safety measures. … Once we get through that, we start on really basic projects, go through the different types of joinery and then we get to more complicated things, like folding stools. Those are really good projects to start them off and get them used to using the equipment. Once they get used to using the tools, we go into a little bit more complicated projects, like building cabinets … learning different joinery and how to use even more tools.
Then you offer an advanced class?
Yeah, once they pass this class, they can go on to my advanced class. In there, they can pretty much make whatever they choose — large-scale projects like Adirondack chairs, tables, entertainment centers and picnic tables. … I also have a few students who would like to learn how to make money doing this, so I teach them basic stuff, like how to sell stuff and market themselves. I want them to know how to do quality work, so if they ever do try to sell it, it is the best thing they can sell. Students can also come back after that class and take my independent study.
And you’re also a wrestling coach? How do you split your time?
Yes, this is my third year as head wrestling coach. I try to do everything in the fall so that when it comes to wrestling I don’t have to do a whole lot of prep for class. That way I can devote more time to wrestling and still have everything in here set up and ready to go.
How did you become interested in woodworking and teaching it as a career?
My dad taught for 33 years and was a jack of all trades — automotive, drafting, wood work, metal work, you name it. I took and enjoyed almost all of his classes. By the time I was a senior in high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I liked what he did and I liked teaching and being able to work with my hands, so I decided to become an industrial tech teacher. So I went to the University of Northern Iowa and got my degree in industrial technology education. Then I happened to find the job here in Manitou and went for it!
Has wrestling also been a longtime part of your life?
My dad was also a wrestling coach, so I was always around it. … I was on the wrestling team from the time I was in fifth grade until my senior year in high school. I always wanted to get into coaching … and it just worked out that when I got here, the head coach had to step into being an administrator. They needed someone to take that job, and I said yes.
I bet your dad’s pretty happy about all of this.
Yes, he is! I’m also very happy to have him for advice, to be able to call and talk to him about my classes or wrestling. … He has been huge to have around for support and for information.
You’re younger than the average teacher. Do you think that’s an advantage?
I think it’s a huge advantage. The kids still look at me as a role model, but someone that’s closer to their age. I know the same music they do, I know the same pop culture as them, I can relate to them more easily and I feel like that helps out a lot.
What do you see in your future?
That’s a good question. I’m not interested in administration, but I would like to continue teaching and maybe even expand our program. Right now all we have is the woodworking, so I’d love to get into drafting, automotive, welding and things like that. We’re currently working on getting this program articulated with Red Rocks Community College, so that my students can get college credit.
What is the primary lesson you’d like your students to learn from you?
My biggest thing is work ethic. … I want these kids to walk away from my class knowing how to work and knowing how to problem-solve.