If one is asked to envision a high school shops teacher, Shelby McLean is unlikely to correspond with the image that comes to mind.
Shops teachers are middle-aged men with a wry expression and calloused palms that speak to decades of working with their hands.
McLean, the shops teacher at Hope Secondary School, is aware of that impression of what shops teachers are supposed to be like, and it’s a preconception that she’d very much like to change.
It’s McLean’s second year at Hope Secondary School, although last year she split her teaching duties between the Hope and Boston Bar high schools. This year she’s there as the full-time shops teacher, and she’s loving it.
“I’m really happy to be here full time now and I really think that, as a female in a traditionally male dominated role, I can really make a difference,” said McLean.
She recounted how, when she was in high school, she was one of only two or three females in any shops class in which she enrolled and that it was hard to find a role model. It’s something she feels needs to be altered to fit the realities of a different world.
“I think it’s something our society still struggles with. We still tend to instill the belief that one job should be a guy’s job and another should be a girl’s job. But we’re getting to a point where it’s OK for guys to take an interest in female-dominated jobs and for girls to get into more male-dominated roles,” said McLean.
Her duties at the school include teaching Grade 7 and 8 metal and wood classes, which are mandatory at that grade level. In those classes, the gender split is far more equal. In Grade 9, the shops classes become elective, and that’s when the split becomes evident as the boys begin to dominate the classes.
“There are some strategies,” said McLean, that could help to address the situation.
“One thing I’d love to do is to establish an all-girls automotive class. We teach automotive now, but get very few girls. But experience in other schools in the same situation has shown that if you bring in an all-girls class, they feel less intimidated and you end up with a waiting list of girls wanting to learn the skills.
“They are interested, but we need to make a few adjustments to change the way things have traditionally taken place.”
Another initiative that interests McLean again belies the traditional image of young females and, again, she’s just fine with it.
“In Mission, they have a certified high school drag racing program, and I’d love to get the students here involved in the program. I did it in high school and it was great. I think both the boys and girls would love it. I mean, it’s drag racing…what’s not to love?”
The shops program starts in Grade 7 with instruction on the use of hand tools and graduates to the use of power tools in Grade 8.
By Grade 9, the students are getting involved with projects of their own and classes in automotive, oxyacetylene welding and more are brought into the curriculum.
“I certainly had female role models while I was in school, but not in this area of study. It’s something I hope to be able to provide to these great students. The girls are just as capable, and just as imaginative in applying the skills they learn in my class.”