Friday, 30 May 2014 00:00

35 Years Dedicated to Teaching Tomorrow’s Techs

Peter Lock has been a collision repair professor at Contra Costa College (CCC) in San Pablo, CA, since 1979, long before most of his current students were ever born. It’s been a great ride and a highly satisfying journey for this 58 year-old devotee to the collision industry and his students. A hands-on professor who connects to his students by caring about them and showing it, Lock is starting to think about retirement as he looks back at 35 years in the role.

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The auto services department at CCC trains people how to be auto service technicians, customizers, body repair specialists, mechanics, painters, damage appraisers, collision repair technicians, parts technicians, and smog technicians. The school offers a two-year, four-semester program in either auto repair collision repair technology or auto mechanics, Lock said. Each semester consists of a combination of classroom teaching and hands-on laboratory studies.

It seems like a long time ago, Lock said, but he still remembers his early years as a rookie teacher vividly. “I started teaching here when I was 23, and things weren’t as high-tech back then. For one, there weren’t very many auto tech schools around like there are now. Almost everyone had to start at the bottom and learn the business that way, by doing it themselves. I tell my students that learning never ends just because you graduate or get a job. I’ve learned at least 10 times more than I knew when I first started this job, and that’s been one of the great things about it.”

Lock came to CCC initially as a student himself to learn how to be a body and paint tech in 1973. Upon graduation, he was immediately hired by a series of body shops where he did both body and paint for five years, before he started teaching at CCC. The automotive repair department was limping along at that point, Lock said.

“I started out teaching just one night class, but I could see right away that the program was struggling to keep open, and I was hired to keep it going, for one. Back then there weren’t many qualified teachers. Some people had the industry experience, but I had a degree and that’s why I got the job. The opportunity was there and the way it all came together was pure luck. I tell my students that when you get a shot, take advantage of it and seize that moment because you may not ever get another one.”

Before Lock could be a teacher at CCC, he had to take a 60-hour teacher training class, held at the University of California at Berkeley as part of its continuing education program. It was one day he will never forget, he said. “I was running late that day and rushing home to get ready for my first training class. When I walked in the front door, the phone rang and it was someone telling me that my father had just died from a massive heart attack. So, I had to decide—do I go to this class or stay home so that everyone can come over and grieve? I asked myself, what would my dad want me to do? And I know he would have wanted me to attend that class. So, here I was sitting in this class getting ready for an occupation for which I knew absolutely nothing and my father had just died one hour before. It was a challenging time.”

During those 60 hours of training, Lock decided that he was going to make his classes fun and interactive, without spoon-feeding his students information they couldn’t use, he said. “I could see that teaching was going to be fun, mainly because I was going to make it fun. I knew if I just stood up there and said a bunch of stuff, I could lose the students rather quickly. So I came up with ways to engage them without talking down to them or making them feel like it was a one-way thing.”

The auto repair classrooms and laboratories at CCC consist of two separate facilities under one roof, Lock said. The collision repair department covers 10,000 square feet and has 75 students enrolled in its program, he said, and the 6,000-square-foot mechanical repair department has an enrollment of 65 students. CCC offers the I-CAR Industrial Training Alliance program, one of only two post-secondary schools in California to do so, Lock said. The school recently won a $50,000 grant for its excellence and used the money to buy a paint simulator and other much-needed things, like new desks.

The steady growth of the auto repair industry in Northern California and the advent of new technology have kept the department at CCC healthy and flourishing, according to Lock. Approximately 2,600 students have come through his department in three and a half decades, and one of the best parts of the job is when his graduates reach out to share their success stories.”Sometimes they call excited to tell me they just got a job at a body shop,” he said. “They call to say thank you, and that really means a lot. We teach them how to fix cars, but we also instill in them a work ethic and also stress the satisfaction of doing a job right.”

Many of Lock’s former students are now body shop owners and they often contact Lock periodically to inquire about hiring some of his current students upon graduation, he added. “I now also have second-generation students entering our program, and if I stick around long enough, I imagine I’ll start seeing some third-generation future techs coming through here.”

Although he doesn’t have firm plans yet for stepping down, retirement is surely in Lock’s rear view mirror, he explained. “I want to make sure that the program is strong before I retire. Until last year, I was also the chairman of the Automotive Technology Department at CCC, a job we handed off to Lucille Beatty, so that I can focus on teaching, which I really love the most. I know I can be replaced and that’s okay, but I want to be certain that the department is still thriving when I hand off the reins.”

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