Jay HS teacher finalist for national award

For the second year in a row, Jay High School automotive technology teacher John Gunderson is a national finalist for the 2021 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.

Gunderson has been teaching at Jay since 2005 and he also serves as the campus Career and Technical Education (CTE) Department Coordinator.

The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize honors excellent teaching in skilled trades education in United States public high schools. Gunderson is one of 61 national finalists representing 30 states. In October, 18 winners will be selected for monetary awards totaling over $1 million. Gunderson said it’s not about the recognition for him, but the opportunity it would bring to advance his program if he wins.

“We would be able to bring in new equipment and new technology as the industry keeps changing. It would help us stay up-to-date and relevant.”

Gunderson graduated from Marshall HS in 1997, where he took his first automotive course his senior year. He still considers his teacher, Tom Berger, a mentor. After working several years as an auto shop technician, Gunderson entered an alternative certification program to start his journey as an educator.

“It’s something I knew I eventually wanted to do, to guide students down this path,” Gunderson said. “I love this trade and I always have. Whether their next step is school or industry, there are options and I want students to see if this is their passion.”

About 180 students are enrolled in the Jay automotive program and students are able to earn industry certifications along with their coursework. Gunderson’s goals as a teacher depend on each student. Through his class he wants students to explore all facets of the industry and then help them be prepared to take the next step.

“John is the teacher that CTE administrators dream about having on their staff,” said Deborah Ruel-Schaefer, Director of Northside Career and Technical Education. “He is skilled in the craft of teaching, knowledgeable about his subject, and an amazing leader. He is committed to providing a learning environment that will deliver his students to high demand and high wage occupations.”

Gunderson is looking forward to reuniting with his students in August. He often teaches the same students for several years; some even take automotive courses all four years of high school.   

“In a course that is strongly hands on and all about building relationships, it was incredibly hard to do that last year on a screen,” Gunderson said. “It was hard not being face-to-face in the shop and having those bonding moments. I’m hoping to reconnect with my students this year and get them motivated.”

In 2018, Construction Careers Academy teacher Les Dixon won $50,000 as a second place winner of the Tools for Schools Prize.

Visit the Harbor Freight website to learn more about the Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence.