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Teacher finds a new definition of success

An engineer gives up a lifetime of financial rewards for a teaching job where he helps boost students into careers that promise security.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003


INVERNESS -- Megan Rall was intent on the task at hand -- rearranging sofas in her living room to maximize the room's most prominent feature: a fireplace.

But if she arranged the furniture to focus on the fireplace, where would she put the television set? Or did she even need one? After all, there already was one in the family room.

While most similar exercises might require a hand truck and a couple of burly movers to complete, Rall, 17, didn't even break a sweat. Designing the perfect home was just a point and click away.

Rall, a Drafting 4 student at Citrus High School, is designing a 3,600-square-foot home as her semester assignment. The job requires precise measurements, drawings and the current creative phase where students figure out how to fulfill requirements such as adding a fireplace, three bedrooms and walk-in closets.

Teacher Eugene "Howard" Lindsey was nearby in his office, supervising from afar. That is his preferred mode of operation with his third- and fourth-year drafting students. He gives them their project, provides them the guidelines, tells them their deadline and lets them do their work.

That, after all, is how it works in the real world.

Lindsey should know. He spent 25 years in industry before returning to the classroom. During those years, many of them working in the nuclear power industry in North Carolina, he paid more in taxes than most people earn in salary.

Now, when he prepares his drafting students to graduate into jobs that could immediately pay more than he currently earns, Lindsey said he is finally doing something that matters.

"If money was the motivation, I wouldn't be teaching," he said. "What is important now is the impact I'm having on other people's lives."

Back at the computer screen, Rall seems to have settled on her home having no television in the living room. She said she is enjoying the class because she knows it will help with her career plans.

"In August I'm going to the University of Florida," she said. "I'm hoping to major in architecture and I kind of need something like this."

The teacher knows what his students need if they plan careers in architecture, engineering or computer assisted design and manufacturing. He knows this is a careerwith job security.

"If you can hold it in your hand, someone designed it," he said, noting that beginning computer assisted design employees can earn $18 per hour.

But Lindsey's life took a series of twists and turns before he landed in this job doing what he said he loves.

Born in Durham, N.C., Lindsey, now 50, earned his bachelor's degree in industrial education from North Carolina State University. For five years he taught, but then he felt he had to get out of education. "I could not afford to support my family," he said.

Lindsey spent the next several years as manager of engineering and maintenance, helping to convert an abandoned military base to a coastal resort that eventually was bought by a local church group. Then he spent 15 years with Carolina Power and Light. Changes in his family status and the stress of the job eventually sent him in another direction.

Lindsey opened a private driving school. For those who asked whether such an enterprise was stressful, he always had a ready response: "You ought to try nuclear power."

Along the way he sailed across the Atlantic five times delivering boats. He also studied computers, learned to fly, worked as a volunteer paramedic and operated ham radios. He even wrote a book of poetry compiled from poems written for his wife. Now Lindsey is working on a novel.

He landed at Citrus High shortly after the current school year began, taking over an established drafting program from longtime teacher Gene Roberts, who retired.

"He was the strength of this program," Lindsey said. "He did a lot of hard work."

Lindsey's pride in his students shines through when he shows off their accomplishments. The classroom ringed by computer screens and drafting tables is decorated with detailed drawings, including a complex schematic of a single cylinder engine. Drawings of gears and the hull of a model boat, as well as balsa wood house models, are hung around the room.

In his Drafting 1 class last week, Lindsey was busy walking around the room, answering questions from students armed with paper, pencil, erasers and T-squares. This week the students are slated to begin work on the computer, but last week they were still on drawings.

Now and then he joked about how drafting was done in the "neolithic period" when he learned the skill. He showed the class a lettering tool used in the past. Precise lettering is one of the skills these first-year students find very tough.

With the advent of computer drafting, the tool "goes the way of the dinosaur and me," Lindsey told his students.

Nikki Triano, 15, noted that sometimes Lindsey's jokes are lame. But at an adjacent drafting table, 16-year-old Joe Peters was quick to point out the simple explanation.

"He's a teacher," Peters said. Then, adding quickly: "But he always helps."

Lindsey knows he is a rarity, with his high level of industry experience and his willingness to take a job for a beginning teacher's salary. But he plans to stay because he knows he helps.

Giving up the boats, airplanes and other niceties that went along with making a lot of money was hard at first, but Lindsey said he came to understand what is really important.

"I wanted my life to have meaning," Lindsey said. "You carry your treasures in your heart, not your hand."

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