Many tech school instructors start the year in the fall, and work their way chapter by chapter through a textbook while offering ever more challenging projects in the lab.

But what if your students started classes most any time of the year and were able to work at their own pace? Then you could have every student literally on a different page, meaning you could be teaching at a dozen or more different levels.

That's the challenge faced daily by Mark Peila, instructor in HVACR, at Bates Technical College in Tacoma, Wash. His expertise in such matters earned him Honorable Mention honors in the Best Instructor competition sponsored by The NEWS and ARI.

"It has been a history of this program to have a six-month to two-year waiting list," he said. "That indicates we must be doing something right."

Mark Peila, left, with a student at Bates Technical College in Tacoma, Wash.

Logging The Hours

The program is described as open entry, open exit, self-paced, competency-based. Students are in class six hours a day, five days a week, 11 months a year. In 22 months, students will have logged more than 2,500 hours of class and lab time. Completion of the program results in either an Associate of Technology degree or a Certificate of Competency.

Peila said some students move through the program in 18 months, while others may go a bit beyond the typical two-year time frame. Passing the Industry Competency Exam (ICE) exam of ARI is among the requirements for successful completion.

Normal class size is 17 to 22 students, with an age range from 18 to 60-plus. With so many students at different levels of learning, a mentoring program has been developed to allow more experienced students to guide the less experienced. Peila said, "For the advanced students, this is a great tool for reinforcing what they have learned."

For the most part, Peila said training is in residential and commercial HVAC installation and servicing. During their studies, students are required to do two projects outside the classroom either in other campus buildings or at a community site, such as a nearby zoo. An advisory board consists of union representatives, contractors, suppliers, manufacturers, past students, and others.

Peila has been in the industry for 32 years and an instructor for 25 years. He is a member of the Council of Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Educators (CARE), annually attends ARI instructor workshops, and has NATE and ICE certification among others.

Peila said he believes that students who successfully complete the program should be able to start work with a contractor assisting a more experienced technician. But within no more than a few months, they should be able to handle jobs on their own.

The teaching method can prove a challenge to the occasional substitute teacher, but as one sub noted, "It all works."

Much of the credit goes to Peila. One technician who nominated Peila for the award noted, "His ability to mentor and mold students is exceptional. This is evidenced by the many graduates currently working in the industry throughout the state."

Quick Stats

Contest Placement:Honorable Mention

Instructor: Mark Peila

College Or School: Bates Technical College

Location: Tacoma, Wash.

Years Teaching: 25

Publication date: 11/14/2005