Saline High School 2015 graduate Paul McCullough made a quick return to his alma mater. At the age of 19, McCullough was hired as a full-time teacher.
“I was at Washtenaw and I was training to go to WorldSkills to do the welding competition there,” McCullough said. “I got a call from Jody Gielinski, who is the principal of South & West Washtenaw Consortium, and she informed me the old welding teacher, Steve Hasselback, was leaving for a position at Monroe Community College and she asked me if I wanted to come in and interview for the job.”
McCullough said this was not an opportunity he was expecting.
“I was pretty dumbfounded, awestruck, and didn’t even know that was possibly,” McCullough said. “I thought, don’t I need a degree? Aren’t I too young? But they informed me I could still get my degree while working. So I am currently going to school, trying to get my degree and loving every bit of this job.”
Gielinski said the decision to hire McCullough was one she felt very confident in and there was no push back because of McCullough’s qualifications for the job.
“Everyone knew Paul's welding experience is outstanding and he is a great person,” Gielinski said. “I think people were surprised that he was only 19, he truly seems much older than that. I was so excited he would even consider coming to Saline High School/SWWC to teach.”
McCullough said his first year was challenging.
“The first couple of weeks and especially the first couple of days, were very eye opening,” McCullough said. “At first, I was extremely nervous, I didn’t really know how to address the class. I think people could sense I was really nervous but once I found my comfort zone, once things settled down and I got my classes moving, everything just fell into place. At that point it felt so natural.”
“Just figuring out what worked and what didn’t work,” McCullough said. “I know a lot of things now that worked, and a lot more things that didn’t work that I wouldn’t do in the future but the only way you are ever going to know is to find out.”
Because the age gap is so small between himself and his students, McCullough said he didn’t know how his classes would treat him at first.
“I got more respect from my students then I ever thought I would get,” McCullough said. “I thought being so young and being so close in age to my students, there would be a loss of respect there simply because of the lack of an age gap.”
McCullough said because he was so close in age to his students, he felt it made him more approachable and relatable to his students.
“My students are constantly surrounded by teachers who are just a little bit older than them and they are out of the teenage mindset,” McCullough said. “Sometimes they just don’t get why a student is doing something for a particular reason. For me, being so close in age it helps me relate to the students very, very well. The students, I have found, find a lot of comfort having a teacher who is younger and who they are able to go to for advice, somebody to talk to. To me, it feels like I am easier to approach for them because there is not much of an age gap.”
While being younger comes with its benefits, it certainly has some downsides. McCullough said when he first started the position, he had many parents questioning his qualifications and whether he was really the best person for the job.
“People want to figure out whether you should truly be in that position or not,” McCullough said. “I had some parents who were just a little bit skeptical about having a 19-year-old teacher, and I don’t blame them at all, I would be too if I were a parent. But I got calls from parents, and parents coming in to open house and really chatting my ear off trying to figure out how I got there. I always told them the reason I am there is because I am one of the best at what I do because I have spent my whole childhood on this. I had to let go of a lot of my friends, I had to let go of a lot of my hobbies and my fun time, I didn’t really have any of that because I was spending all of my time and dedication on welding, and getting really good at what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
McCullough said once the parents understood his dedication to his craft, he really didn’t have any more issues.
“When parents come in and see the knowledge base I have and see how the kids produce, they have a lot less questions after that,” McCullough said.
McCullough said showing his passion for welding is a key proponent in his teaching strategy.
“The one thing I learned, when students see how passionate you are about a concept and how you really want to pass that on to them, they respect you so much for that and they really appreciate learning from somebody who is extremely passionate about something they are teaching,” McCullough said.
“It actually makes you want to learn the subject,” McCullough said. “I always told myself I want to be a teacher where students want to come to my class.”
One of his favorite parts of the job is watching his students mature, McCullough said
“A lot of students who I had for even one trimester, they come in and they could be pretty immature and just wanting to make their friends laugh the whole time and not really being focused on school, and by the end of the trimester I have that kid really caring, about their grade in the class, about how their welds are looking and just seeing someone go from not caring to caring and wanting to expand their knowledge in a particular area, for me that makes everything worth it.”
McCullough says he see this job being a part of his life for the long haul.
“I can honestly say I would love having this position for a long time,” McCullough said. “I would not even consider this position a job. I come in and I just have fun and every day my main goal is just to make some of my students laugh, and share a smile with someone that day. Not one time throughout the whole entire year did I ever look at the clock and say wow this day is going by really slowly,” he said. “As a teacher, there is no such thing as a dull moment, everything is constantly changing, so a job that keeps me busy, and a job that I can have fun with, it’s not even a job. I would really love to hold this position.”