Sunday profile: Life experiences are the best teaching tools for Eric Pedersen
Lessons taught in life are often better explained from experience. For Eric Pedersen, the lessons he taught as a vocational teacher for many years were simply gained by multiple work experiences earlier in his life.
Pedersen spent around 23 years teaching at the Vocational Center for the Roaring Fork School District.
As a teenager he took a summer job working at the Number 4 Mine near Redstone. Alongside many other young men, he spent the warm summer months cutting down trees and stacking logs.
Not long after that, he went to work at Elmer’s Glass and learned to become a glass glazer. He spent a short time as a sales supervisor for Budweiser, then went on to learn concrete work and the art of reading blue prints for a different company.
He was a man of many trades.
Pedersen’s knowledge and love for the vocational arts really kicked into gear when he met and worked for Bill Slattery as a cabinet maker at his Modern Cabinet Shop in Glenwood.
He was full of ambition and persistence, and after two weeks of showing up with a prepared lunch and ready to work, Slattery gave Pedersen a two-week test run.
“Bill said, ‘Well, we will give you a job for two weeks and we will see how it works out,’” Pedersen said.
He worked there for 18 years.
“Bill Slattery was an absolute fine, fine man,” Pedersen said. “There are so many lessons you learn from a good man about how things ought to be done.”
In the early 1990s Pedersen found himself on a school accountability committee with a friend, who was running the vocational department for the Roaring Fork School District. The committee dealt with how the program was running and brainstormed ways it could improve.
“It was a sounding board committee to promote and encourage vocational education in general and with different programs in particular,” Pedersen added.
One day, he noticed an ad in the paper that said they were looking for a teacher.
“I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was about 13, probably because of the teachers that I had,” Pedersen said. “But dad said I had to be an engineer, and in those days what dad said, you did.”
Pedersen walked into his interview with a lesson plan and a rough idea of how he was going to teach the classes.
“Any of us know way too much,” Pedersen said. “It’s not the knowledge, it’s how to handle kids and how to take them from scratch and systematically bring them up so that they are being prepared for vocational education for the future,” Pedersen said.
Not long after that, Pedersen was hired as the newest construction technologies instructor.
“They (the kids) ate me alive my first year,” he said. “They were kids that principals did not want to see back in their schools; the problem children,” he said.
Pedersen grew up attending private English schools in East Asia due to his father’s job as a riding instructor in the last U.S. Contingent Horse Cavalry.
“I was used to strict discipline and a high level of order. It took me three years to figure this one out,” Pedersen said of the kids in his classes.
“I went to a friend who said, ‘You have to remember, Eric, for every one of these kids that you keep in class you are saving the taxpayer $40,000.’’ Pedersen said. “I didn’t understand that at first and he said, ‘Half of them would be in jail.’”
Through trial and error came triumph.
“I ended up with valedictorians in my class, when I started out with boys having trouble growing up,” he said.
Pedersen also found himself leading young men as a scout leader and has done so since 1977.
“I’ve always firmly believed that the values we teach in scouting are critical to life, to citizenship, to being a productive member of your community,” Pedersen said.
With an unfortunate end to the vocational education department in the school district and personal family matters, Pedersen went on to work for a friend who owned a small Christian school for a short time.
During the Grand Avenue Bridge project, Pedersen took great interest in the engineering and structural process of the new marvel being placed in the heart of Glenwood Springs.
He spent many months taking photos of the process from the Glenwood Springs Amtrak Station. While doing so, he grew a friendship with Sandy Brown, who has been the lead station agent for many years, though he already knew her husband through Boy Scouts.
“We just got to talking and she said there might be a job here,” Pedersen said.
oh, the stories
He applied for the position and not long after was hired.
“I’ve always had trains as a hobby ever since I was a kid,” he said. “The train is the last civilized form of travel; the flying sardine can, not so much.”
“This job is just pure fun because you get to help people all day long,” Pedersen said. “Every day I go home and sit at the dinner table and I’ve got a story.”
Though Pedersen is technically a station agent with Amtrak, he also spends much of his time simply listening to people and their stories.
“Sometimes you get to play counselor,” he said. “We hear heartbreaking stories, frustrating stories, amazing stories, you name it.”
“I enjoy working for Amtrak, and I will probably work here until I decide to retire,” Pedersen said.
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Visual Journalist Chelsea Self can be reached at 970-384-9108 or firstname.lastname@example.org