Gulfport High School automotive teacher wins Harbor Freight “Tools for Schools” Prize for teaching excellence
GULFPORT, Miss. (WXXV) — An automotive technology teacher from South Mississippi has been named a winner of the 2020 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, receiving $50,000 as part of $1 million awarded to 18 trades teachers nationwide today.
Robert Caylor, who teaches automotive technology at Gulfport High School, will receive $50,000—including $35,000 for the school’s skilled trades program and $15,000 for him personally. He joins 14 other Prize winners, who each received $50,000, and three Grand Prize winners, who each received $100,000 as part of the annual prize.
“This year has been one of the toughest on record for skilled trades teachers as they switch between in-person, remote or blended learning—all while trying to do their life’s work of preparing the next generation of tradespeople,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools. “At a time when tradespeople are more essential than ever, so is trades education. We are honored and grateful to have the chance to shine a spotlight on these teachers’ amazing work.”
The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence was started in 2017 by Eric Smidt, the founder of national tool retailer Harbor Freight Tools, to recognize outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools and the teachers who inspire students to learn skills to prepare for life after graduation. As recent research from JFF (formerly known as Jobs for the Future) and funded by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools found, students who “concentrate” (or take multiple trades courses as part of a program) are more likely to graduate than their peers. Upon graduation, students are prepared for either further education or work in fields that routinely rank among the hardest jobs to fill and that have come to be widely recognized as “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Trades teachers are educating and developing the tradespeople of the future,” Smidt said. “Many of the students in their classes today will become—as soon as next spring—the workers who keep our critical care infrastructure, our communication networks, our homes and cars up and running. The prize is our way of saying thank you to their teachers.”
Robert Caylor teaches automotive technology at Gulfport High School in Gulfport, Mississippi. Caylor is a National Board Certified Teacher and Automotive Service Excellence-certified Master Technician who began his career as a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. He changed careers after realizing he made more money and preferred running his own auto repair business. When his auto shop and home were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, Caylor decided to apply for an open teaching position at his son’s high school. Caylor’s automotive students work together in teams to master concepts, perform hands-on work, and gain exposure to different subjects. Students can work for hours in a covered tool storage and vehicle work area, not just on cars, but watercraft, engineering projects, or anything that puts their mechanical skills to use. Caylor’s students regularly find employment in the Gulfport region, including as automotive technicians and as Freightliner diesel technicians. Caylor was a finalist for the 2019 Prize for Teaching Excellence as part of a team with fellow Gulfport teacher Scott Pfaff.
The 2020 prize drew more than 600 applications from 48 states and included three rounds of judging, each by an independent panel of experts from industry, education, trades, philanthropy and civic leadership. The application process, which included responses to questions and a series of learning modules, was designed to solicit each teacher’s experience, insights and creative ideas about their approach to teaching and success in helping their students achieve excellence in the skilled trades. All learning modules are available here.
In July, the field was narrowed to 50 finalists. The 32 finalists who were not named winners today will receive $1,000 gift cards from Harbor Freight Tools. Additionally, given the challenges teachers are facing due to COVID-19, teachers who applied for the prize but did not advance to become finalists were eligible to receive $100 gift cards from Harbor Freight Tools.