George Trout is master woodworking teacher By Art Carey
Inquirer Staff Writer
At Springfield High School in Delaware County, the expression they use is, "I'm going to Trout."
The kids all know what it means. It's shorthand for the furniture-making taught by George Trout, who is single-handedly responsible for beautifying the homes of Springfield with more handcrafted furniture than you'd find in a Shaker village.
When his students talk about him, they use words like passionate, caring, inspiring. Declares one admirer: "He's the man!"
He is one of those teachers who teach more than they seem to be teaching. He is one of those teachers you never forget.
Trout is of average height, softening around the middle, fast approaching 45. His hair is buzz-cut, and he wears metal-frame glasses. This is his 23d year teaching at Springfield High, and he estimates that altogether he has helped 3,000 students learn to handle tools and shape wood.
Only about a half-dozen Trout alums have become professional carpenters and cabinetmakers. But hundreds more have achieved levels of proficiency beyond anyone's expectations. The work of his students has been featured in national woodworking magazines 29 times.
"I do not consider it a woodworking program or myself a woodworker," Trout says. "I teach creativity through problem-solving. Woodworking is just a vehicle to think independently."
His approach was evident one recent evening during the voluntary "open labs" that he hosts so students can complete projects on time. Sawdust flew, and sanders, drills, and saws made an ear-numbing racket as two dozen students worked away.
Trout, serene amid bustling chaos, circulated constantly, fielding questions, assisting with cutting and drilling, offering correction and encouragement.
Colin Keegan, 17, a junior, was stumped about how to attach the molding to the cherry headboard of the bed frame he was making.
"What are your ideas?" Trout asked.
"Wood screws?" Keegan wondered.
"They're going to show," Trout said. "What else can you do?"
Keegan thought for a moment. "Dowels?" he offered.
"That's it." Trout said.
It was a typical instance of his teaching method, as ancient and wise as Socrates.
"I almost never answer questions," Trout confided. "I throw another question back at them, so it will lead them in the right direction. I tell my students, 'Use your brain before you use mine and you'll learn how to solve problems in any field you choose.' "
"He really challenges us to do things ourselves," said Mallory Sminkey, 17, a senior who has taken Trout's class for four years. "A lot of times it seems like he ignores me, but he wants me to figure it out myself so I feel more pride. He gives his observations, but it's ultimately up to us."
And so it went. A student needed help cutting blocks for corner molding. A student needed help attaching the legs to her love seat. A student was baffled by how to close a surprise gap in the vanity she was making.
"Mr. Trout?" "Mr. Trout?" "Mr. Trout?" was the chorus line of the evening.
Trout attended to each and every plea and query. He had been at school since 7:30 a.m. He had not eaten dinner. He would not leave until nearly midnight. Typical for Trout. He has not taken a sick day in 23 years.
Trout, a bachelor, lives in a meticulously restored Victorian farmhouse in Springfield. A native of York, he enjoyed working with his hands as a boy and used to sell items he made from scrap wood. A Millersville University graduate, he interviewed for the Springfield job in 1986. "It was a dilapidated program," he recalls, "and I thought I could fix it." Back then, only about 30 students were enrolled. Today, about 135 take his classes, many because older brothers and sisters raved about the experience.
"He's very helpful, devoted, and caring," said Christy Kobasa, 17, who was building a triple dresser with serpentine drawers from African ribbon mahogany. "He puts in a lot of hours and wants everyone to succeed."
"He's so dedicated he makes us work harder," said Tim Gillen, 18, a senior who was fashioning chairs for a dining-room table. "If he didn't come to school, this program would be nothing."
The students design and build the projects themselves. Their projects range wide; two students are racing to complete harpsichords.
Trout keeps a photo album of some of the more amazing pieces - a clock whose ornamental fretwork involved more than 1,500 cutouts, a reproduction Victorian Wooton desk with 73 drawers - and he posts photos of exemplary work on the classroom wall.
Each year, the students display their work at the school's "Celebration of the Arts," a show that attracts thousands and that will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday.
Parents spend $50,000 to $60,000 a year on materials, and Trout must shepherd them all to completion. Many pieces are finished only a day or two before the festival. Always, it's a frantic and exhausting marathon, says Trout, and always well worth the reward - "the tears of so many proud parents."
One of them is Rose Addis, 54, whose three sons, all now graduated, each "took Trout" for four years. Her house is a veritable furniture gallery, adorned with 12 years' worth of her sons' craftsmanship and Trout's influence.
"The quality is just gorgeous - that's the only word I can use," Addis says. "He's like a one-man band playing all these instruments, orchestrating all these children. He has actually taught my sons what my late husband would have if he had been around. He has been an inspiration to the boys, and to me, and for that I'll never forget George Trout." Regards,
Tom Watson http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1 /