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  • Writer's pictureMr. K

I never graduated high school...and now I'm a teacher? The "why" can help your kids

Updated: Mar 5, 2023

When choosing "core" studies for your kids (math, english, geography, etc.), remember they need the core AND much more.

Do you have students who are extremely unmotivated to learn? Read my story below to see how the "more" can help.

A BANDSAW FOR A 10-YEAR-OLD? My name is Wayne Kroeplin and I am a builder, creator, innovator and teacher.  Early in life my parents recognized my gift for creativity and supported it by buying me Lego's and Erector sets.  My creativity was so voracious, they even gave me my own bandsaw for Christmas when I was only 10-years-old.   

On my 10th Christmas my brother and I opened our first video game, Coleco Telstar Combat.  It was a cool tank game created in 1977 and was one of the first to feature joystick controls.  We played for hours!


It wasn't long before boredom landed and I became curious about how the image of the tanks and the game field were being projected onto the screen of my tv.  I thought, "there must be a little camera inside the game that displays the little tanks on the screen."  It was at a time before most people knew anything about computer coding language.  I had no idea that inside this device was a computer program...I didn't even know what a computer was.  I needed to know what was inside, so I took the game apart.  I remember being surprised at what I found...nothing but a little green board with wires and a bunch of other alien like objects I knew nothing about.  


One of the objects inside the game was a silver box about the size of my palm. "This must be where the camera is located" so I went to our families junk drawer in the kitchen to find a screwdriver.  I ended up with a butter knife.  I returned and began enthusiastically prying open the little silver box.  It felt like an archaeological dig.  After an aggressive amount of leveraging and twisting I managed to remove the cover...another surprise...more foreign objects.  There was no camera pointing down at a little battle field...there was...nothing!  So, I put the game back together as best as I could and hid it in the back of the tv.  It never worked again. What happened that day excited two very important questions in my 10 year old mind: 

1. If mom's good butter knives could be used as a screwdriver, what could the forks be used for? 

2. What other mysteries are awaiting my curious mind, like what's inside the toaster.

From that day I was never the same.  I had awakened a deep motivation and wanted to learn more about "stuff" around me.  Like how a car engine works or how gears, levers and pulleys operate.  I became obsessed with building things, especially with Legos. I would consume entire days creating my mechanical wonders...I couldn't get enough!

I also spent time in my fathers shop cutting, drilling, nailing and sawing.  By middle school I had already built my own mini-bike using my paper route money. I truly found my "sport"!


I was always confident and at the top of my creative home.  However, school did not create the same emotions. My memories of school, most of them, are not good.  I often felt like I was in a foreign country and didn't know how to speak the language. However, there were a few good times.  One of them was in grade school.  It was 2nd or 3rd grade.  The teacher led us outside to a mobile building parked in the back of the school.  Inside was a workshop with wood workbenches.  On the walls hung saws, hammers, etc. I was awakened. The feel of the saw was like a paintbrush in my hand as I removed the wood that contained my creation. A few other good memories were basket weaving (yes, it was underwater), and in first grade we played with cardboard building blocks. Most of my memories of grade school all have something to do with creating something...these were actually my only good memories from those years. 

Later, I attended a public middle school and a small private school.  I remember being in Industrial Arts class at the public middle school and creating bird houses, letter openers and hockey pucks from a moulding machine.  In art class, we created plaster sculptures and in Home Economics I created Ritz cracker pizzas.  I loved it!  As for my core classes (math, science, geography, etc) I was not doing great, but I managed to keep my grades up, knowing that there were enough creative experiences in other classes to get me through the school day.  At the end of the day I would hop on the school bus and exhaust the evening with Legos or some creative activity in my father's shop (or tv if the Dukes of Hazzard or Incredible Hulk was on).  I have great, happy memories at home.  I endured school.

The couple of years I attended the small private schools was during my 5th and 7th grades.  There was no portable wood shop or Industrial Arts class.  Everything was centered around the "core" classes, and I did not do well... at all.  One good memory was going on a field trip where I was introduced to radio controlled (RC) air planes.  A man showed us how he built and flew these cool miniature airplanes.  It was unforgettable.  But we ended up having to leave and go back to school.  I suffered through, but my grades continued to fall.


From 1982-1984 I attended one of two high schools in our city.  This was my freshman and sophomore years.  School was now about friends, skipping classes and experimenting with drugs and alcohol.  School was an exercise in survival.  Since I was doing so poorly in my "core" classes, I was not allowed to take any elective courses like shop class.  I lost all my free periods and had to sit in resource centers to catch up in math and language arts.  I skipped so many classes and was in enough trouble that my parents, together with the principal, decided that I would be sent to the other high school across town.  That was 1984-1986. 

Not much changed at the other school.  In fact, things became worse.  My new classes included math, english, history and physical education...not one elective class...again.  Skipping school, drugs, alcohol.  I was failing most of my classes.  My father, in desperation, offered to pay me $ to just get D's on my report card.  School was depressing and my home life now suffered.   


As mentioned, I had a wonderful family. My parents were supportive, and they helped my education from completely capsizing.  However, my last two years of high school tested our relationship to the limits.  It was 1986.  My father and I were on very limited communication, but my mother and I were close.  She had been the insulation between my father and I for the past couple of years, and I was beginning to wear her down too. 

It was always my favorite time of year, spring, and summer was peaking it's beautiful head over the black cloud of school.  But this year was supposed to be the greatest year of my life...I was a Senior and was finally looking at the end of my student career, but I feared it would not be over just yet. 

It was around 8 a.m., and I was in homeroom when I received a message to see the vice principal.  I reluctantly entered his office and was met with a look of concern.  "Well, Mr. Kroeplin, what is your plan?" he said.  You see, after 4 years of high school, I had skipped so many classes and done so poorly in my studies that I was short 12 credits of the 20 credits needed to complete my Senior year.  There was NO WAY I was heading for graduation any time soon. I answered with my backup plan, "Well, I was hoping to finish on the 5-year plan."  The 5-year plan was an extra grace year given to students who didn't make the necessary credits in 4 years.  So, they would return for a 5th year to finish.

The vice principal looked at me and extended a quick hand shake and said, "Mr. Kroeplin the 10-year plan would not work for you.  This school district has done all it can for you, and we now wish you the best of luck."  And with one hand shaking mine and his other arm extended showing me to the door, my life as a student was complete! 

But it was not the relief or celebration I was hoping for.  Instead, fear and anxiety captured me...What would I do now? That summer all of my classmates graduated, except me.  It was around 6:30 a.m. and my dad was getting ready for work.  He yelled upstairs, "Time to get up and get a job!"By the second part of that week I was a full time employee at the local window factory.  I had always been good with my hands...actually, great!  So, I looked for work in that category and for the next month, From 5 a.m.-3:30 p.m. weekdays and 5-noon on Saturdays, I repeated the routine of work.  I was fortunate to land a 1st shift position, not many did.  I was also placed in the "specials" department where we created custom made windows.  It was exciting, at first...

MY FUNERAL FUND It was sometime mid morning when my department leader asked me to measure and cut parts for window frames.  I reluctantly grabbed my ruler and took the paper with the cut sizes from my supervisor's hand and walked nervously toward the saw.  I looked at the list of measurements as if I were reading a different language.  I began making pencil marks on the wood and proceeded to cut the frames.  Afterward, my supervisor quality checked my work and with irritation pointed out that I did not cut a single frame to the correct size. She walked away. 

I quietly returned to the job I was doing prior.  By lunch time that day, most of the factory knew that the 18-year-old new kid could not read a ruler.  I was humiliated, and later that week I was fired.  Ashamed, I remembered the math classes I should have attended.  I spent the next 3 days getting up early, putting on my steel toed boots and pretending to walk to work (I still didn't have a driver's license).  I was too afraid of what my dad would think of me if I told him I was fired. 

Though my dad and I didn't communicate, he has always been a great man to me.  He has always been a dedicated father, husband, and employee.  This news would only increase the space between us.  After a few days of walking to a friend's house and not to work, I decided to tell my dad.  He extended an unexpected grace to me and showed me how to read a ruler. 

By this time drugs and my dangerous lifestyle had consumed me, and my parents felt hopeless.  I remember a sobering moment when my father told me, "I don't know what else to do for you but save up for your funeral."  Over the next few years I would go on to earn my General Equivalency Diploma (GED) but my lifestyle would not change.  I did, however, find purpose in the building trades, where I learned about carpentry and almost every aspect of building a house. 

I was now a very young adult, and my life choices were costing me.  On my 21st birthday I ended up in a 21 day drug treatment program, and for the next year I struggled. But, something was different. I now had purpose. I was holding a job and making good money in the trades. I was motivated by my innate desires to develop my skills and indulge in my own capabilities. It was a new kind of "high." I was surrounded by people who were of my "tribe," and I could finally speak the language. And, with new motivation, I managed to quickly and permanently break the heavy gravity of my old life.


I was now a regular church attender.  I was holding a steady job, and I finally got my license back (after losing it twice) and was breaking my own records of good living.  I soon met my wonderful wife who helped steady me even more.  With my GED in hand I entered a technical college and received an associates degree in construction trades and graduated at the TOP of my class.  I started my own business and began a family. 

I had completely blasted away from my old life and was now a dedicated father, husband, and owner of a company.  My relationship with my father was never better.  We were now the best of friends.  Good decision after good decision led me farther away from old habits until there wasn't even a shadow of my old self.

After many years of owning my own business and becoming cemented into my new life, the market forced me to pay off business debt and close the doors.  When I was 30, I moved my family to Menomonie, WI and completed a degree in teaching and eventually attained a masters degree (again, at the top of my class). 

In between my undergrad and my masters degrees I accepted a job as a Technology Education teacher at a school district I was very familiar guessed it, the same district where I had ended our prior relationship with a handshake. It was a sweet reunion! BACK TO THE BEGINNING

I love my job!  Let me say that again, I LOVE my job!! And, I love the district I work for.  Over the years of teaching and reflecting back on my K-12 experience I can't help but realize a correlation between my academic failure and the struggle I see in many of the students I have worked with in public education.  For these students the hours between 7:30 a.m. and the time the 2:55 bell rings is mixed with many of the same experiences I had. 

The non-motivation in many of them is reminiscent and the methods of treatment are still similar.  Today, we still remove students who struggle academically from elective classes.  We try and make them fit into a pedagogical mold that was created to favor the "core" studies at the cost of giving students a breadth of experiences. 

The "core" is important, yes.  In high school I failed all my math classes and was in the slower math classes.  However, in college I loved math so much I was taking extra non-required math courses.  But, it was only because I now saw math as a tool that could be applied to something I loved...building, creating, innovating.  And, the other subjects of English, geography, etc. - these had also clicked for me, but not until I was able to see application to my own motivations.


Here I am now in my 50's. My wife and I just celebrated 30 years of marriage. My children are both out of college, and I have long tasted the beautiful pleasures of living a life of purpose. I sincerely do not blame the school system for my previous bad choices.

It taught me how to read, write, spell, and offered me knowledge of the world. What it was insufficient at doing was to give me the necessary experiences to connect this world around me (including my core studies) with who I truly innovator. My adolescence was prolonged until I found these connections elsewhere.

Elective enrichment courses give students the opportunity to sample life experiences; to try on different hats to see what does and doesn't fit. These type of courses can help reveal a students mysterious self. It reminds me of eating at a buffet where I am able to try all the food items to see what I like. How would I know what foods I truly like unless I am able to try a variety?


Some schools have many different course "buffet" offerings to help students try many different things. These are usually called "electived" or "enrichment" courses. At the beginning of this blog I wrote, "When choosing 'core' studies for your kids (math, english, geography, etc.), remember they need the core AND more." Electives courses are a critical part of the "more" beyond the core classes.  Signing your students up for these types of courses is not only important, for many it's imperative, because it helps reveal their purpose.

I strongly encourage schools everywhere to embrace the non-core courses as a necessary ingredient to help students find and support their motivation (purpose). was created to help students like me find subjects that speak to their motivations.  Specifically, to hands-on learners.  Motivation is a powerful engine! People learn best what is important to them and what motivates them.  Like me, once I discovered what motivated me (building and creating) I quickly learned the peripheral subjects that helped me be better at building and creating.  Motivation also gave me the ability to endure some of the less interesting studies that had to be completed for me to reach my objectives. Innovators Tribe is about helping students with these types of interests to do more than endure their education, but to embrace it as the ladder by which they too can reach their goals. Let us and the other "more" subjects help you create purpose for your child.


Wayne Kroeplin (Mr. K)

"You cannot be anything you want to be, but you are the best at being who you were designed to be, and within that space, there is unlimited joy and purpose"  A. F. Mille

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