Aldona Bird, Contributors, Latest News

Never too late to learn — and MTEC can teach you

A few years ago, my father and I took two stained glass classes at Monongalia County Technical Education Center (MTEC) through its community class program. This launched for me a love of, and professional interest in, the craft.

Without those classes I never would have tried stained glass — I thought it an interesting art form, but it requires so many tools and supplies that it was not a hobby I would have taken up without instruction and opportunity to try it without investing.

Last fall I signed up for another community class through MTEC. This time I took residential electrical wiring. I wanted to learn to wire my dream home — which I will eventually build — and in the meantime to do wiring projects around my current home.

Through the years I have helped my father with wiring projects, but wanted a crash course in wiring basics rather than learning on the fly here and there.

I also love taking classes. I enjoy learning in a class atmosphere — both in lecture form (provided the lecturer presents the information well) and through hands-on projects.

This class offered some of each method. The first few classes consisted of lectures with many anecdotes thrown in. While the instructor’s anecdotes usually related to the material, I would have preferred fewer of them (especially of those repeated multiple times), and more straight up information.

The aspect of the class I really had fun with was hands-on wiring. We started with learning how to hook up a wall outlet from a breaker box.

Gradually, we progressed to more complex circuits, such as adding multiple outlets with a variety of switches and lights attached.

After completion of each project during class, the instructor inspected each student’s work and provided feedback. Once I created a system with sloppy wiring, and the teacher told me it would spark and short circuit — he showed me where and why. Then I was able to fix my mistake and offer it for re-inspection (at which point it was proclaimed safe).

A few weeks after the class ended I tested my newfound knowledge by adding a ceiling light to my living room. I added it to an existing circuit, and so far I haven’t seen any sparks, nor has my house caught fire.

While I felt pretty confident in my work, I learned even more doing a real life project than when wiring components on a table.

I learned (thanks to my father) how to safely use metal clad wire. My father said he used all metal clad wiring when fixing up the old farm house I live in, because home insurance won’t cover fires caused by squirrel damage to electrical wiring.

I also learned more about grounding metal elements, such as boxes and rods. In class we mostly used plastic boxes, and the teacher never really went over grounding of metal components.

While the class didn’t provide a license or certification, it apparently did qualify students to apply for work with electricians. Two other students in the class wanted — like me — to be able to do home improvements. The others were considering career options in the trade.

Although the class didn’t fulfill all my expectations, I would (and have) recommend it as a starting point to anyone wanting to learn about home wiring.

I next want to take a woodworking class at MTEC — they are currently looking for an instructor. As soon as they find one, I will be the first to sign up. I think these classes provide wonderful opportunities to the community.

ALDONA BIRD is a journalist, previously writing for The Dominion Post. She uses experience gained working on organic farms in Europe to help her explore possibilities of local productivity and sustainable living in Preston County. Email