WASHINGTON, Mo. — In some of the students who join the after-school Night Shift program at Four Rivers Career Center, auto tech instructor and Night Shift founder Dan Brinkmann sees himself.
“A lot of kids are just like I was. They don’t fit right. They are just not involved. They don’t play sports. I was not a student that you would have liked — that’s terrible to say, but it’s true,” he said.
And in teaching, whether it’s in the regular classes he teaches at the career center or the Night Shift program, Brinkmann tries to be the teacher he wanted to have — and eventually did have.
“I did not have a lot of teachers who appreciated me. I only had one, my junior year, who finally showed me that there was value in me. That was my auto tech instructor,” he said.
Regardless of what they may do or may not do in high school, Brinkmann’s goal is to equip students with technical skills and life skills — and the notion that they have a teacher who believes in them.
“It doesn’t matter where you are from. I don’t care. If you want to learn some skills, I’m going to show you and I have an army of people and a lot of support who are going to help me,” he said.
“We will push you harder, we will make you work harder, but you are going to accomplish more than you ever thought you could. But you have to take the bait.”
Brinkmann said he wants students in the program to know that they matter to him and that it matters to him that they gain something from the program.
“If you are hanging out with me on Tuesday and Thursday nights, my hope is that you learn some skills that you can use in your life to make your own life better. That is all I care about,” he said.
Brinkmann did try to restore old cars in the Night Shift program.
“We tried that one time and it was a massive failure. We started poking our noses around these old tractors, and for whatever reason, these old farm tractors seem to be working real well,” he said.
Brinkmann said there is no secret to getting young people to take an interest in something, as his students have in the vintage tractors.
“If you find the right carrot to motivate a kid, it doesn’t take money, it doesn’t take gifts — if you can show them that if you spend this time with me, you’re going to have skills that no one can take away from you and you are going to be able to use them to better your own life from now until when you decide you don’t want to do it anymore. But the ball is in your court,” he said.
Brinkmann said that when he hears people talking negatively about young people today, he uses the words of an uncle to set the record straight.
“If someone comes around me and starts fussing about young kids, I like how my Uncle Jim put it one time. He was at a farm supply store and his tractor happened to be on the Firestone calendar that year and it was hanging up,” he said.
“Somebody started talking about ‘kids these days, they don’t want to work.’ He turned around and said yes they do. He pointed to the calendar and said there’s proof right there.
“He said if you can’t find a kid who wants to work, it just means you aren’t looking in the right place.”
The students who join the Night Shift program have expressed the desire to be there, to do the work. Brinkmann said his job is to build on that.
“What my hope for them to take out of the program and my time with them is some sort of life skills to make them more confident individuals. I am just planting the seed to get them started, give them a leg up,” he said.