From Yestermorrow Student to Instructor (and a darn good one!)

Paul Derksen came to Yestermorrow in 2006 to take the Design for Builders and Timber Framing courses. The school was on Paul’s radar for quite some time. Building had always been an interest for him, as family-album  pictures of him trying to build a treehouse while still in diapers will attest. Renovation work on his own house as an adult, and some volunteer experiences doing home repair and renovations for needy West Virginians ultimately sealed the deal.

In 2002, he left a career as a research biologist, moved to Vermont, and starting his own design/build business. But he soon realized that he needed more knowledge and a deeper skillset. Yestermorrow’s courses became critical for his new path. He was drawn to the school because of its creative and inspired programming as well as its commitment to energy efficiency and natural materials. He wanted something more than what he would get at a technical college, and what he found was just that. “It is more than a place to learn a skill, craft or trade," he says. "There are a lot of other interests and values, and a community that you tap into when you are there.”

As some years went by and he gained more and more mastery of his craft, his connection to the Yestermorrow ethos never dimmed. He still felt connected to the community, and a desire to give something back took hold. He inquired about the possibility of teaching.

It just so happened that an instructor who was scheduled to teach the school’s Renovation class had a conflict and needed to bow out.  Paul came out of the bullpen and rose to the challenge with skill and grace. In fact, the students' rave reviews suggested that he possessed a natural gift. He has since been back several times, to teach Renovation again, as well as Intro to the Woodshop and Cabinets & Built-Ins.

 “I really enjoy working with the students,” he says, “empowering them to take the skills that they have, honing them and giving them some more information, because I know for myself how satisfying it was to pick up some of those skills, especially coming from another walk-of-life, trade or career. It tends to be that a lot of students have a desire and a passion, but there is a hesitance to do it before they have the skills.  Like watching someone using a powertool for the first time and being terrified of it.  But then realizing how they can do it properly and safely and make something beautiful out of it is really enjoyable.”

Paul’s best advice to aspiring woodworkers is to “do things with integrity. If you’re going to do something, do it well from an aesthetic perspective, a quality perspective, as well as with an efficiency with the use of the resources. That is the approach I take with my work—so that I make something that will last for more than 100 years and that someone would want to keep in shape for that long because of the way it was built.”

He adds: “The school and the community that Yestermorrow attracts tend to be totally on board with that [vision]. I learn something from them every time I teach. Seeing people mastering a skill and doing something they thought they couldn’t do before or learning something they really wanted to learn about is really satisfying work.”