While Chris Henning teaches welding classes at Hahnville High School, his course isn’t limited to just the finer points of that trade: he aims to help students find direction, and more importantly, a plan.
“A lot of students are young and don’t really have that outlook on what life is going to be like after high school,” Henning said. “So, I like to ask them a series of questions … what happens if you’re on your own? Is the job you have right now going to allow you to make a good living? Nine out of 10 times, the answer is no.”
Henning starts posting on the dry erase board. Car insurance, rent, and other necessities add up quickly.
“When they start looking at the numbers and realize, ‘Hey, I don’t really have a plan out of high school,’ they may think this is a good fit,” Henning said. “Or another trade. We’ll go over the average pay, the average salary for each and kind of let them figure it out.”
He’s a straight shooter with his students, and his honesty is one reason why his class is always in high demand among students. It’s a trait he prides himself on, and something that made an impression on him when displayed by his own welding teacher years ago.
“When I was in high school, I didn’t have a clue what career path I wanted to go down until I took that class,” Henning said. “The teacher I had was really fun, cut and dry like I am. He was brutally honest, and I kind of got hooked on it. So, for me to be able to do the same thing, maybe for a kid from a less fortunate family, and help get him into a good trade so he can provide a good life for himself, that’s what it’s all about.”
He teaches the ins and outs of the profession – good and bad.
“I don’t sugar-coat anything. I tell them the pros and the cons,” Henning said. “What you can and can’t do. You go work for Valero-St. Charles – see that nice beard you’ve got? Gotta go. They’ll ask, ‘Wow, really?’ Yep. If you start sugar-coating things, you lead them down the path but then they maybe get into a job and see the downside for the first time, and it turns them away … and all that learning time they invested may seem like a waste of time.”
Henning, a St. Charles Parish native who lives in Boutte, enrolled in ABC (Associated Builders and Contractors) school when he was young. He proved a quick study, and often would leave his own welding area to help students who were struggling. He liked giving that boost, and one day, his instructor was unable to make a class and asked Henning to lead the day’s class as a substitute.
“That’s where it all started,” Henning said. “I enjoyed helping others out and it took off from there.”
He was hired on with ABC as a full-time instructor in 2013. Later on, he was offered a job at Hahnville in 2018, which he called a tough decision as at the time he was working at a refinery and enjoyed the job.
“But I also really enjoyed teaching at the same time. I ended up going the teaching route and that’s something I definitely don’t regret,” he said.
Nothing can replicate the pride he feels when a former student sees him outside his home doing yardwork and stops to let him know where their path has taken them – and thank him for his guidance.
“The other day, a student saw me and pulled up in his car and asked to shake my hand,” Henning said. “He said he was working at a shipyard now and doing really good for himself. And that just makes me feel really good. I’ve had that happen with a handful of students and it makes you feel like I’m doing something right.”
Henning will also receive a $25 gift card from Birdies.