There are certain individuals, who, the instant their hand molds subconsciously around a paintbrush or the delicate bow of the violin, automatically realize it is their true passion and possibly their destined calling in life.
The rest of society is left scurrying in the dust, scrambling through hobby after hobby to discover the dream career, one so tailored to their preferences they fulfill the irony of the age-old advice: “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
And Woodshop and Engineering teacher Ted Shinta has come admirably close to realizing this dream career with his passion for teaching, something that did not come easy.
Shinta first majored in Economics at The University of California, Davis, only to lose motivation to go to class and spend his afternoons playing cards instead. His father disowned him, and Shinta had no money left to afford his final two quarters at college. He decided to enlist in the army, inspired by the adventurous cowboy and action films he watched as a young boy. This youthful energy eventually deflated.
“After I got out of the army, [which] was not fun, I thought, this is BS,” Shinta said. “I need money, that’s what mattered. I [didn’t] need happiness, I just [needed] money and so I was very cynical about it.”
While training in the army, Shinta had developed a short-lived interest in gunsmithing, the repairing or modifying of guns, although his conscience and public opinions nagged at him because of the stigma surrounding gun use.
“There’s the sort of thought that you fix someone’s gun, and they go out and shoot somebody with it,” Shinta said. “And [whether or not] you are morally responsible for that.”
With this weakening devotion, gunsmithing was gradually replaced by a newfound love for machining, which is essentially metalworking, something that he discovered during a training program he completed at De Anza College. After, as he realized several friends had already earned MBAs, Shinta felt invigorated to apply for a bachelor’s degree and major in mechanical engineering at San Jose State University.
However, an interest in a certain field — in this case, engineering or machining — certainly doesn’t ensure an immediate success or stability. It is puzzling for MVHS students to even consider, Shinta says, but the entire country was actually in the midst of a mild recession when he completed his bachelor’s degree in 1986. Silicon Valley, now a hotspot for technology, was hit especially hard and engineering jobs suffered the brunt of the blow.
Swerving back and forth between interests, Shinta never encountered an authentic passion for a particular subject throughout high school or college. Whilst his teachers at school commonly advised students to attain careers in fields they were genuinely dedicated to, their advice fell on deaf ears. As long as his job didn’t “tear him down,” as Shinta phrases it, and money came rolling in, he was content. Passion or happiness was on the back-burner.
Then, when Shinta was 45 years old, his mother had a stroke. She was overweight and her family had a history of cardiovascular disease, but Shinta hadn’t really considered the possible consequence. When one is young, he concedes, there’s a kind of awareness that this kind of saddening event may occur, but then again, it’s rather unreal — until it actually happens.
“It’s like death,” Shinta said. “You’re [going] to die eventually, but it’s not real.”
Shinta considered himself his mother’s favorite growing up. His relationship with his father was fraught with arguments, putting Shinta’s mother in a precarious tug of war between son and husband. She ultimately sided with her husband, and Shinta felt angry, an enduring feeling which infected his attitude to her even years later, especially after he left the army.
“But [choosing] wasn’t her fault. I didn’t understand that she [was] caught between my father and me,” Shinta said. “She had to choose, but you’re young and don’t understand that, and I really did treat her crappily.”
His mother’s stroke was a mid-life crisis for Shinta that greatly disturbed the foundations of his self-assured and confident mindset. He mentions that he never did offer a genuine apology for his actions — a fact that caused him anguish in the wake of her passing. Certainly, he’d made an attempt after her stroke, but by then, her brain was “fried,” half of it gone from the stroke and thus his apology essentially meaningless. It was entirely too late for him to truly talk to her, and he grappled with what the future had — or rather, did not have — in store for him: What was he supposed to do, now? What was this life all about? Did he want to keep doing machining?
“‘[Was machining] how I [wanted] to spend the rest of my life?” Shinta said. “I mean [it was] more than half over.”
Machining wasn’t bad, Shinta emphasizes. It just didn’t satisfy him. He wanted something different, and there had to be more to life than the isolating and repetitive work of machining. Because for the first time, Shinta had realized that now was the time for him to ultimately decide if money or happiness was of more importance to him, and it was the latter that won out. His mother’s stroke gave him the push to lead an exciting and different life, at least more than what machining potentially offered.
“My grandfather was really controlling and my father was really controlling, so [my mother] didn’t really get any choices in life,” Shinta said. “And so that’s why when I got to be that age, I thought ‘Man, I can’t just stick like this. I have to do something that’s different.’”
Though a significant detour from machining, Shinta decided he would rekindle his earlier interest in teaching. In college, Shinta had tutored middle schoolers in math, and though it hadn’t quite struck a chord with him, he had certainly liked it. Shinta ultimately ended up as a paraeducator at MVHS, assisting special education students in both math and science.
Yet old habits die hard, and Shinta was drawn to the woodshop and machinery classes, frequenting both classrooms and acting as the Robotics advisor, which allowed him to assist students working on their projects. Shinta eventually replaced the engineering teacher Mike McCrystal and the Woodshop teacher James Kallstrom, and at long he last, he fully embraced the earlier advice he had so casually neglected.
“I realized the teachers were right and if you love your job, it’s good, and work is fun,” Shinta said. “It’s a different level of happiness. I never thought I would spend a lot of my time at work.”
He makes a significant distinction between a so-called “better” job and a job one genuinely takes pride in: the former is typically determined by money and the latter consists of a passion and the utmost dedication. And Shinta, after a notable amount of twists and turns, has achieved a steady balance between the two: his passion for teaching is based upon his own knowledge of woodworking and machinery, which is responsible for his salary.
Rather than woodworking for his own pleasure, Shinta prefers utilizing his knowledge to elevate the hands-on skills of the younger generation — and to Shinta, this offers real fulfillment and satisfaction.
Surprisingly, machinery or woodworking will never develop into a full-fledged passion for Shinta, although he admits he’s talented at both. Shinta likens his interaction with both subjects as an inanimate computer or machine executing commands. He’s certainly still a “creator,” but admits his overall self is lacking vision, a quality which allots that special touch of authenticity. The excitement derived from machining for the thousandth time doesn’t quite measure up to the first. Students, on the other hand, are individual challenges which entail thoughtful, creative and very particular solutions each and every time.
In essence, Shinta prefers to interact with students rather than whittling away the hours alone in a garage and fiddling with tools.
Shinta is by his students’ side or prepping material the entire day, although he references occasional times when the clock hits 3:10 p.m. and he restrains the overwhelming urge to rush home and ride his bike. Regardless, preparation for his students is a top priority. Teaching is what he can see himself doing for the rest of his life — or at least until he’s seventy.
“I don’t hardly think of anything except how it’s going to relate back to the school,” Shinta said. “How I can bring back to the school. Crazy, right? [It’s] obsessive, compulsive.”