This feature first appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
The most interesting thing about the undulating road of life is … well, that it undulates. It is full of ups, downs, twists and turns, and more importantly, you never really know where it will take you.
We all travel that road, and while some individuals set a specific career goal and, through hard work, determination, and sacrifice, achieve it — most of us do not. "The best laid plans of mice and men," yada yada yada. The truth is that you never know where the road and life will take you.
Larry Regedanz (re-ga-dance) is a great example of traveling that road. After high school he enlisted in the Marine Corps with the goal of repairing helicopters. Once in, however, he experienced the typical recruiting officer bait-and-switch. "The Corps told me, 'We don't want you touching copters, son; you're going into telecommunications,' " he explained.
While lacking the cachet of keeping attack copters flying, Regedanz did learn a great deal about telecommunications. It would serve him well.
After leaving the Corps, Regedanz was just getting settled into civilian life when nine months later, he was called back into service for Desert Storm. Fortunately for his career, it was a short conflict. "I went through all the regular training again and was about to be shipped overseas when it ended."
A civilian once again, Regedanz set about building a successful career in telecommunications and along the way married a wonderful woman — they now have two beautiful daughters. In terms of work, things were going great for him: He was a network manager for a large internet provider. The perks of his position were sweet.
"I had a company car, phone, excellent benefits, and a hefty salary," explained Regedanz. "I thought I had it made and there was no way I was ever gonna leave. I was gonna stay till I retired."
An unexpected career switch
In 2012, one of Regedanz's nephews had just completed his studies at the Vantage Career Center (VCC) in Van Wert, Ohio. While visiting with Uncle Larry, he told him of a teaching position opening up at the center and encouraged him to apply.
"At first, I said no way, I'm not interested," said Regedanz. "But my wife, who was, and still is a teacher, told me to 'at least check it out.' " A diligent husband, he went to an interview and was not at all impressed with the benefits of becoming a teacher.
Surprisingly, he was called back for a second interview, after which they said they would be in touch. "I didn't care either way, since I wasn't really interested in switching jobs," said Regedanz. "I already had a great job."
This was when destiny knocked in the form of a major storm that struck the state. As a network manager, Regedanz had to spend the entire weekend working to bring back services for his customers. Exhausted and worn out, he returned to his home late Sunday night where he ran into his daughter who said, "Dad, you missed my swim meet ... again."
Regedanz knew that it was time for change. "When my daughter said that, right then and there, I realized that money wasn't everything. I was going to quit my job and find something else that let me spend more time with my family," he said.
He didn't have to wait long. The next day the career center called and asked him to be their network systems instructor. Regedanz immediately accepted, told his boss he was leaving, and started preparing to teach.
Jitters and challenges
Coming into the classroom with decades of experience did nothing to alleviate Regedanz's nervousness. "I remember orientation night when I was facing 200 juniors and their parents. I was probably more scared of the kids than they were of me," he said with a laugh.
His time as a leatherneck would prove valuable as he adapted, innovated, and overcame obstacles in the classroom — whatever form they might be. "My part of the school building was being worked on and my classes had to take place in the bus barn for the first half of the year," he said.
He also needed to obtain a teaching license, a process that proved to be time-consuming and filled with frustration. "It took four years, was very difficult, and I had to make a lot of sacrifices. There was a time I felt like quitting, but with help from other teachers, I finally got my license," Regedanz said.
As successful as Regedanz had been in the business world, he would prove to be even better in the classroom. It has been 11 years and he still enjoys his job. "I have never missed a day of school, I remember the names of every student I've ever had," he said. "The satisfaction of teaching students to become professionals in their field is way more rewarding than any amount of money."
Regedanz teaches a two-year program. Students enter during their junior year and continue through senior year. Each class period is 2 hours and 40 minutes long with a short, refreshing break in the middle. "It's a long time for kids to sit still," he explained. "At halftime, I tell them to go outside and breathe. The kids love it, they shoot baskets and throw footballs around. The kids say it's like recess."
The average class size is between 20 and 25 students, most of whom enroll to become game designers — a plan that Regedanz typically talks kids out of using hard data. "Once I show them how much work it is to become a game designer, they don't want to do it anymore," shared Regedanz. "I just show them that it's easier to get an IT job than a game designer position."
There are even students who want to be YouTube influencers, but soon decide on a secure job in IT. "It's kind of funny, that in my entire time teaching, I've never had one kid be a game designer or YouTube influencer," said Regedanz.
Once enrolled in his class, students receive a healthy dose of hardware, software, computer networking, and security learning. They also choose electives from various TestOut courseware including Office Pro, Server Pro, Linux Pro, Ethical Hacker Pro and more.
Paving the path to certification
As a first-year teacher, Regedanz heard about TestOut courseware while meeting with several other teachers in Ohio and has used it since. "TestOut has been invaluable in my classroom. The labs really make it easy for the kids to do their work." he said.
Of course, it is difficult to be a great teacher without great administrative support. "Vantage is by far the best place I've ever worked. The admin is top-notch, from the superintendent down to the other teachers and staff members," Regedanz said. "They bend over backwards to help these kids. Plus, we have a warehouse that has anything I could want, from sticky notes to hard drives."
The center pays the cost of all certification exams, and Regedanz's students earn a lot. Some earn 11 or even 12 certifications during their two years. One student completed an impressive 19 certs.
He also credits the community for the support it provides to education. "We're not a super-rich school, but the community passes levies to fund education," he said.
Regedanz is known to go to great lengths to help students learn. He requisitioned stand-up desks for every student, and himself. "The kids love them," he said. "If they feel tired, they can just stand up and continue learning."
The room was originally equipped with office chairs that made creaky noises and proved to be too comfortable for some students, as they would fall asleep. His solution was simple and inexpensive — he replaced the comfortable chairs with rigid, hard plastic chairs. "The kids have to sit up straight now and there is no creaking," explained Regedanz. "I have a hard plastic chair too."
The new chairs came with the added benefit of increasing web exam scores by 20 percent. A fact Regedanz was quick to point out. "I tell the kids that these chairs make you smart," he said with a laugh.
A believer in hands-on learning, Regedanz makes sure the students get plenty of it. He formed a help desk that serves teachers, students, and often the students' parents. It operates in a professional manner, with tickets and work reports. The students fix broken laptops and desktop computers. If a part is needed, they find one online at the best price and send the link to the owner of the computer to order and pay for it.
"The kids really love it, it gives them the important hands-on experience that they'll need in the real world," explained Regedanz. "And there is no cost for the repairs — too much paperwork. We do, however, accept donations of cookies or pop."
The help desk team used to repair phones for people, but they stopped as it was too difficult and time consuming. The class still does learn to repair cell phones. Each year, Regedanz orders 20 broken phones from eBay and the students practice fixing them. "We also buy the needed parts and it's a great way for the kids to practice without messing up someone's actual phone," he explained.
Some of the students become quite proficient repairing phones. "One of my girls got so good that she started her own business," Regedanz said. "She was charging between $20 and $100 per phone and making a couple thousand a month on the side."
Turning students into Business Professionals of America
One aspect of teaching that gets Regedanz very excited is the annual Business Professionals of America (BPA) competition. All the local schools attend regional competitions, winners go to state — held each year in Columbus — and those winners move on to nationals.
His students perform well at the events. "I usually have 10 or more advance to state and some have even gone to nationals, which is a huge five-day event that the center pays all expenses for," explained Regedanz.
The state event requires all students to dress up with nice clothing, and Regedanz often finds himself teaching boys how to tie a tie. "We go there and everyone stays in a hotel. It ends up being a long day, but a good day," said Regedanz. "It's a real thrill for the kids to go."
He well remembers a poignant moment during his first year riding the bus to the state competition. "I overheard two girls talking behind me, and one was crying on the phone, saying, 'Mom, you don't understand, this is the best thing that ever happened to me.' It made me realize that what we were doing was a good thing for the kids."
Imparting life skills (and discipline)
Industry certifications are great to have, but Regedanz makes sure his students understand that there is more to working with people than just technical knowledge. To teach young people important life and job skills, he involves other departments in the center. The English department helps with résumés, the health tech department teaches the kids proper hygiene and how to shave.
In November, the culinary students host a Thanksgiving buffet to help the kids learn to eat in a proper setting — it is formal dress and no phones are allowed.
The English department holds a school-wide event for mock interviews. They bring in outside employers to conduct the interviews for senior students. The job-hunting prep has proven so effective that a number of Regedanz's students have received actual job offers during the mock interviews.
As an instructor, Regedanz demands performance. There are at least 12 banners hanging around his room exhorting the students to, "Never settle for less than your best." Simultaneously, he cares a great deal about the students.
He is also blunt about their future possibilities, especially when college is brought up. "I don't push it," he stated firmly. "I tell kids there are plenty of high-paying jobs for them in IT and to go to college only if they need it for their career."
Any students who want to go to college also get a dose of Regedanz realism. "I push scholarships. Don't pay for it! There are plenty of small scholarships to help you pay for it." He backs up his words by telling the story of a former student whose father made him apply for one scholarship per week. When graduation came, the student had more than $50,000 in scholarship money.
"I want them all to be the best they can be at whatever they do for a career," he said. "My greatest reward is when a former student e-mails or calls to tell me about their new job or something else good that happened to them. That makes it all worth it."
A special send-off
At the end of each school year, he and the seniors head out for a funfilled activity together. "The kids vote on what we should do. They enjoy paintball. I guess they just like shooting me," he joked.
Another more somber activity occurs on the last day of school when Regedanz has his seniors sit in a circle on the floor. "I tell them that 13 years ago, in kindergarten, a teacher read you a book, now I'm gonna read you a book."
The students are very attentive as he begins reading the famous Dr. Seuss book Oh, The Places You'll Go! On the last page, he reads out the names of his students and ends with: "Never ever settle for less than your best."
It is an emotional moment. Some students are unable to hold back their tears realizing they are leaving his classroom behind and starting their own journey of life.
For each student there, Larry Regedenz has given his all across two years of classroom time to prepare them for their careers. Regardless of what they end up doing, each one of them will always remember him.