Paul McFarlin: mechanic, mentor and more

In his empty Carmel High School classroom next to the shop, Paul McFarlin types away at his keyboard during his prep period. A flustered student enters the room, asking if another teacher is there. “Did you get out? You weaseled out?” McFarlin asks in an incredulous tone.

“No, first I have to convince him that I can not handle the class,” the girl says.

“You know what works really well?” says McFarlin, deadpan. “And he’s new at teaching. Cry. Do you know how to cry? Stare straight ahead–don’t blink, don’t swallow, and stare. And the tears start to flow. Works every time.” McFarlin leans back in his chair with a knowing nod.

The student dutifully stares forward at the whiteboard until her eyes start to water. “They actually did start to burn! Okay. Mr. McFarlin, thank you.”

Another student enters the room, demanding oil for his car. McFarlin obliges with feigned annoyance, then returns to his desk.

During most breaks and lunches, one can most likely spot Mr. McFarlin–like a cat, elusive–making his way back and forth from the theater or the office to his room. He weaves his way around the groups of students, high-fiving and fist-pounding the many kids who are currently in or have been in one of his classes. It’s difficult to describe what makes  McFarlin so likable, but in his uniform of jeans,  beard, and plaid shirt and work boots, he is like a mix between Zach Galifianakis, Tim Allen, and a gnome. He is subtly jolly.

In his eighth year at Carmel High School, McFarlin teaches five different classes.

“We have Stagecraft, Robotics, Automotives, Car Care, Industrial Arts. So every day is different.”

Throughout his long career as a teacher, McFarlin has taught everything from jewelry making to wood shop, and has also been a counselor. Before coming to Carmel High School eight years ago, he taught in Los Angeles, where he grew up as well.

“I taught at the same high school I went to for fifteen years. Pretty cool, huh?” McFarlin says teasingly.

But as the schools in his area started to make cuts that affected teachers negatively–such as cutting benefits and salaries and hiring private companies–and students with special needs started getting kicked out, McFarlin decided that it was time to move.

“It’s like Wal-Marting education. That‘s why I came here. I didn’t like it.”

Since working at Carmel High, McFarlin has brought his outside knowledge and experience with him. No where is this more evident than in Robotics, which is not only a class, but also a popular afterschool club that builds a  robot every year and competes regionally.

“[The] second semester we build the robot [in class], but we also invite kids in to help with the robot [after school] because it’s a big team effort,” McFarlin says. “Sometimes there’s twenty, thirty kids [involved].”

The club, which McFarlin has been running for six years, has had the ability to keep students coming back year after year, even with all of the other extracurricular activities and duties that students are flooded with.

“Robotics is such an amazing club,” senior Ches Moore says. “And the reason that I come back every year is because of Mr. McFarlin. He is funny, compassionate, keeps it real, and hardworking. He is an inspiration.”

One of the most significant ways that McFarlin has contributed to Carmel High is through his work in the theater. By teaching his Stagecraft classes the technical aspects of putting on a show, McFarlin has taught groups of students how to independently run a production. From lighting to sound to pulling the curtain, the Stagecraft class is able to do it all.

“Stagecraft was extremely beneficial,” senior Lana Richards says. “To learn the tricks of the trade from a man who looks like the Lorax…he’s like the grandpa I never had.”

By bringing his extensive, twenty-eight-year background knowledge in theater production to Carmel High’s brand new, fledgling theater, McFarlin made sure that what could have been some pretty shoddy first performances ran as smoothly as possible.

“He is very good at what he does,” adds photography teacher Holly Lederle, who also puts a lot of time and energy into the theater. “He’s a great mentor, and as a new teacher I really appreciate that.”

That ability to mentor others in a casual, friendly way—and usually with an inconspicuous and clever sense of humor—is what makes students so comfortable around McFarlin and so receptive to the plethora of information that he has to give.

But even with all that he takes on, McFarlin is still clear about his main priority: family.

“All three of my kids went to high school with me,” McFarlin explains. “I [taught] on purpose so I could spend that time with my kids.”

McFarlin turns his monitor to reveal a picture of a little blond boy wielding a plastic baseball bat.

“I have a grandson now that’s two and a half—love him to death. Isn’t he cute? He’s my best little pal.”

A student who has just wandered in to grab a packet argues that old people are cuter.

“No!” McFarlin gasps. “They’re ugly and gross. They smell. But children are wonderful. They’re cute as little buttons. The best part of life is raising children.”

McFarlin looks again at the photo of his grandson on his screen.

“Look how cute he is,” he coos.

Whether with his own children or his students, McFarlin always manages to make school an enjoyable place to grow.

-Zoe Vitale