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Nick E. Teig

           Dr. Nick Teig, Laboratory School professor from 1967 to 1998, came by his love of Industrial Technology genetically.  His grandfather was a carpenter.  His father, a tenant farmer, was the person people always came to with items to be fixed.

            Nick Teig was born in Radcliffe, Iowa on September 23, 1940.  World War II was raging and, when Nick was two years old, his father took a course in metallurgy and moved the family to Chula Vista, California where he found work building parts for bombers.  Nick’s two uncles lived in Chula Vista, and the brothers built a duplex where Nick’s family lived until the war ended in 1945 when they moved back to Iowa, coming soon to a 320-acre farm south of Radcliffe.  “Growing up on a farm and knowing that kind of work, I always had an interest in mechanical things,” Teig explains.  “I would make my own toys.  We would see a toy and then make it.”  Little did he know that this foreshadowed some of his most popular Lab School work.

            Teig graduated from Radcliffe High School in 1958 and enrolled in Iowa State Teachers College where he majored in Industrial Arts Education.  In 1962, he student taught under Lab School teachers Dr. Frank Hartwell and Dr. Russell Hansen.  “Dr. Hartwell introduced me the first day and pretty much let me take over from there,” Teig recalls.  “I thought the Lab School industrial arts program was forward-looking.  I taught industrial arts to first through sixth graders.  I saw every student.  Dr. Hartwell would come in, make a joke, and then withdraw.”

            During college Teig met his future wife, Marilyn Arthur, whom he married in 1962.   After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1963, Teig was hired to teach industrial arts (as it was called then) for the Dunkerton, Iowa school system.  He taught junior and senior high school industrial arts classes as a one-person department.  After only one year, a friend recruited Teig to join him in teaching industrial arts at Washington High School in Vinton, Iowa.

The Lab School Calls

            In 1967, Teig’s third year at Washington High, Dr. James Albrecht, the Lab School’s High School Principal, came to Vinton to watch Teig teach.  That year Frank Hartwell had had a heart attack; Hartwell took a leave of absence for 1967-1968—however, he never returned.  Albrecht told Teig that Hartwell remembered him as a 1962 student teacher.  “See if you can go down and get Teig,” Hartwell pressed, “because he will do the job.”

            Teig accepted the Lab School offer and, in 1967, began 31 years of Lab School teaching.  One of the biggest challenges in his first years was the change from “Industrial Arts” to “Industrial Technology” and the related shift from manual use of tools to automated use.  The t-square, triangle, and pencil were replaced by the computer-controlled drafting table (a plot table and stylus).  “In the late 1960s, I got a call from John Deere Tractor Works in Waterloo,” Teig recalls.  “Did the Lab School want 30 4x6 tables, each with a drafting machine and a file cabinet attached?  Deere had no use for these because it was now using computer-controlled drafting tables.” 

            This huge sea-change in the field spurred Teig toward doctoral work on the subject at the University of Nebraska.  “What prompted me was that we were going through a shift from manual to technological operations—from industrial arts to industrial technology,” he explains.  “A program out of Ohio was the new trend and there was a leader in Missouri.”  A pioneer in the field called Teig’s lucid 1975 dissertation one of the best dissertations he had ever read.  It was titled A Study of Selected Components of Industrial Arts Education in Category, I, II, III, and IV Public High Schools in Iowa.

            In later years, Teig visited his brother-in-law, an IBM engineer, in Minnesota and was shown a tiny chip that was replacing the circuit board.  “There was no way I could make a chip,” Teig notes.  “However, when I went back to the classroom and was teaching the students how circuit boards worked, I would then show them a chip and say this is what you must now learn.  Today it is ‘micro-miniaturization’.”

Projects for Every Class

            Teig taught industrial technology to every Lab School grade, often collaborating with his colleagues in fun unit projects.  Dr. Judy Finkelstein introduced her first graders to the country of Japan through a unit on its history, culture and more.  Teig helped each first grader make a pair of Japanese shoes, called getas.  At the closing party, all wore the getas they had made.

​            Teig even worked to help the kindergarten teachers prepare their young charges for first grade industrial technology.  “We wanted to introduce the kids to me and to the IT room,” Teig explains.  “We asked them each to bring in a picture they liked.  Then I’d help them laminate the picture.  Next I would ask them to draw lines on their picture to make a jigsaw puzzle with 4 to 6 pieces.  (Some wanted more pieces!)  They would do that and then they would cut their picture with a jigsaw.  They would leave the class with the jigsaw puzzle pieces in a Ziploc bag—ready to be assembled.”

            For second and third graders (called “Unit 3”), Teig worked closely with Joan Duea who, he says, was “very active” in involving industrial technology in her units.  “For a math unit, she asked me if the Unit 3 children could make abacuses,” he recalls.  “They did.”  They would spend four weeks on these units–one hour a day, five days a week for four weeks.  “Nick was a teacher with explicit directions and tight

management standards,” Duea recalls.  “Students had to listen carefully and implement exactly as told. There were always solutions for errors innocently made, but no room for haphazard work in his classroom.”

“To See How The Whole Process Works”

            In the early 1970s, Teig began to collaborate with Dr. Philip Nelson, a Lab School social studies teacher.  Nelson came to Teig because he was having trouble sparking his junior and senior high students’ interest in the industrial revolution.  The two collaborated on a project that was highly effective.  Nelson would bring his social science class down to the industrial technology room and the students would pick a product.  With Teig’s help they all then would build the product; then create a marketing/selling plan; sell the product; and split the profits.  “One popular choice was silk-screen t-shirts,” Teig reports.  “Two students ended up setting up their own silk-screen business.  We wanted them to see how the whole process works, from conception through production and sales.”

            Drawing on this success, Teig and the five Unit 3 teachers and the 100-110 second and third graders completed their own four-week units on the industrial process.  The younger students would choose a product—such as wooden trains, notepad holders, or castanets.  “I would create a pert chart for each project,” Teig explains.  A pert chart divides products into steps, determining the people, equipment, and time needed for each step.  Some projects required a lot of sanding.   “That was part of the experience to help the students learn first hand that some jobs can be tedious or not a lot of fun,” Teig notes: 

One girl said to me after sanding for some time, “Now I see why my Dad after work just wants to do nothing and is grumpy.”  We also wanted the students to feel part of the whole—a whole process.  Sometimes Nelson and I would intervene and urge the students to go on strike.  We’d say “You’re going to leave the school and you’re going to be part of this whole world of work.”  Some students said, “I never want to do this work again.”  For some it opened windows leading to future careers.

Joan Duea recalls that every other year the second and third graders studied the differences between needs and wants, the impact of supply and demand, and the world of marketing products vs. services. “The culminating day of the unit,” she says, “was forming a factory with an assembly line and producing a product that would solve a need, be high in demand, and allow students to work all day on a job they had applied for based on their insight into their talents.”  She explains that: 

On the factory day they had to report to their line and stay there doing their task over and over again. We also had inspectors for quality control. The students gained great appreciation for factory workers (many of their parents worked at John Deere Tractor Works.)  Beforehand we had the students discuss characteristics of worker skills, talents, and personalities and then take a test to identify the type of job best suited for them. Then they applied for a job. After the day of factory work they were given their pretest back and they evaluated what they had learned about themselves. Some liked working on just one step in the production line. Others wanted a job so they would create the total product.

            The Lab School’s fourth grade students studied fasteners and fastener tests: nails, bolts, screws, clamps, and more.  “Boys and girls would first use the fasteners and then test them,” Teig explains.  “They discovered that sometimes a nail wasn’t as strong as they might have thought.”  Every project was done by both the girls and the boys.  In later years former students would say to Teig, “You taught me not to be afraid of tools and machinery.”  Several women said: “I’m the one in our family who fixes things.”

            To the fifth graders came the chance to study and to build crystal radios (which needed no batteries).  “Of course some students just threw away their radios at the end of the unit; however, others got very interested,” Teig recalls.  “Matt Glascock took his radio home, set it up in his bedroom, and told me that he tuned in jazz from Kentucky and music from stations in Texas.  A signal coming right off a radio tower is the purest sound you can get.  Today, of course, they use transistors.”

            Teig’s sixth grade students made snowshoes, but they also took a deep dive into bridges.  They designed bridge models and gave them stress tests.  “In designing they learned that sometimes rectangles aren’t as good as triangles for bridge construction,” Teig notes.  Some of these students have become pattern makers and architects.  Teig also involved his six graders in leather-making.  He gave each student a 6 inch square piece of hide and a coffee can.  The leather pieces aged in water in the can.  The students then washed the hide, scraped the hair and tallow off, and finally worked with their piece to create a product or a work of art.  “The smell when they removed the top from the can was considerable,” Teig admits.

            Teig also worked with the special needs students using electrical wiring boards and lights in series.  He used a Van de Graaf generator, a machine for creating static electricity, and it would shoot out short lightning bolts.  “I used that to get their attention,” Teig explains.  “Then I said ‘Now let’s see what else we can do’.”

Early STEM Education

            Teig and his Lab School colleagues were engaging in STEM education—science, technology, engineering, and math—decades before the name (and the need) were nationally voiced.   Junior and senior high Lab School students could take Teig’s courses in electricity, woodworking and metals, plastics, ceramics, technical graphics/drafting and graphic arts/printing.  In the courses in plastics, they would make molds and create objects.

            What often spurred Teig, he notes, was that he would see a project or a teaching approach and think, “I can do a better job of this”:

In teaching I tried to give the students as many looks as possible for success.  Some were concrete operational learners (or manipulative learners): place a tool or material in their hands and they could go from there.  Some were visual or aural learners.  Some were abstract learners.  With those students I could describe the process or send them to the library to read an article about the product, and they could then figure it all out on their own.  The key was to give as many avenues for learning as I could.  One student had  difficulty reading about product production, but put it all in his hands and he could figure it out.

This multi-path process worked, for Lab School students would regularly test out of the first year engineering course at Iowa State University.  “I geared my graphics class to that,” Teig admits.  More than anything Teig wanted all his students to learn how all the processes worked and how they could find a place for themselves within the whole.

            Looking back, Teig reveals that there were initiatives he and colleagues Frank Hartwell, Russell Hansen, and Don Darrow failed to realize because of money.  They wanted a numerical control machine for automated control of machinery tools (drilling and boring tools and lathes).  The machine cost $10,000 in the early 1970s, but their Departmental budget was only $6,000.  “We went to Philip Jennings, the UNI fiscal director, and asked if we could put money aside for several years so we could purchase the machine,” Teig recalls.  “He said we couldn’t do that.  So at times things were constrained.  We wanted to get into computer-aided drafting; that’s where machinery was going.  One problem with getting these machines was that the thinking was that the community colleges were going to handle that.  Ross Nielsen did all he could to help us get funding, but we always could have done more.”

State and National Leadership

            Like many Lab School faculty, Teig embraced the school’s mission of educational leadership. “To take part and to take leadership roles in state and national organizations was just an expectation at the Lab School that came through Lab School Director Ross Nielsen and others all the way down through the departments,” Teig says.  “Once you became known, you were asked to join national committees.  Every time you went off to a conference, you would pick up something to bring back and share.”   In 1981, he was elected Vice President of the American Industrial Arts Association.  He served as President of the Iowa Industrial Technology Education Association and, for many years, published its quarterly newsletter.  In 1997, he edited an issue of the Iowa Association of Safety Education Bulletin.

            When Ross Nielsen retired in 1986 as Head of the university’s Department of Teaching and Director of the Lab School, Teig joined a line of Lab School faculty who stepped in to try to continue his tradition.  He left his industrial technology classroom in 1992 to serve as Lab School Secondary Principal through 1995.  For his final four years, before his retirement in 1999, he helped prospective teachers as a Coordinator of Student Field Experience, while keeping his office in the Lab School and teaching driver training.

Driver Education

            Driving a car is an interdisciplinary endeavor: it requires both technical skill and social responsibility.  As a UNI student from 1959 to 1963, Teig minored in Drivers Education.  Iowa high schools depended on teachers to prepare their students to drive safely and well.  Over the years, Teig taught summer Drivers Education classes in Waverly and also classes throughout the year at UNI and at the Lab School.

            In the early 1990s, the Iowa Board of Regents pressured the state universities to trim their budgets.  This forced UNI Provost Nancy Marlin to close programs, including the certification program in Drivers Education.  James Bodensteiner, UNI’s Director of Continuing Education Credit Programs, came to Teig and asked, “What are we going to do?”  Practically all the public high schools in Iowa offered Drivers Education.  Where were these teachers going to come from if they couldn’t get an endorsement from UNI?  At a statewide Drivers Ed Conference, Teig learned that some 300 current Drivers Education teachers would soon be retiring.  A fellow teacher asked Teig the size of his UNI Drivers Education classes.  When he said 25 students, the man told him that UNI’s was the second largest certifying program in the nation.  Teig and Bodensteiner met with Provost Marlin to lay out the need.  “She agreed to let Continuing Education continue to offer the program,” Teig recalls with a smile, “but it had to be secret so the Regents wouldn’t know; it couldn’t be listed in the UNI course catalog.”  In this way, UNI and Teig kept serving the state.


            Nick Teig’s career is distinguished by that trait so valued and practiced by many Lab School teachers: collaboration.  His work with Philip Nelson led to their co-authored articles in 1973, “A Social Science Class Goes to the Shop” (in School Shop) and “American Industrial Development: An Interdisciplinary Approach” (in Man/Society/Technology.)  In 1990, he joined with Lab School biology teacher Dr. James Kelly to write up their project “Crickets Come to Class” for Science and Children.  Teig included full directions for building a small plywood cricket cage (including even its painting) that could be used for a few days in the fall to permit third, fourth, and fifth graders first to catch crickets and then to observe their distinctive behaviors—“from their musical mating calls to their temperature-telling chirps, to their sometime cannibalistic eating habits.”  The students also learned how to build a cricket-friendly habitat in the cage and how to feed the crickets.  Teig and Kelly assured teachers that: “The constant whir of crickets is both easy to hear and easy to forget.  But after a few days with crickets in the classroom, a fall day will never sound the same again.” They usually kept the crickets in the classroom for one or two days and then let the students take them home.

            Away from his Lab School IT room, Teig collaborated more widely by offering his talents in service to the community and Cedar Valley.  He was one of the founders in 1980 of the “Kiwanis Rough Risers”—a  group Teig still helps lead 40 years later.  The Rough Risers built all the shelters at the city’s new Soccer Center.  Teig and the Rough Risers built shelters and lookouts at Cedar Falls’ Hartman Reserve Nature Center.  In 1997, they put in some 133 hours of work and 60 gallons of stain to rejuvenate the Castle Hill playground.  A current project is to build book shelves in laundromats to facilitate reading by young and old. Teig himself recently finished designing and building a wheelchair ramp for a woman who lives on Bluff Street.  He also built an 18 foot ark for the children’s playroom in Cedar Falls’ First Methodist Church.  The ark has two levels and a spiral slide for the children to slide down.

            Teig and his wife, Marilyn, herself a Lab School elementary teacher from 1980 to 1991, feel it was a mistake for Iowa State Teachers College to change to the State College of Iowa in 1961 and then to the University of Northern Iowa in 1967—even though that was a national trend among teachers colleges.  “The school took itself from being one of the top four teacher education schools in the nation—Columbia University,  the University of Chicago, Stanford University, and ISTC,” Teig notes.  “ISTC had many Hawaiian students for decades.  They chose us over the other three top schools.  They didn’t want Stanford because they wanted to be inland—away from the ocean.”  Nick and Marilyn speak of the “unity of focus and mission” when the school’s main mission was teacher education.  “Howard Reed, the head of the school’s Industrial Arts Department was a fatherly figure,” Teig explains.  “We were one big family—no difference between industrial tech faculty on the hill and at the Lab School.”  Marilyn notes that there was an Industrial Arts Wives Club.

            The Teigs say that this unity and collaboration were the watchwords of their years at the Lab School.  “The Lab School faculty worked together and played together.  We helped each other,” Nick Teig attests.  “At a faculty meeting, one colleague would say, ‘I’m having trouble with . . .”—some situation or other—and we would all share our thoughts.”

            Teachers can never know the extent of their influence.  In 2018, UNI’s seventh President, Constantine Curris, and his wife, Jo, honored Teig’s and the Lab School’s role in inspiring their daughter, Elena, to follow a career in design.  Elena Curris kept the wooden train she made in Nick Teig’s classroom.  It was on display at the October 2018 inaugural “Elena Diane Curris Biennial Design Exhibition and Lecture” at UNI, sponsored by her parents.

            The June 2019 All Lab School Picnic featured a large display of the trains and other useful and fun wooden items Teig’s students created across the years which are now shown permanently at the UNI Museum.  “I made that,” alums said over and over.  “I still have this in my home.”


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