In the throes of the pandemic, Brad Unger was busy on several fronts. As a firefighter with Mission Fire Rescue Service and a woodworking teacher at Mission Secondary, he saw the impact of COVID-19 from several angles.
Unger didn’t start out as a woodworker or a firefighter — or a teacher for that matter. They were all things he picked up along the way. He grew up in Mission and spent time around his father’s trucking company working on vehicles downtown as a mechanic.
“Woodworking was a new thing to me. I just really wanted to learn and fell in love with it,” Unger said. “I started teaching here and just loved being a part of the community.”
Unger has been teaching for 15 years now. He’s been at Mission Secondary for eight years, Heritage Park before that and Hope Secondary for five years.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Unger was faced with the challenge of bringing his woodworking class online.
“There were lots of struggles through the pandemic and lots of adjustments,” Unger said. “Learning to teach and deliver content online was a challenge but I think lots of good things came from that.”
The class now has access to the online content Unger developed during the initial lockdown, including instructional videos. During online classes, he assigned creative homework such as whittling sticks to the students.
“We were tasked with coming up with assignments that kids could do at home,” Unger said. “Of course, very few kids have a shop like this at home. My goal was to just get them off the screen.”
The effects of the pandemic on schools have endured with staff shortages impacting teachers throughout the province. Unger says the increased demand on teachers causes a loss in prep time and a tendency to fall behind on tasks.
“The labour shortage hits us here too,” Unger said. “If you have a little sniffle or a cough, we would have otherwise just come to work. But now everyone is so hypersensitive around that and it perpetuates the labour shortage. There’s not enough coverage for teachers who are away.”
Meanwhile, Unger and his brother both signed up for the fire department together about a decade ago. His brother is now working with the department full-time, while Unger is paid on call.
“It’s a big time commitment for sure,” Unger said. “Just the paid on call side sees 60 to 70 calls per month. You go to what you can but it definitely takes a toll on your family. My wife has done many bedtimes and dinners by herself with the kids. So when you’re taking off to a fire, or an overdose or a car accident, it’s definitely a sacrifice for families.”
One of Unger’s newest endeavours is teaching students how to use a saw mill donated by the City of Mission’s forestry department. His high school woodworking class will be building selfie stations for the Shine Bright Mission event on First Avenue in March.
“Hopefully we’ll be doing that with wood that we have milled ourselves here from trees that have come from Chris in our forestry program,” Unger said. “That’s kind of a full circle community thing, which is pretty exciting.”
Shine Bright Mission event is slated for March 3 and will feature 16 custom-designed light displays to represent a community organization, landmark, or local connection.