As a child, Alfia Anderson loved helping her dad David rewire radios and was inspired by her grandmother Ruthie who was a teacher.
Today, she is an electrical teacher at High School for Energy and Technology at 2474 Crotona Ave., and a former member of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3. Recently, Anderson was named a winner of the 2020 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, receiving $50,000, which included $35,000 for the school’s skilled trades program and a personal prize of $15,000.
“I feel super excited,” she told the Bronx Times. “I’m kind of humbled myself. Everybody’s very proud of me. I’m feeling like a low-level celebrity. It’s not every day you feel like it’s a $50k day.”
The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence was started in 2017 by Eric Smidt, the founder of national tool retailer Harbor Freight Tools. It recognizes outstanding instruction in the skilled trades in U.S. public high schools and the teachers who inspire students to learn skills to prepare for life after graduation.
Anderson, 42, a lifelong Brooklyn resident, has taught in the Bronx for the past four years. Growing up, her dad’s passion was electronics and she would often tag along as he fixed things like speakers and radios.
While her grandmother had already retired as a special education teacher by the time she was born, she still wanted to follow in her footsteps.
Anderson recalled that she would pretend to teach stuffed bears in her room when she was a child.
“When I saw something that was hands on, it kind of piqued my interests,” she explained.
She spent 14 years as an electrician specializing in roadways, bridges and tunnels. Her projects included helping set up the lights on the Major Deegan Expressway, the Verrazano Bridge and the Downtown Brooklyn Courthouse.
After hurting her hip in 2003, she finally decided that teaching would be a less physically taxing profession.
“My heart is in both places,” she commented. “I really love to be an electrician.”
According to Anderson, teaching is a whole different ball game. The students’ desire for learning and being able to share her years of knowledge are special feelings.
“As a teacher, the students are thirsty,” she said.
In her class, the kids learn about low voltage theory and residential, commercial and industrial wiring. They must also complete at least 50 internship hours in the field and learn onsite with local utilities, transit agencies, military divisions and other industries.
This past semester, a quarter of HSET’s students were enrolled in some type of work-based learning, from job shadowing to being an electrician’s helper. Anderson is HSET’s lead advisor for SkillsUSA, a national nonprofit association preparing students for careers in trades and other skilled professions. Their chapter partnered with the school’s National Honor Society chapter to create leadership and community service opportunities for students, such as peer-to-peer tutoring.
While teaching is not easy, especially during COVID-19, she does not regret the career change. Anderson stressed how hard she has worked in life and she takes nothing for granted.
“It takes a lot of clout to get here as a female,” she said.