Cleveland State Spotlight: Tim Smith – From Electrician To Educator

  • Monday, September 18, 2023
Tim Smith
Tim Smith
Working for more than 25 years as an electrician, Tim Smith changed his career path and started teaching at Cleveland High School in 2020, and soon joined Cleveland State’s Workforce Development as an instructor. In 2021, Mr. Smith experienced a life changing health scare, spending over a week on life support and three months in the hospital. He couldn’t walk or talk and had to learn everything all over again. With less than a 1 percent chance of returning to work, Mr. Smith beat the odds; he is back in the classroom training the next generation.


Growing up in Bradley County, Mr. Smith spent his high school summers working for Conley Electric. After graduation, he worked there for five years and earned his electrician’s license. He went on to work at Pathway Press for eight years; first as the plant electrician and then as the maintenance supervisor. After Pathway Press closed, he returned to Conley Electric and then worked at Wholesale Supply Group before transferring to Cleveland City Schools in 2009. There, he was the school system electrician for ten years.

In January 2020, Mr. Smith became the robotics and mechatronics teacher at Cleveland High School. “I felt it was time to pass the knowledge on to the younger generation that needs it, now probably more than ever,” said Mr. Smith. “I had already put in the work, and I wanted to pass it along and see the students get that ‘ah-ha’ moment. That is my reward; that’s why I teach.”

With his extensive experience, Mr. Smith only had to take 18 hours of college credits within three years. He also had to pass technical course tests and the Praxis teaching test to be certified to teach in his subject area at the high school.

As an instructor with Cleveland State’s Workforce Development, Mr. Smith teaches the Massey Electric Year 3 and Year 4 Electrical Apprentices. This is part of a four-year U.S. Department of Labor electrical apprenticeship program. The Massey Electric employees receive at least 576 hours of classroom instruction and 8,000 hours of on-the-job-training over four years.

Jesse Bunch, a teacher at Bradley Central High School, teaches the first two years of the program, and Mr. Smith teaches the final two years. The classes are held in the Massey Electric classroom at the Partners in Industry and Education (PIE) Center in Cleveland. There are 21 employees combined in the four classes in Bradley County. Massey Electric has almost 100 employees in similar classes at their main site in Alcoa.

“These young men are looking to make a career. They are dedicated and motivated to this,” said Mr. Smith. “Massey gives them raises as they progress, and they get days off for perfect attendance. I’ve got good relationships with these guys, and I enjoy teaching them.”

The Massey employees take classes one night a week and work in the field for OJT during the four-year program. At the end of the program, the employees receive DOL and Cleveland State certificates. They are prepared for the National Electrical Code certification and their Journeyman Electricians Licensing exams.

Rick Heath, Massey Electric Safety and Training director, said, “Tim has taken our program to the next level, and we are very grateful. He is a great teacher, and everyone relates to him.”

This program was on hold in the fall of 2021 when Mr. Smith developed an infection. He suffered multiple strokes and doctors found an aneurysm. He spent more than a week on life support and over three months in the hospital at the University of Alabama, Birmingham. The infection moved to his wrist and spine, but he beat the odds and recovered.

“I had to learn to do everything again. I couldn’t walk or talk,” said Mr. Smith. “When I came home, I was in a wheelchair. At my three month checkup, my doctor told me that only 3 percent of people who have what I have live, and out of that 3 percent, maybe .5 percent are able to go back to work. Once I got through physical therapy, I could walk a little bit, and then I just kept pushing.”

Heather Brown, Cleveland State director of Workforce Development, said, “We are so fortunate to have someone with Tim’s skillset in the classroom setting. He left the industry to teach a few years back, and we couldn't be more grateful! His temperament is appreciated by both students and fellow educators. He is passionate about passing along his knowledge to secondary and adult students. He had a pretty awful health scare that nearly took him from us; I'm so glad to have Tim back on our team.”

Mr. Smith and his wife of 28 years, Tonya, have a son, daughter, son-in-law, three grandchildren and an adopted six-year old daughter.

For more information about Workforce Development specialized training opportunities and Department of Labor Registered Apprenticeship programs, contact Ms. Brown at hbrown@clevelandstatecc.edu or 423-614-8793.
Tim Smith (left) instructs Massey Year 3 apprentices, Jacob Thompson (center) and Ethan Millsaps (right)
Tim Smith (left) instructs Massey Year 3 apprentices, Jacob Thompson (center) and Ethan Millsaps (right)
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