Half a Century of Inspiring Kids: Two Auto Shop Teachers, FCPS Grads, and Lifelong Friends Recount Decades of Making a Difference
Veteran auto technology teachers and best friends Dominic Prakash and David Plum have more than 50 years combined teaching experience in Fairfax County Public Schools.
The Lake Braddock Secondary School automotive instructors, in fact, first met in an FCPS auto class themselves back when they were students at South Lakes High School in the 1980s.
“He was loud and obnoxious, and I was quiet and nervous,” Prakash says of his first memories of Plum.
The two buddies wound up tailing each other from job to job as they grew up, going from both “washing dishes at Fritzbe’s” burger restaurant, to being lead automotive technicians at Saturn and Chevrolet dealerships in the area, Plum says.
Eventually, Plum took a tip from his dad – renowned FCPS teacher and school administrator Ken Plum of the Plum Center for Lifelong Learning – and decided to give teaching a try. “He said it’s a one year contract, see what you think,” Plum says. “Twenty-seven years later, here I am.”
Prakash recalls visiting Plum’s home during Plum’s first year teaching and helping him create worksheets. Then he started helping Plum with a group of students who built and raced electric cars, realizing he loved sharing his knowledge with kids who were also passionate about automotives.
Just three years later, the long-time Lake Braddock auto teacher working with Plum retired and Prakash took the job, leading an FCPS car workshop right next to the classroom run by his old junior high buddy Plum.
“Anybody who knew us growing up would see the idea of the two of us teaching together as ridiculous,” said Prakash, who’s been an auto instructor at Lake Braddock for 23 years now. “I think that's maybe what gives us an advantage because, you know, we've been those kids, if you know what I’m saying, and so we are able to relate with students who may not follow the traditional path.”
Now, the duo play to each other’s strengths, with Plum noting he struggled with dyslexia as a child, while Prakash was a “GT kid, which stood for gifted and talented back in our day” and seems to have a more natural grasp of automotive theory and things like electrical wiring. Prakash meanwhile praises Plum for being “very strong with the mechanical stuff in performance, the actual hard parts of the hands-on work of building engines and transmissions.”
Most importantly, they acknowledge they share the same work ethic, and trust each other to keep the students’ best interests at heart, whether someone is college-bound and looking for hands-on experience before majoring in engineering or aiming for a future career as an auto technician themselves.
Both still fondly recall Buddy Young, their auto shop teacher at South Lakes High. “He was such a good mentor – the reason I got up and went to school in those days was for auto shop class. I knew that was there for me and it made getting through the day a bit easier,” Plum says.
Their current students and colleagues have similar praise for the Plum and Prakash team.
“They are the two teachers whose class I look forward to every single day,” Wesley Carson said. “They’ve taught all their students lessons that go well beyond working on cars. They really emphasize perseverance, and say that life is a lot like operating a manual transmission – you stall sometimes, but you let up the clutch, roll backwards a bit and then keep pushing forward.”
Fellow educator Mark Khosravi, a geosystems teacher at Lake Braddock, says of the duo: “They are structured, they rule with a firm hand because safety is paramount in an auto workshop, but they are also sharing valuable skills and knowledge they’ve accumulated since high school themselves.”
“When kids see that passion in teachers, they will also have that passion in the classroom,” Khosravi said.
Career-changers Plum and Prakash admit the idea of summers off and FCPS benefits and retirement packages were a big draw to the teaching profession.
But another big draw was the idea of inspiring kids, the way Young had once inspired them, Plum and Prakash say.
“I think the biggest thing a lot of times with students at this age is they lack confidence,” Prakash says. “ And so it's fun to help them figure out that they can do so much more than they think, and push them to become better.”
“Working with the kids is the biggest bonus here – when they come back and visit you from years in the past, that’s when you know you have made a difference and you're having an impact,” Plum said.