Fulfilling a Destiny by Teaching Agriculture

Picture it, to steal a catchphrase from the late Estelle Getty of The Golden Girls, 1995, Morristown-West High School, vocational hall, second classroom on the left. Mr. Phil Wright is lecturing on safety in agriculture mechanics. A very small sophomore is sitting in the first seat listening to someone that absolutely fascinates him instead of taking down the information that is being presented. I certainly did not master the art of welding or woodworking by listening to this man (by no fault of his), but I was able to come to a very important conclusion. During this ag. 2 class, I decided what my future and my destiny hold…a career teaching agriculture. During my venture as an agriculture teacher, I have had many rewarding times, a few disappointments and more opportunities for adaptation than I would have ever imagined.

Current Role:

I am one of three teachers in the agriculture department at Cocke County High School in Newport, TN. Each teacher is unique in that they specialize in a certain area of the field. The senior member of our team is the agriculture mechanics and wildlife management “guy”. We have a horticulture specialist that is in charge of the greenhouse classes. I teach small animal care and forestry; two classes that I am very familiar and comfortable with. I am also certified to teach agriscience, in which the students can earn a science credit. I also occasionally teach the fundamentals of agriculture and usually one landscape and turfgrass management class in the spring. My favorite part of my job is the work I do involving the FFA. I was very active in the FFA during my high school years and I carried my passion for this organization with me to Cocke County. I never miss a year at Leadership Training Camp and I regularly attend the state FFA convention in Gatlinburg. I train FFA members for seven or eight career development events throughout the school year. I found out during my first year of teaching that I certainly was not going to be a teacher that reported in at 8 a.m. and left at 3:30 p.m. five days a week. Sure, I could do that, but the one important factor that would suffer from the lack of dedication that would show is the students.

Teaching Preferences and Methods:

Being satisfied with the classes that an instructor teaches makes a big difference in whether they enjoy their job or not. I could not say that I enjoyed the classes I taught during my first year. I was given the task of teaching an aquaculture class my first semester. I can sum that class up in one word – terrible. I had never been exposed to any of the material that I had to convey to the students. Actually, I needed to be in one of their seats with someone instructing me. After that semester, thankfully, I have never had to teach that again. But, on a positive side, Cocke Co. High School offered the students the opportunity to take small animal care. My family and I have raised and shown rabbits for the past 16 years, so I was eagerly awaiting the chance to teach some of the concepts that I had been practicing for a long time. I am more comfortable teaching in a classroom setting. I certainly do not belong in the ag. shop and I would prefer not to be responsible for the greenhouse crop. I do, however, enjoy showing students how to prepare a rabbit for an upcoming show by clipping their toenails and cleaning their ears out the proper way. I also enjoy the opportunity to inform students about the types of trees that are around the school’s campus and just what might be in their front yards.

During my first few years of teaching, the major method of instruction that I used was lecturing, with textbook assignments and an occasional video as reinforcements. I would imagine that any seasoned teacher will advise you that lecturing is not always the best or most practical method for delivering information. I still provide copies of my notes to each student, but use PowerPoint presentations, using a Promethean Board, as more of an attention-getter these days.

Rapport With Students and Strengths:

I certainly cannot reach each and every student that enters my classroom. I would love to think it is possible, but I concluded early on that it is not. One thing that I learned to do is to take student’s personal situations into account before passing judgment on them. I usually never ask a student more than simply “What’s wrong?” if I see they are not acting like they usually do. I have found that that one question shows that you are taking a genuine interest in them and normally they will tell you what has made them upset, depressed or angry. I always factor that into their performance for that day. Teenagers, just like adults, do not have “good days” everyday. A student came to me one day during my lunch period crying during my first year. I quickly got up to see what was wrong. Just as I suspected, it was over her boyfriend. When I returned, another faculty member told me that she would not have had her lunch interrupted for that. Even as a first-year teacher, I did not agree with her way of thinking. If this situation was important enough for this student to come to me about, I should at least be willing to listen. Over the years, I have been thanked quite a few times for taking the time to allow a student to vent over something that upset them or to allow them to cry when they needed to. I realized that the only support that some of these students get are from me.

I guess one of the strengths I possess as a teacher is my ability to adapt to new and ever-changing situations. Being a high school teacher, your daily schedule is bound to change at least once per week.