Thursday, March 24, 2011

Do What You Love - Love What You Do

"The mediocre teacher tells. The teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires."
- William Arthur Ward
First off, HAPPY TEACH AG DAY!!!! If you didn't know, today was National Teach Ag Day. I must admit I was quite pumped all day to share my passion for teaching with my students. As I tell my students, there is nothing else I would rather be doing than to be a teacher of agriculture.

I was set becoming an Ag Education teacher even before I was in high school. My family has had a little history in the field of agricultural education with my father who taught Vo-Ag for 15 years and my great-uncle who finished his career by serving as Department Chair for the Agricultural Education Dept. at The Ohio State University.  So, I was quite aware of how the life of an Ag Education teacher was early on.

When I was in high school, I had one of the best teachers in the nation as my Ag teacher. She possessed all of the great qualities you would expect an Agricultural Education teacher should have.  I have thanked her many times for always pushing me to strive to do my best and for all the hard work she did to help our FFA Chapter reach #1 in the state.

It is because of my father and my Ag Ed teacher I am the teacher I am today. I set the standards high for my students. My classmates and I were held to high standards when we were in class and it paid off greatly. I know my students can achieve success too. I will bend over backwards and do everything I can do to help my students succeed. I know that even though I spend endless hours at school for FFA activities, competition practices or just planning lessons for the next day, that it is all worth it. I really enjoy seeing my students succeed and having those "ohhh now I get it" moments. 

I have been fortunate to see a big change in my students over the past two years from when I walked in Day 1 to now.  It is amazing to see them from being shy freshman or stubborn sophmores to leading others by becoming an officer and by participating in Career Development Events and encouraging others to join them. 

I can't wait to see what the next few years will bring for me and my students. It hard to imagine that I am training them for jobs that have not been created and for skills that have not yet been needed. All I can do is help them find their passion and guide them to the tools that will help them succeed.

Here are some interesting statistics about Agricultural Education via National FFA
  • There are about 8,200 Agricultural Education programs across the U.S. and Puerto Rico
  • Within those programs there are around 12,000 educators employed
  • 23% of teachers have five or fewer years of teaching experience
  • Of all the programs - 92% offer Agriscience; 71% offer advanced agriscience and biotechnology; 59% offer agricultural mechanics, 49% offer horticulture; 43% offer animal science; and 24% offer environmental science.
How has a teacher that you've had inspired or has had an impact on who you are today?? Leave a comment and share.

Blog post by Drew Bender

Sunday, March 20, 2011

140 Characters. Really? That is all? I have SO much more to say!

As an agricultural science instructor in Texas I began to wonder what would happen if I used Twitter to teach my class?  Most of my students are completely unfamiliar with the platform because they too believe they have WAY more than 140 characters on their mind.  And most of them do. So they use Facebook or MySpace or YouTube to put themselves before the world.  In an attempt to allow them to metacognate and develop their self-editorial skills, I decided on Twitter.

Our school saw fit to buy 5 iPads for the AG department ( So the officers and I set up 4 Twitter accounts.  I “pre-followed” several people I knew would consistently put up great information, links to really good online articles, and would interact with my students.

Then to plan the lesson. 

Day 1: Learn to use the basics of Twitter. Tweet, re-tweet, direct message, hashtag. If my students knew these basic tools, we could begin teaching via twitter.

Day 1 Result: Kids enjoyed learning about the new tool, but need more specific direction.

Day 2: Find an article that has been tweeted. Summarize in less than 140 characters. Use to shorten the URL and include it in your tweet. Then tweet your summary.

Day 2 Result: Life had ended!: “140 Characters?!” “NO WAY!” “We need more space”…”Nope, that is all you have, learn the power of brevity...GO! We only have 45 minutes remaining.” Many (not all) students were successful.

Day 3: Find an article that is related to Agriculture Education (required more digging and more specific). Summarize, read 5 articles that have been tweeted by classmates and re-tweet your favorite!

Day 3 Results: SUCCESS!  Kids finally got “it”. They learned that if they wanted their tweet re-tweeted they had to do something different, be quirky, have some fun.

Recently we had our Bridgeport ISD Elective Fair.  All the student organizations set up around the high school gym with booths displaying pictures from the previous year, awards won, and successes in the classroom all in an effort to lure as many of the right students into their classes as possible (I am a fan of the “Good to Great” book by Jim Collins….get the right kids on the bus and the wrong kids off the bus). We set out the 5 ipads, 2 with pictures rolling and 3 with twitter up….you should have seen the kids and parents scrolling through our twitter feed…checking out the tweets and direct messages. AMAZING!

Long story short, in my 3 years at Bridgeport ISD – With my Teaching Partner Cody McCauley, we have gone from 65 FFA members to 414. Our students have won 3 state championships. More importantly than anything, our Students are engaged in learning and love using technology to foster their metacognative ability!

Agriculture Science teacher at Bridgeport High School. Taught previously at Lubbock-Cooper ISD. 8 years total teaching experience. Graduate of Texas Tech University. Past state officer, background in leadership development, sheep, and angora and boer goats.  Will be married for for 8 years in april.  Have 3 wonderful Children (1 boy and 2 girls) ages 6, 4, and 19 months.  Grew up in Lometa, Texas raising sheep and goats on our ranch in the Hill Country. Really love teaching, watching college sports and being a dad!
Twitter - @jeffreyklose

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fighting Discrimination as an Agricultural Educator

Discrimination happens every day to every person ever created. I am sure of it. Those of us such as myself in a classroom with students can see this, however it is not uncommon for discrimination to happen everywhere those students go. Looking around my classroom I wish that my students did not have to deal with this but I know that wish would fall in vain. Also in that classroom of discrimination however is an educator, me. Do I feel discrimination? How does this make me feel? Am I changed because of it? The answers are in order; all the time, motivated, and emphatically yes.
In my fourth year of education at the same school district, parents and community leaders recognize me and trust me to do a good job with my classroom program. Perhaps just as important is the rapport with other faculty members in the High School. Prejudice usually companies my title, especially for a certain coo of faculty and a certain set of parents. The fact that I teach courses called “Agricultural Education”, in the minds of some, obviously means that I am less of an educator than others.  I teach elective classes, obviously meaning that students do not have to take my classes. I immediately get very offensive when I hear slangs from other teachers in my building and from parents of children who would not allow their kids to take my classes because “they would not benefit from it.” I need to be recognized as a professional educator, unbiased and fair, and not a teacher of nothing. Granted there are “bad” teachers out there, an unfortunate product of the comfort of the education system, but I am not one of them. I am a skilled craftsman of my chosen profession with a skilled niche for agriculture. I can, and do, teach my students how to think with common sense and teach them life knowledge. Nevertheless, I feel discrimination oftentimes at the work place. Furthermore, the students that some of the others do not want end up in my classes because they get to work with their hands in my class. I can help them develop trades and learn basic remedial skills, however I feel discriminated when my department is treated like a dumping ground for the learners that “don’t fit” other places.
Discrimination changes people. It leaves a callous, makes it hard and tough, and not really that easy to remove. When it comes time for students to schedule classes for the upcoming year, for that entire week I teach with a chip on my shoulder. I try to keep the students that I have, and for the most part I do, as they understand that my classes are not “easy A’s”.  They understand that they learn practical knowledge in my classes, and I can only assume they like me as a teacher as well. The callous that the chip leaves when it is not scheduling season seems to get larger each year.
When all is said and done, discrimination happens. It is how I react to it that I can control. “Life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it” says a poster in my classroom, and those words hold true in this instance as well. I cannot control how others view me and my program, but I can control how I react to it. I choose to react with compassion.

Post written by Mike Derringer

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Recruiting Campaign Time!

For Agricultural Education and FFA Programs, recruitment is very important. If most schools are like mine, students should be getting ready to schedule their classes in the next couple of months. All students are different and therefore will want to sign-up and take Ag Ed classes for different reasons next year. Some people say it’s because of the teacher’s attitude and personality that will recruit the students to their classes regardless of what classes that teacher teaches. Others say it is the opportunities through the FFA that bring the kids in.  Students may even sign-up because they just want to learn the content in the classes.
I say it has to be a good mixture of all between the teacher, the classes and the FFA.
Last week one of my classes made me proud. We started our recruitment campaign at the middle school. They also are planning two more events next week during National FFA Week for the middle school students again and the high school students. 
The one thing I am proud about is that these activities are planned and carried out by the students on the Recruitment Committee. I helped shape the ideas when needed, but the students have really taken the initiative for planning and carrying out these activities. Last week my students spoke with the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students for a few minutes describing what we do in our Agricultural Education classes and the opportunities through FFA activities. 
Next week at the middle school they are going to do a food science activity with just the 8th graders. The activity will have the 8th grade students consume two sets of gummy bears and see if those students can determine which gummy bears have sugar and which are sugarless. They got this idea from their trip to the Farm Science Review this last fall from the Food Science students who are studying at The Ohio State University in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Enviromental Sciences.
I thought this was a great idea to show the middle school students that our Agricultural Education Program encompasses many different aspects of agriculture and is not just a class to just learn how to farm or to just run chainsaws.

So what are you and your students doing to recruit for your Ag Ed Program and classes?? Please leave a comment and share

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What FFA Awards Are Important For Your Program?

So that's what a blizzard is like,  huh?  I was really expecting worse to be honest with you.  Aside from the 45 mph winds that left 4-5 foot snow drifts covering my entire road, I really didn't think we made out too bad.  So while I was sitting in my living room last night, listening to the wind snap tree branches off and waiting for the power to go out, I started to think about what I was going to try to accomplish the next day; a day when I was pretty certain going into the building to work would be, at best, a bad decision.  So, what do you do on a day when you really can't do anything?

At this point, you shouldn't need to be told to get your work done.  You're adults, not the moron college grads who quit career-path jobs and go running back to grad school because you refuse to mature.  You took a job that will make you grow up, sometimes before you're ready to; so you should have that voice inside your head telling you to get busy.  However, if you are that person and I offended you, good :)

There are 2 things you can be sure of as an Ag Teacher, especially in Ohio.  One, you will miss some days for snow.  Two, those days will come at the most in-opportune time imaginable.  The two go hand-in-hand, because the time of the year when snow becomes an issue is the busiest time of the year too.  Normally I'm not one to let a little snow or fog keep me from trying to get some work done but now, during what I call “application season”, sometimes there isn't much you can do without having students there.  So now we come to the point of having to ask the question, how much is it worth for you run the risk of having a student come to school to work on something on days when the rest of the student body stays home, because it isn't safe to be out? 

That's a fine line to walk for sure, and for me today, the morning after a “blizzard”, I guess I can allow myself to be a little less productive than normal.  As long as you keep your deadlines in mind (for me, D-1 Evaluation is Tuesday, so I have time), it's pretty feasible to manage yourself and your time efficiently to get your work done.  However, I don't particularly see the northwest corner of the state going back to school anymore this week; so I'm going to have to ask myself if I really want a student(s), who have very little driving experience, to venture t the school to work on applications and/or officer books.  I'm afraid I might have to make a decision that decides exactly what awards/applications even get handed in, as a result of the weather being substantially less than cooperative. So here's the $100 question, I would have said million, but we're teachers and let's not kid ourselves, nobody's handing out that kind of cash: what awards are important for your program to get? 

Is it the American Degree, the height of achievement, that you think is the focal point?  Is it the State Degree or Proficiency Awards?  If you look at those, who's not to say that waiting a year is a bad thing, after all you do have 3 years to apply for those....  Is is the Officer Books that are important?  If you think about, that particular student may only have 1 year to work for that Gold Rating....  That might be a lot to have to digest, especially for a young teacher that probably feels like there are certain expectations to live up to when it comes to how many members receive awards in the course of the year.  I can tell you from experience that if you have to make that decision, in the eyes of some, you'll be wrong 10 times out of 10. 

Less than 15 weeks into my teaching career there was an accident involving 4 students from the school (averaging about 75 students/class); 2 were killed and one nearly died and was left in critical condition for weeks.  It happened the weekend before our Parliamentary Procedure Contest.  On the day of the funerals, there were 8 students out of 335 that did not attend.  All school activities for the week were canceled.  Even though neither of the 2 students that died were in my program, I knew that trying to complete would have been useless, some things are just more important; so I never bothered to ask the other 5 schools to reschedule the contest.  When word got out to a parent/board member that we didn't go to that contest, I was crucified at the next board meeting.  I never once thought twice about it, pretty much told the guy he could kiss a particular part of my body, and moved on.  So, just be ready to be the bad guy on occasion, it'll be fine.

Also, for as much as we'd like to see all of our students win as many awards as possible, sometimes you need to know when to say when.  You're time is limited and precious this time of year, make the most of it.  Take the students you have that want  to apply for awards, spend some time really thinking about the ones that have the best shot at being competitive.  That's not to say that at some point they can't all be, but that's kind of the point of the awards process: to show growth with the SAE.

I've evaluated Proficiency Awards at the state level for 8 years; I've had some National Finalists and at least 1 National Winner sit at my interview table.  On the other hand, I've seen some absolutely amazing applications from students that we'd call in for interview, just to have them know absolutely nothing about their project during the interview.  My point is this: you may have to decide to spend your time with the ones that you know deserve it.  Your integrity will get you a long way in this business, and will ultimately serve your students well.  Not everyone can be a National Finalist, that's why it's such an honor to get to that point. 

As the Advisor, it's our job to have our best stuff in the running; not to turn an average project into an amazing application.  A student that raises a pen of 2 market hogs each year for the fair, and has an inflated sale price because of the donation from the sale ring, doesn't necessarily boast of proficiency.  Anyone can get a ton of hours working on a dairy farm milking, scraping the barns, and feeding; or work for a grain farmer driving the tractor for hours on end; but are they really learning the industry?  That's what you have to decide.  I'm not going to tell a student not to take an animal to the fair, or to stop working for the farmer next door; I have students that wash semi-trucks and flip burgers for their SAE's.  Are they good experiences for them to have?  Absolutely.  Are they going to win any awards with that kind of an SAE?  Absolutely not.  It's not a perfect world, all we can do is to try to do the best with what we have.

So anyway, how about this weather huh?  Hopefully the folks that read this aren't quite as snowed in as what we are here in NW Ohio; and hopefully I'll be back in session for at least part of the day Friday.  If not, I'm afraid I might have to make some of those tough decisions discussed above, which in case you were wondering, its State Degrees and Proficiencies for me every time.

Drive safe and stay warm.
Ryan Sell

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Teachers Socializing Outside of School?? Unheard of!!

Being a second year teacher and on the younger side, I'm fairly young in the education world. So you can imagine that I still like to socialize with friends and family quite often. I am what you might call a “social butterfly,” but by no means am I a social media whiz. So I use what tools I am good with in talking with others, mainly Facebook (FB), Gchat, Gmail, texting, and talking on my cell phone.

In the year that I considered absolute insanity, my first year of teaching, I found myself out of state and out of touch with my family and friends. Although I saw them most weekends, I realized after two or three months that those groups of people weren't the one's I needed most. It was my fellow colleagues. Yes, you need family and friends to get you through the rough times personally, but they aren't the ones that you should be turning to for rough times professionally. They mean well, but are usually looking at the situation in the wrong light. Only those in our field can truly understand what you as an Ag teacher are going through.

We are usually running at a million miles a minute, and when you need to talk to someone about how a kid, administrator, or community member set you over the edge, you just won't get the same satisfaction talking to your Dad or best friend about it. They don't get it! They'll sympathize or say they understand, but they don't, and that's ok. Call, FB, Gchat or go have a beer with your fellow Ag teacher. Afterward, I don't quite understand it myself but, you just feel like a ton of bricks has been lifted off your chest when you talk to someone who has been there and done that. And 99% of the time, you'll laugh about what ever it was that was bothering you when it's all said and done.

On the lighter side, when something in class, lab, or on one of our never-ending field trips, happens that makes you almost pee your pants from laughing so hard, other Ag teachers want to hear about it. Don't just call up your teacher-friends when something bad has happened, because after a while, they are going to ignore your calls because you've become a “Debbie Downer.” Share the good, the bad, and the ugly. We're all in this overwhelming ocean of Ag Ed together, so hop in the boat so you don't drift away and loose your mind. Since I am only in my second year of teaching, I may not be the best or most wise person to hand out advice, but I feel this is my area of expertise.

Last year I went to the edge of that boat and dove off head first. I don't recommend it.

Post written by Katy McGovern

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Don't Just Steal.......Give Back Too!!

I’m going to throw a confession out there: I’m a little cynical. For those of you that know me, I’m sure this comes as a shock. (Read with complete sarcasm.) It’s easy for this skepticism to carry over to certain aspects of my career as well. Lately, I’ve been kicking around this notion that there are 15 different groups in ag ed all trying to accomplish the same thing. Why can’t we band together these efforts and stop stepping on the toes of this group or that group? Luckily, there is one place in this great big world of agricultural education working together to make our lives as teachers easier: NAAE's Communities of Practice (CoP).

The first time I was introduced to CoP, I rolled my eyes. Surprising, right? It was suggested to us that we use it during student teaching. As a pre-service teacher, however, I was still trying to learn the intricacies of writing lesson plans and assessments, and I preferred to do everything myself. Fast forward into the real world of teaching, and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. That’s were CoP can be a lifesaver.

If you’re not using CoP, I highly recommend you check it out. Teachers from all across the country post lesson plans, PowerPoints, teaching resources, technology ideas, and more. While I still like to tweak the resources I pull off of CoP, for the most part they’re teacher-tested, kid-approved. What a great avenue to share ideas and make our classrooms better.

Hopefully, if you choose to beg, borrow, and steal ideas from CoP, you won’t take, take, take, without giving, giving, giving. I have a general goal for myself that I’d present to each of you: for every item you download, put one of your own up. I was hesitant to do this at first, because I didn’t think my lessons were of high enough quality, but you never know who’s looking for something you have. Let’s work together to share ideas, give credit where credit is do, and make all of our lives simpler.

Yep, there are lots of things to be pessimistic about in our area of work, but collaboration isn’t one of them. NAAE's Communities of Practice is a great way to share ideas and lighten the load.

Here’s your challenge: post two items to CoP this month. Then, let me know what you think.

Post written by Rose Hartschuh