Monday, December 6, 2010

Attitudes of Students

After a long weekend, I have decided to post a blog post about students attitudes. You are probably expecting to see one of two directions for this post, either:
A)    how great it is
B)    how bad it is
…but neither will be discussed in this particular posting. Sure I can say that the attitudes of the students, in generalities, are pretty awesome. If, as an educator, you cannot say that about your community of learners, you need to make a drastic change in your delivery. That’s my opinion anyway. I am also a realist, knowing that even your top students just sometimes have bad days. I did (in my opinion) a sweet mini-unit on natural resource conservation, coupled with an awesome (again, in my opinion) video. I was totally pumped for the video, none of my students were and for the life of me I couldn’t understand why! Darn it! You hear it all through your teaching classes, you truly do need a different plan for each class.

I am an “entertainer” teacher, loosely translated as if I am not moving and waiving my hands and playing music and wearing costumes and flashing power points then I think the “audience” is bored and won’t learn as much. Well, probably because that’s how I learned too, I needed the teacher to get my attention before I let him or her teach me. I could go on and on about some of my “lessons”, yes I don’t believe in lessons really. I have a clipboard with an agenda of what I want done. My “lessons” have involved a lot of coloring, story times, guest speakers (me dressed up as E.M. Tiffany for example), and other non-traditional avenues.

Which brings us to today’s crux of the matter…

I do a lot of stuff, and I feel like it doesn’t affect the attitudes of the learners.

I did not use to think this way. In my first three years of education, I tell you the truth that
They responded off of my energy. I had my freshman classes start a slow clap and crescendo before each class followed by the following chant, “it’s time, it’s time, it’s ag education time!” I will wait for you to finish shaking your head before we continue…

…I am such a ham I know. I don’t know how to be anything but. I do not feel like my energy has been lacking this year. I am too young to be old. I realize that students change each year, and my next group next year may be crazy like me again, but still it dumbfounds me with this particular group. I could read from a textbook, or I could bring in a live tiger. Either one would have the same enthusiasm from the students in some of my classes.

Written by Mike Derringer

Monday, November 29, 2010

Optimism and Teaching, Where's the Line?

As a second year teacher, but first year at my current school, there are still basic obstacles to overcome. Most experienced teachers will tell you that when you are at a new school to focus most of your energy towards your younger students, and less on the upperclassmen. Now, I am an extreme realist and understand this notion, but I also have a small bit of optimism in me at times. Taking this bit of optimism I worked with my varsity Parliamentary Procedure team, which consisted of four seniors,  three sophomores, and one freshmen. Because of this mix in ages, I thought they would be a fairly easy group to coach and motivate, having various levels of experience that they could share with one another.

 Outside of some limited class time work on Parli Pro, I had scheduled four other practices before school to get this varied group of students into a groove with one another. When the first practice rolled around only four out of eight students showed up. At the second practice six students showed up. And for the third only two showed up and the fourth got canceled due to their lack of motivation.

 At this point, lets say I was a little bit more than upset with this team, because I also had to find a replacement for a student who quit the team the night before contest. That same day I had found out from members on my JV team that the upperclassmen on varsity had told the younger members to not show for practice because they didn't want to practice. In this particular week I had a lot of things going on outside of my FFA responsibilities, and only briefly addressed this situation to the team. When contest rolled around, needless to say, they didn't do the greatest. I wasn't upset in the least to, be honest. I figure, if they want to do well, they'll show, if not, they won't.

Reading this, I guess the question I am raising in telling this story is, where do you give up that tiny bit of optimism and put it to use somewhere else? And for that matter, once you begin the cycle of letting go of that optimism towards a certain group of students, are you ever going to stop? Isn't it my responsibility as an educator to help every student learn and have opportunities at experiences that will help them later in life and broaden their horizons? Or do I only focus my energy on those kids who already have the motivation to do this things on their own, because it's not as exhausting or poor use of my time?

After reviewing what I have already written, I know these are loaded questions, and that each situation is different and circumstantial for everyone. So how do you go about finding how you'll handle these situations without making crucial and/or repetitive mistakes?

Post by Katy McGovern

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Expectations of a Student in a Leadership Role

This week a had a regularly scheduled meeting with my FFA chapter officer team.  We always have a meeting a week before our general FFA meeting with the whole chapter to discuss upcoming events and other items. 

One important item that I have been working on is building our chapter Program of Activities (POA).  This is an important document that will have information about our local FFA chapter such as: a record of our chapter rosters, budget, all activities broken down by committee and class, and other information about the National FFA Organization.  Our most important item in our POA is the chapter's Constitution and Bylaws.

Just for your information, the previous teacher had no idea where previous copies of their Constitution and Bylaws or POA were. So I was pretty much going from scratch on building this document. Luckily, I had a few samples from some other chapters to go by.

I began by going through the POA with the students and just showing them what information will be found in the document and pointing out which officers I will need to work with to finish it.  As we got to the Constitution and Bylaws, I assigned an officer a section to read over and instructed them if they saw something that they had a question or thought needed changed to mark it.  Well after a few minutes we all as a group started to go through the document.  We only got halfway though by the end of the meeting because we had some issues.

The first was requiring FFA members to exhibit a project at our local county fair.  I did not think this would be a big deal since all students would be making projects for our chapter's FFA booth at the fair anyhow.  They were arguing that its not fair for students to be required to do this and that some parents don't want their students at the fair.  So, after a few minutes of discussion with the kids I let it go and crossed it out since we weren't getting anywhere.

The second issue pertained to the officer team. As a teacher, I do try to hold my officers to a higher standard since they are in that leadership role. I believe they should be role models to other students and that they represent the chapter well in the community. 

The other item some of them had issues with was- Having a "C" grade point average while being an officer and/or apply to be an officer.  They started joking that "D"s equal degrees. I asked them that as role models, should they show others that a "D" is all that they should strive for and if that is a good representation of the hardwork of our FFA chapter.  They just shrugged it off saying it doesn't matter because noone will see there grades anyways.  My chapter President turns around to his sister who is our Reporter and just tells her to shut-up and quit complaining because they all have poor grades because they are all just lazy.  We ran out of time a few minutes after that so I told them we will continue later.

On my way home I was thinking to myself, if athletes have to have a "C" or better to play should I have the same rules for the officers? Should I just make the rule that if they have below a "C" they can't participate as a chapter officer until they get there grades up?  What should the expectations of a chapter officer be?  What do other teachers, administrators, and community members think the expectations of a chapter officer should be?

I am not sure what those answers are, but I do know that I want to find out now. 

What do you all think should be the expecatations of a student in a leadership position for a student organization? Feel free to leave a comment.

Post by Drew Bender

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Connecting Educators through Twitter using #AgEduChat

As you all know, education is an everchanging field. Instructional strategies, assessments, and technologies are much different than what was used 5-10 years ago.  5-10 years from now education is going to be much different than today even. It is changing so fast it is sometimes hard for teachers young and old or even students learning to be teachers to keep up with the new trends.

I am sure we all want an easier way to locate and begin interacting with one another to ask questions and share teaching ideas, resources, and other tips and tricks for others. With those in mind, some of us involved in agricultural education across the nation have decided to start #AgEduChat* and we want you to join us.

#AgEduChat will be a bi-weekly fast-paced, thought provoking chat using Twitter to stream the discussion.  We will use #AgEduChat to discuss and address what is going on in education and specifically agricultural education.  Topics will range from classroom management to student motivation to FFA to parent/community involvement and many others. We are looking forward to addressing any topics or issues that you may have questions about or expertise in that we can share with others.

Our first #AgEduChat will be Sunday November 7th from 7:00-8:00 PM EST.

If you have any questions please contact, via Twitter, @DrewBender or, via GMail, if you do not have a Twitter account - to learn how to set up an account.

Also, for tips and tricks on to set-up a Twitter account or to better understand how to use it, please use the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation's Social Media Guide.

*#AgEduChat is what is considered a hashtag used on Twitter to allow users to tag a post and share a personal perspective on a topic. They are designated by the "#", followed by a tag.  Using hashtags allows Twitter users to search for the conversation streams and communities on Twitter.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Teaching Will Get Easier Every Year They Say

It is not even halfway through my second year of teaching, but it is going so much better already.  This time last year I was already wore out and just swamped with everything going on.  I would have to explain to my students daily why I wasn't doing things like the previous teacher and that the class is dumb now. Mind you  class before me just consisited of operating chainsaws and cutting firewood unsupervised for the majority of the year with some hunter and trapper safety courses and stream monitoring intermingled. I am moving the course content back to agriscience and agribusiness courses.  The students simply did not understand that there was so much more to agriculture that they have been missing out on.

 My mentors and other teaching friends kept telling last year, "Don't worry. Things will be much better your next year teaching."  I have really looked back during the past couple of months and couldn't believe how I survived parts of last year when compared to how much better they are this year.  Here is a comparison of now vs. last year:

Last year - Got hired 10 days before school started with just a couple days to then prepare.
This year - Was able to spend most of the summer preparing units and lessons for this year.

Last year - Couldn't get hardly any students interested in participating in competitions.
This year - We will be participating in our third competition of the year coming up in a few weeks.

Last year - Handed out about 15 detentions by this time last year.
This year - Haven't had to hand out any yet...

Last year - Was staying at school working till 5-6:00 p.m. cleaning and organizing my teaching facility to suit my needs.
This year - Usually leave school around 3:30-4:00 or stay longer for competition practices or other FFA activities with students.

Last year - Staying up late every night scrambing to prepare lessons for the next day and thinking how long I could stretch lessons to have time to prepare more.
This year - Have lessons ready to go and a plan for the remainder of the year.

Last year - Caught off-guard on how fast our annual Fruit Sales and National FFA Convention trip came up.  Found out how much planning and paperwork goes with both events.
This year- Knew what to expect so I was able to have paperwork and sales information ready to go early.

As I explained how things were going for me last year to a couple of my mentors, they told me the following that was very true:

"The college or university you graduate from does not prepare you to be a great teacher. They prepare you with the tools to be a first-year teacher, it is up to YOU to be a great teacher."

I realized how true that statement was at that point last year.  Even with trying to do everything the "right" way from other ag ed teachers and my professors I have talked with, I needed to do things my way and work towards becoming a GREAT teacher in my own way.

So first, second, third teachers or those of you in school preparing to become teachers, I can tell you from my experience and I am sure our older mentor teachers can tell us too, teaching WILL get a little easier every year.

Post by Drew Bender

Thursday, October 14, 2010


DISCLAIMER: I am not conceited. My pants go on one leg at a time. I am however a confident man. I am also a very positive person. I also have a lot of patience. People have said that I have an ideal personality to be a teacher. I won’t argue any of that, quite flattered in fact especially the last one. I’d like to think that God has blessed me with the talents necessary to do what I do well, and I sure will do it well. It would be a shame to not use talents from God as best as I can.

So what do I do well? Well, in four years of being an Agricultural Educator and an FFA Advisor hopefully my job! There would be a large majority of my peers and my community that sees improvement in my current school district; hopefully I have had a hand in that. They hopefully would see the steady increase of State FFA Degrees, CDE participation, a large presence at county fair and other volunteer functions, and variety of curriculum offered and they would be pleased with the direction of the program, again I hope I have played even a small part in that. The fact that our FFA Banquet in May is so pain fully long is a testament to just how many things my students do….well.

Today’s blog post (my first one) is about the mythical word PERFECTION. Just looking at those ten letters together seems awesome, times new roman has never seemed as un-boring as when it is written with PERFECTION. After the above paragraphs, perhaps I am the perfect ag teacher? Although impossible to measure, from the outside looking in I am doing a pretty nice job. A perfect score is a 100% last I checked, so that’s what I’m shooting for. Why shouldn’t I work my tail off and try to be perfect? Again, I feel as though if I’m not working hard at something, if I am not getting ready for this next CDE or this next class coming in the room or this meeting that is happening soon, then I am wasting my talents. I refuse to be a talent-waster.

I teach 92 students in a day this first semester. My teaching partner and I share students (kids want to take more than one ag class, cool!) but I teach 92 personally in a given day currently. 8 in my animal science elective, three Ag Ed I classes of 23, 16, and 12, and two Ag Ed II classes of 16 and 17. I looked at my alphabetized master class roster, and what I have just done is think of the first memory that came to my mind about each student. The memory leads to an emotion on my part, and I have tallied my emotions. The memory had to be from this school year only, and it had to be 100% related to Ag Ed and/or FFA. As I went through each name, I put a tally mark beside one of three words POSITIVE, INDIFFERENT, and NEGATIVE. Many smiles (positives) came to mind quite quickly. Teaching some greenhands how to shoot archery and rifle, seeing confidence on faces of soil judgers after a state contest that they knew they nailed, these are two quick examples of happy thoughts and tally marks. My students aren’t angels by any means, ornery sophomore boys and prissy upperclass girls also come to mind with negative thoughts, but these negatives also turn out to be positives most of the time so I put those in the “indifferent” column.


POSITIVE: 36                                    INDIFFERENT: 54                            NEGATIVE: 2

PERFECTION. That mythical word that I and many of you shoot for. I know I can’t reach that. None of us can. Nowhere close. Why do I still try? The proof is in the pudding as they say, take a look at the scoreboard. What draws the outsiders’ eye? Wow, He thinks pretty high of his students, and they in turn have done at least one thing good to warrant that emotion. He has some awesome students that I just bet think he’s pretty awesome as well. What draws my eye?

36+54=90…90/92=99.9783                           99.9783 good emotions

2/92 = 0.0217%                                               0.0217% of the focus of this post

One was a kid lying about an assignment to her mother. I do a good job of being up front with my grading, so I knew something wasn’t right when she didn’t turn in a project. The allotted two days go by and still nothing. In her defense, I had the kids take pictures on a camera, bring the pictures in, and classify them (weeds for an agronomy field guide and accompanying dichotomous key) and the first nasty email I received was describing why the project was not done, camera had personal pictures on it. I don’t want to get into a complaining session, but I finally got a “project” about two weeks late. I caught kid in a lie twice, but the kicker is that I know that kid jumbled the story and told Mom what Mom wanted to hear. I have lost that kid and that family for the year for sure.

The other was a kid who’s situation, admittedly, I could have handled better if I wasn’t pressed for time. I don’t let my students drop a showmanship class, end of story. Showmanship is a part of an SAE project that you have at the fair, you better believe you are showing. When I saw a late scratch, I snuck out from my station lining up the cattle for the incoming classes and b-lined for his stalls. With about five family members there and a barn full of listening ears I raised my voice and “explained” why we don’t drop showmanship. I then hustled back to the show and lined up the next class. Dad found me the next day. This one hurts, and I hope my relationship with the family isn’t forever tarnished, because they are excellent supporters and true agricultural leaders in the community.

Now here’s the crux of the matter. Both of the above students, I can think of smiles as well. Where did my strive-for-PERFECTION brain go? Mr. Positive, immediately ignoring the many good experiences and highlighting the ONE BAD one. Why must we always be our biggest critics? Why are we so obsessed with doing all the right things and saying all the right things? Why do we try to be everything for everybody? By we of course I mean me, or perhaps me and you? I kinda thought so.

0.0217%. Is that close enough to PERFECTION?

     Livin’ The Dream,

              J. Michael Derringer

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Spouses View of an Ag. Ed. Teacher

          My name is Alison Derringer.  I’m very excited to write for this blog and promote my belief in agricultural education. I will give the reader’s digest version of my experience: I took ag education class for the first time my senior year in high school. I loved the activities, values and the type of people I was around, but there were a lot of issues with the program and those who ran it.
         I decided that I wanted to teach ag ed and be the stability that I wish we had in my program. I met my husband Mike in college and we both took teaching offers 2 ½ hours away from one another after we graduated. We were both excited and I had loved student teaching so much, I thought having my own program would be just like that.
          My first year of teaching I describe as one I never want to relive again. I had issues with students who were use to virtually no structure. I worked so hard to get students involved, but never felt like I was satisfied with my position. I stayed a 2nd year and it was much better (I actually liked most of my students!), but the feelings of lacking knowledge in many areas plus other past failures bothered me too much.
           My husband, on the otherhand, is absolutely awesome at teaching ag and I wanted him to be the one doing something he truly loved.  We married one year ago and I am now active within the FFA Alumni program where Mike teaches and love to chaperone whenever needed. I currently work a part-time job and have a full-time business as a beauty consultant. I am loving life and love the flexibility to support Mike.
            Those of us that are spouses of ag teachers may not always understand why it is necessary for them to go in way early and stay late into the evening. Heck, working 25-30 hours in two days is nothing! But just know that they are making an impact in students’ lives in a way that standard subject teachers may not. Mike told me a few days ago that a student shared their desire to be an ag teacher. That meant more to him than any amount of money or recognition could. The ups and downs of any teaching position are stressful but I believe that ag teachers get the best rewards from their career. I only wish it was in my heart to want to teach again.
         Anyway, this is a busy week for Mike – soils practice and State Soil Judging Saturday since his teams placed 1st for Rural Soils and 2nd for Urban Soils. His school's county fair is this week and he will be at fair all week as he is the superintendent of the swine show along with his teaching partner plus his students are showing the first few days. He’ll need plenty of coffee! Hope all of you have a great week!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Connecting with Students Outside of the Classroom

        One thing I have learned over the past year is the importance of the connections made with students outside of the classroom.  I believe not enough teachers take advantage of opportunities to support their stduents outside of the school day.  Some teachers just show up in the morning, get through their lessons for the day and then just go home. How can you expect to make a sound connection with students with only seeing them for 40-120 minutes a day. Both educators and students need to see another in a different situation. It's funny to say but true, that students sometimes forget that teachers are people too and like to relax and have a life outside of school.
       I try to make it a point to attend a variety of activities put on by the different student groups in the high school even if my students are not in those activities.  It is important to me to be able to support all the students of the high school.  I have had students come up and thank me for coming to see them at their event and ask where I was if I missed.  It is also enjoyable to brighten a students day with just asking how their event went the next day at school.
        I had the opportunity to chaperone the Prom last spring and Homecoming this weekend. It is always great to see all the kids dressed up and having fun with their friends. They really get a smile on their faces when you tell them how nice they look all dressed up.  They are always surprised to see you there but you can tell they appreciate you sharing their special night with them.
        I will always continue to support all the students the best I can. The connections made with students today both inside and outside the classroom will last a lifetime.

The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called "truth."  ~Dan Rather

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Developing those qualities of leadership…

Recently, our district had our Forestry Contest.  After discussing the this opportunity with my students, one rather mischievous young man came up to me and said “Mr. Z, I competed in the forestry contest with the Career Center last year, I want to be on the team, and possibly help coach.”

Needless to say, I was a little startled.  During the first week, of the school year, I was warned about this student (for the sake of privacy, we’ll call him John).  One teacher went as far as to say he was “a lost cause.” 

Needless to say, my teaching partner and I allowed him to lead our practices.   I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw that how effective he was at preparing the other students for the contest! It was only until after the first practice that we found out that he had a summer job in the forestry industry, and he really enjoyed discussing forestry with others. 

In the short time the group had to prepare for this contest, our kids showed that they were dedicated to competing as best they could.  John and the rest of the students did very well at the contest, and all of them were very pleased with how they placed.  I was in high spirits knowing that a student that most of our teachers cast aside stepped up to the plate and helped 24 other students better themselves.

Does this one contest mean that John has changed forever? I don’t know, let’s hope so, but what I do know is that this CDE helped show a “troubled” student that he can help his peers, and he has the ability to lead a group effectively.

Agricultural Education and Career Development Events…Developing those qualities of leadership, which an FFA member should possess.

Posted by Adam

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Laying down "The Law"

I am blunt and get to the point. But usually through ridiculous stories. So enjoy that. My first thought is that I am in my second year of teaching, back at the school I graduated from. A little weird, but not like you might think. It's nice to know exactly who I can and can't yell at and how. I'm a person of small stature, so being loud is how I get heard. And sometimes, I use “The Law” to get heard. Positively and negatively.

A week or so ago I had to lay down “The Law.” “The Law,” is a 1 inch thick, 30 inch long wooden rod I found in our shop, that I labeled, “Ms. McGovern's The Law.” Now I know what you are thinking, “OMG, this lady beats her students!” No, no. Not the case. I am too small and solely use it for intimidation.

 But, I did already put a crack in The Law. On this particular day, I had a lot of things on my mind, Ag Ed related, and non-Ag Ed related. During my AgBusiness class, a student of mine said something so abstract and so off the wall, I laughed so hard I made no sound, and slapped The Law on the table. I was almost in tears and just turned around and slapped The Law on another table and kept on laughing. So what does The Law have to do with the point I am making today? After an extremely rough first year in the State-Up-North, I have learned to laugh and to loose your composure when necessary. You just have too. Kids need to see you are a human being too, and that sometimes you just need to laugh to stay sane. Stay Sane My Friends!

Post by Katy

Monday, September 20, 2010

Field trip to Farm Science Review

       So, I am getting things ready to take my students on a field trip to Farm Science Review held in London, OH. Farm Science Review is put on by The Ohio State University and is in its 48th year. There are several hundred test plots and millions of dollars worth of machinery brought every year!
       After discussing this field trip with other teachers this summer, I came up with an assignment for the students to complete while on the trip.  Some teachers just let their kids run loose for the whole day. I hate that. Those are the kids that are causing problems.
        Anyhow, so this assignment I have created should be very easy for the kids to complete. I told them it should only take them about 45 mins. to do if they did it right away.  All they have to do is:
  • Interview two vendors and get their picture with them.
  • Describe two pieces of machinery they saw.
  • When eating lunch, list how many of their food items contain some form of corn.
  • Visit The Ohio State University, College of Food, Agricutural, Environmental Science booth building and learn about the university.
       After showing a couple of the students, they were already complaining about it. Mostly because the assignment is front and back because I gave them room to write. One student commented, "Bender....this trip is suppose to be a vacation day from school to let us just chill out." I was like,"Uhh no. This is an extended learning opportunity for you."  Needless to say........I didn't get my point across. He left class still complaining, so I look forward to reading his assignment about the trip. 
        Why do kids complain so much just to do a little bit of work?  I don't remember being like that when I was in school. You get there, do the work and then be done with it!

Post by Drew

Monday, September 13, 2010

Who are the Wise Owls??

Who are the Wise Owls you ask? Well, they are a group of agricultural educators across the nation They are educators in career centers and comprehensive high schools alike. They are educators working with students almost everyday in and out of the classrooms.

Today, they are a group of colleagues working to connect with others and share their experiences for teaching, managing the local FFA chapter and juggling their personally lives away from school.

My name is Drew Bender and I am proud to be involved with education. I am a second year teacher in a single-teacher program in eastern Ohio. This blog will also feature other authors involved in Agricultural Education, they are:
  • Mike Derringer- A 4th year teacher in a two-teacher program at a comprehensive high school.
  • Alison Derringer- Former teacher in a single-teacher program. Married to Mike Derringer.
  • Katy McGovern- A 2nd year teacher in a single-teacher program at a comprehensive high school in western Ohio.
  • Adam Ziadeh- 1st year teacher in a two-teacher program at a comprehensive high school.
  • Meredith Gilbert- A 1st year teacher in a single teacher program at a comprehensive high school.