It's bad enough that parents hover over their children as they grow. Now, some of these same parents are pushing their kids aside hoeing the row for their children too. That's right, apparently these parents have watched Transformers one too many times. They've moved on from helicopter parenting to lawnmower parenting. The concept is pretty simple. Not only do these parents make sure to stay in the middle of all of their Matthew's activities to ensure he gets the most out of them. Now they are doing his work for him to make doubly sure he gets every benefit that he should out of life. Writing papers, finishing homework, filling out college applications...whatever has to be done, they'll make sure they get it done right. I'm not saying it makes sense, but that's what high school teachers and college professors are starting to see from their students. So how does that translate into the Ag classroom?
I would say it is easier (easier being a relative term) for an Ag teacher than most. Most Ag education work is hands on, and unless the parents plan to come in class everyday to complete the assignment then, then all that work is up to their boy Matthew to complete. And that's how you should be as an Ag teacher from Day One. They can act however their parents want them to act at home, but when they walk through the Ag room door then "It's not what you tell me, it's what you show me". I personally reveled in the crying and complaining of students. That meant I presented a challenge to them and all that noise is a sign of them growing. Bear in mind you have to have your expectations in line before you join the anti-lawnmower movement. You expect them to behave, show up, grow up, participate, and be safe in the Ag room...period. All the nonsense they throw at their parents can be left right outside the Ag room door next to your cinder block door prop. You aren't here to think they are the greatest child ever, inflate their ego, pat them on the pointy little head, or give them a smiley face sticker every time they remember their pencil. Life (i.e. career development) starts in the Ag room and you don't have time to deal with hand holding. You have more or less 180 days (180 hours or 6 1/2 weeks of full 8 hour days) to make them independent, free thinking contributors to our economy so they better get ready to apply themselves.
Having expectations is not enough as a teacher. The road to hell might be paved with good intentions, but the road to jail is paved with uncommunicated expectations. "You have to inspect your expectations." (Thank you Marcus Lemonis for the quote.) Part of being the Ag teacher is to know what they will do wrong, find it, and then call them on it. Then make them do it again until they get it right. Not because you are a tyrant, but that's the only way to learn. Nothing worth learning comes easy. Students have to hear that and experience that often. Daily if possible. You should also expect howls of protest, gnashing of teeth, and perhaps a few tears. I smile just thinking about it. Isn't learning fun?
"But why, Mr. Tomlinson? Why do you treat us this way?" Because these students think they are grown up. Since they think they are grown up, then I'll act like they are grown up. Being grown up means trusting, following rules, and following through on commitments. I'm a big Navy SEAL fan, but not because of all the stuff they blow up or how tough they are. Well those too, but there's a lot more going on that's overlooked. Former SEAL Jocko Willink explained in his book that the more disciplined his team member's were, then the more freedom they had to operate. That's right folks, freedom through discipline. SEALs have rules and standard operating procedures for most situations. They don't have a lot them, but what they do have need to be followed to a T...every time. When they trust each other enough to follow these procedures, then they are trusted enough to act on their own without supervision or direct orders.
Alicia loves to tell the story about a six teacher + principal + parent conference with a misbehaving student. The standard stuff: poor behavior, low output, and low energy. The mother was stunned Alicia was the lone teacher who didn't have this problem. "I don't understand how you get him to behave? He won't even behave at home for me!" she said. "Oh he tried his hardest with all the tricks we've discussed but he finally understood that we don't have time for that. Even the other students told him so. There's no time to mess around in the Ag room." Alicia will be the first to tell you she didn't have close to a 100% success rate with this philosophy, but it did work more than it didn't.
Think about that with your students, do you trust them? Any of them? I suspect you have at least a couple whom you can trust in the shop when you aren't there. Why? You know they'll follow the rules of the shop, they'll stay safe, they'll stay within your expectations, and not burn the place down while you are away. If your students want to achieve in life, then they have to learn how to follow procedures (shop, greenhouse, equipment, classroom...). Now a large part of this learning process is them not following procedures as instructed and you have the conversation about freedom and trust. How can you trust them if they can't follow the procedures? How can you turn them loose with the equipment if you can't trust them? How can they expect to get a job if they can not be trusted? This is your mantra...show up, follow the rules, gain trust, and get freedom. Navy SEALs spend 20 hour days completing tasks to drill this into their mindset. You don't have that kind of time, but your students should learn to groan daily because they hear it so often. This goes for regular ed students, special education students, and students of lawnmower parents no exceptions.
It's easy to fall into the trap of teaching to only impart information, but remember as Ag teachers we impart wisdom. The students don't have to like it and certainly don't have to appreciate it, but they must respect it and you. While it might be Vet Science, Horticulture, or Agronomy class you are teaching ultimately the foundations you pull from are the core skills they need in life. The subject is simply the vehicle to impart the wisdom you have to offer.
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