When I started teaching middle school agriculture I had a veteran CTAE teacher explain the lay of the land to me for the middle school world. For his club, he didn't want students that had a discipline referral in the last 9 weeks, they could have never been in ISS, must maintain a B average in all subjects, and have the recommendation of at least 1 teacher preferably 2 before he'd allow that student in his club. Needless to say he had a small club. I mulled this over at my desk later that afternoon and came to a drastic realization. If my Ag teacher had used that method of determining chapter members I would have probably been the only person in the chapter. Come to think of it even I wouldn't have been a member either because I was sent to ISS on a trumped up charge for fighting. Not that I am bitter but I digress.
As FFA chapters and Ag teachers we are here to bring students into a world foreign to many pexpletive but a world that holds so many opportunities and possibilities outside regular academic subjects. Odds are a majority of these kids that my fellow teacher described just don't fit in a lecture and note taking environment. I've had several fellow Ag teachers tell me they'd take a hard working student over a smart student any day and you'll find that true as well. Most "ag kids" are just not conformists. They want to work and do and break and put back together. We need those students to find a path in agriculture to help fill the thousands of jobs open for machinists, welders, and electricians. Limiting access to these opportunities based on behavior in other classes alone doesn't do these students any favors in life.
Whether you like it or not, many ag kids are risk takers, problem solvers, and go against the grain as often as possible. Conventional lectures drive them to daydream and talk, but they'll be the first to ask questions when the class is working on a project when they can not figure out the science behind what you are doing. For buzzword people you've hit their teachable moment, but really that's just how they learn. Your class does the work and then you sneak the knowledge in while they are applying it. It's not a very popular concept but it sure does work.
I've witnessed C students patiently coach an honor student on how to run a bead because the honor student asked all the questions they could ask of the Ag teacher but still couldn't do more than make a puddle on a piece of steel. There's nothing quite like witnessing an high achieving student being humbled by their peers. These ag kids know what they know and know what they want to learn. That is a confidence that few teenagers possess and only comes through trial and error in skill development. Ag teachers should foster this desire by providing every opportunity for them to experience agriculture and all it has to offer. That means teaching them what they don't know and illustrating how each skill impacts not only the lesson but their life beyond high school Ag. Soon, your class will be the reason they come to school each day.
So it's easy to want the perfect chapter where your officer team has 4 honor students and 2 AP enrollee's but that's not what FFA is all about. It's about finding those students who don't know who they are or what they could do with their life. It's about giving responsibility to students, who on the surface look rudderless, but simply needed a reason to pay attention. You'll often discover that some of your average to below average students have a lot to offer once you look beyond resume material. You'll discover the ones who have a natural drive to work hard and even discover sone students who didn't realize all the skills they had until you show them how capable they are. But you have to pull them aside and ask. Will you help us? Can you be here? Can we count on you? Not as a class but to individual students. Show them that they matter and watch what they can accomplish. Mentoring students is a skill that takes a lifetime to master but improves each time you take in a student and show them who they can be. Before you know it they'll become some of the most loyal students in your program.
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