You Are a New Ag Teacher, Where Do You Start?

July 17, 2016

You Are a New Ag Teacher, Where Do You Start?

When I graduated college, the Ag School brought in a respected extension agent to speak to us at a spring awards banquet.  He said all the right things and encouraged us as all good speakers do.  However, he did utter a statement that ruffled more than a few academic feathers and got a great laugh from all the parents and agribusiness invitees in attendance.  And I quote, "You've studied and accumulated knowledge through your 4 years in school.  Now the day after you graduate I'd like for you to open the nearest window and dump all that nonsense out and prepare yourself for the real world."  Needless to say we were floored.  Some more so than others, but nonetheless shocked by the honesty displayed at a University event.

20 years later and nothing has changed.  Sure, hold onto the concepts and skills you developed but life on the other side of the desk is a far cry from the insulated world of academia.  However, the absolutes that are preached and reinforced at the University are rarely as concrete in the classroom.  Steel yourself, you are about to have 2 dozens sponges about 6 times a day.  Your job is to creatively find a way for each sponge to soak up as much information as possible and then hope it doesn't drip on the floor as they leave your classroom.  Oh, and you'll do it again tomorrow too.  Plus, no 2 sponges are alike and rarely respond to instruction the same way.

So where do you start? Get in your room and other facilities as quickly as possible and really look.  I don't mean how you look at stuff at Cracker Barrel, I mean look and dig and discover.  Like that lady at a garage sale who you swear is looking for a gold bar or the crown jewel under every pair of slacks.  Bring your father, uncles, brothers, and fathers in law.  Why?  Guys love to look through shops, barns, and closets.  Pull it all out and assess what you have.  I'd be willing to bet the whole area needs to be cleaned out and swept anyhow, so pulling it out is just a part of that process. 

Now your first assessment.  What do you have and what can you do with it?  Did you find tools?  Group them by subject: woodworking, engines, animal science, horticulture, vet science... I know some tools will overlap and use your best judgement on those but group as best you can.  Now do you have what you need to teach a small engines class?  Woodworking? Vet Science?  Horticulture?

Word to the wise, if you don't have leashes and restraints for Vet Science, then don't ask for an examination table.  Similar in animal science, don't ask for a squeeze chute and panels if you don't have a barn or fenced area to hold the cattle.  Rarely will an Ag teacher be presented with the Taj Mahal to teach from, so you'll have to make do with what you have plus your budget for this year.  You will accumulate what you need over time, so figure out the small stuff you need to teach your first year.  That includes first year of a new subject even if you'd taught for more than 1 year.  Keep it simple.  You'll cover a bunch of concepts with basic supplies and next year you can add a piece of equipment or some tools. 

Next question, what does your principal absolutely want you to teach?  If he or she says "nothing", then that's a curse disguised as a blessing.  Too much freedom can lock up your mind and you'll freak out during your first few weeks of teaching.  So, if you are free, then focus on solid fundamentals which means...look at your state standards.  I know I threw up in my mouth a little too, but it has to be done.  Boil down each substandard into a concept.  For example, "Discuss the importance of asexual reproduction in plants."  Sounds like a series of thrilling lectures.  However, I hear plant propagation, root division, air layering, and even grafting.  And you don't need a greenhouse to do it.  Yes it does help, but remember you are teaching students how to grow plants.  Plants need the right amount of air, water, and sunlight.  You might do milk jug gardening, find a bunch of windows and make a recycled greenhouse in Ag mech, or you get some PVC pipe and plastic and make your own tunnel.  Focus less on the lecture or shiny new pieces of equipment and more on the activity.  These students have science and will have more science, but they need hands on experience.  They'll learn more from killing plants in your class, than they will from reading about it in their biology book.  Focus on the topic and find way to make it happen in your room.  Notice I didn't say, "make it happen perfectly in your room." My students learned more from my colossal, than they ever did from a rock solid lecture.  Teachable moments happen when they are trying to apply what you taught them.  Let them try and fail and try again, and again.

Needless to say you'll have a wishlist and you'll need to put a couple (as in 2 not 10) stars by the things you absolutely have to have to teach.  Once you get those in, then figure out what you need next.  Ordering 20 boxes will overwhelm you as much as the freedom to teach what you want.  Take it all in small doses and grow your lessons and your teaching style from there. Good luck and please let us know your thoughts.  Follow us on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter. Send us your Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest handles and we'll be glad to follow you as well. You can also contact me at brian@onelessthing.net.  Feel free to jump over to the store side of our website at www.OneLessThing.net



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