Magazine article Techniques

Life Lessons: Agriculture Teachers Who Spend Time in the Workforce Bring Unique Skills to the Classroom

Magazine article Techniques

Life Lessons: Agriculture Teachers Who Spend Time in the Workforce Bring Unique Skills to the Classroom

Article excerpt

Henry Paris was a successful farmer for 30 years. During his career, he had a hand in a variety of enterprises, including raising veal calves, trucking and feed distribution. With his sons and daughter grown and out of the house, he could have clone what most people do after a long career in a tough industry--retire. Instead, he chose to teach agriculture.

"I really missed the involvement with young boys and girls," said Paris, who was a parent leader with 4-H and livestock showing for years through his children. "I got to thinking about what else I could do, and [so I] checked with the Department of Education in Virginia."

Today, Paris is in his 11th year of teaching. He has built a successful agricultural education program at Powhatan Junior High School in Powhatan, Virginia. Paris waited longer than most, but many agricultural educators spend time working in agriculture before taking charge of a classroom.

Although still in the minority, alternatively certified agriculture teachers, or teachers who spend time in another profession before earning their teaching certificate, are an important part of the agricultural education community. Rebekah Epps, assistant professor of agricultural education at the University of Kentucky, estimates that anywhere between 15 to 20 percent of agriculture teachers in the United States did not major in agricultural education--at least not their first time around. She is in charge of the university's master's with initial certification (MIC) program, a program many universities offer to help those in industry earn their teaching certificates in agricultural education.

Lori Bennett graduated from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, with her bachelor's degree in animal science, then went to work in ag sales. Her customers were cooperative feed dealers, and Bennett sold them everything from feed ingredients to fencing to muck boots. On one sales visit, she accompanied a store manager to a high school agriculture program where he was measuring for barn stalls. The teacher asked her to visit with the students and talk to them about her career, then approached her afterward.

"She said, 'You are really good with kids; have you ever considered being an ag teacher?" remembers Bennett. "When I said no, she asked if! had a degree. When I told her I had one in animal science, she really encouraged me to pursue ag ed. That was my first year in ag sales. She gave me her business card and it rode around in my company car for seven years."

Eventually, Bennett decided to make the switch to agricultural education. She left her job in sales, took the additional classes she needed to become certified and get her master's degree, and has been teaching agriculture in Connecticut for five years.

"It's the best decision I ever made," she said. "I just love it. As hard as the hours are, and as hard as it is to spend more time with your students than you do with your family, I love it. I love coming to work every day. It's a great job."

Why Do They Do It?

Many people who choose to leave the agriculture industry to teach end up working longer hours for a lot less pay. So why in the world would they do it?

To leave [industry], you really have to want to be a teacher," said Chad Burkett. Burkett teaches agriculture at Springdale High School in Springdale, Arkansas. Before he taught, he earned his bachelor's degree in poultry science from the University of Arkansas and worked for Cargill for three-and-a-half years before completing the MIC program at the University of Arkansas and taking a job as an agriculture teacher in his hometown.

"I woke up one morning and I wanted to look at the big picture. What lasting impact do I want to have? How do I want my family to be raised? I wanted to give back," he said.

Filling the Need

There is a national shortage of agriculture teachers in the United States, but the level of need varies from state to state, as do the requirements to become certified to teach agriculture without a bachelor's degree in education. …

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