This past week is our "get ready" week - since our classes start back for Spring semester the day after Martin Luther King Day. It occurred to me that the whole get ready process has changed considerably since I started teaching. At one time it was largely printing and handouts that you prepared, organizing the classroom, a new bulletin board design, double checking materials and so on. A lot of that is still part of the process but for several years now we have added online materials, course supplements, and in some cases entire online lessons and courses to the list of things we have to get ready. On our campus we were one of 3 areas to be early adopters of technology and especially online teaching over 10 years ago. One advantage to being a early adopter is that you can't really do anything wrong - or at least no one knows you are wrong. And the only way to go is up - so I encourage all new teachers to not fear being first - first to test new technology, first to push the administration just a bit more, first to push your students just a bit more. Back to technology - I am not a fan of technology just for the sake of having a new toy (although new toys are fun) - but I do feel that it is critical as an educator to search out and evaluate all technology related to my courses and to the careers my students will likely enter. I am not talking about just instructional technology or instructional delivery mechanisms but more about the technology that will be used on the job. There was a time when every (or almost every) teacher of agriculture came from a farm or some kind of agriculture background. With fewer farms we are seeing less of that and that lack of field experience can make it hard for a new teacher to know what tools they should be looking at. This is where your advisory committee can be a great help.
I need to relate the situation that I faced when I first started teaching. I was hired fresh out of college to teach at a county vocational school in a horticulture program that was not having much success. I did not come from a farming or horticulture background - ok we did have a vegetable garden but that was it. Nor was I involved with FFA in high school - my high school couldn't spell FFA - so to say I was "wet behind the ears" would not be an exaggeration. Then, 1 week before starting school, someone shared with me the New Jersey Nursery and Landscape Association Newsletter which included a "Letter to the Editor" about me - and it wasn't good. The author had never met me but he knew that the vocational school had hired a new teacher who had zero field experience and he was convinced that it spelled doom for the program. The letter was pretty true - especially about my lack of experience. Image my surprise when I received my advisory committee list and the first name on the list was the author of that letter. Talk about fear! This guy had been trained in the German apprenticeship system and, at the first meeting, insisted that I needed to spend two years teaching students to dig holes because they needed to learn to dig the perfect hole. Can you imagine how many students I would have if that was all I tried to teach them? Ultimately Franz became my biggest supporter - and this year I am serving as President of the New Jersey Nursery and Landscape Association - because during that same meeting Franz urged me to get involved with the professionals and their association -great advice! It is important to be active in NAAE and in your state teachers association but also be sure to make time for the association most aligned with your program - you won't regret it and your students will benefit.