I spent this summer teaching an online class and visiting students who were working on their Internship requirements - talk about a contrast! The online class is "Landscape Estimating" and is all about how to determine costs, develop bids, understand how to manage costs to be competitive and how to operate professionally. Because there are no pre-requisites for it, I will often get a mix of students ranging from those who are well along in their program of study with us to those who just need 3 credits in a business class. So you can understand why I was pleased to get the following message from a graphic design major taking the class:
"This was a very educational project, and involved me getting out and doing things/talking to people I wouldn't have otherwise been in contact with. It was very enjoyable." She was referring to an assignment (one of 7 they must complete in 5 weeks) that requires the student to determine what it costs to operate equipment and vehicles. My response to her message? - a resounding "YES!" because all too often in this electronic technical age our students seem to avoid personal contact - they text and tweet and friend but good old fashioned conversation seems to be the last thing on their mind. Call me a dinosaur but nothing beats a face-to-face conversation. When you develop an online course you make every effort to find ways to engage the students in the subject, to force them to do more than just sit at a computer - and sometimes the first few efforts do not work so you rewrite and rework and try again the next semester - and it does feel good when you do - finally - get it right! (Others in the course expressed the same or similar feelings to me so I knew it wasn't an anomaly)
The Internship course is a completely different experience. All of our students must spend at least one semester completing their cooperative internship requirement - and this summer I served as Co-op supervisor. That meant I got to visit all of them on the job, meet their bosses, see what projects they were involved with - and it is always fun. The bosses love to show off as well and since our program has been around for 31 years we have placed students with most of the employers in the area (which covers about 10 counties in northern and central New Jersey) - and by now a good percentage of the employers are graduates of our program. While I was pleased with all of our placements this summer, one in particular will always stand out. A young man who came to us a little later than most (he's 27 and the father of a 10 year old son) has been in our program for the past year and proven himself to be an excellent student, highly motivated and hard working. As the year went on I learned about his son and about the two jobs he worked to make ends meet. We recommended him for a job with an outstanding County Park Commission to work at a botanical garden - one of the best in northern New Jersey. He was on the job 3 days when he emailed me to say " I LOVE this job! It's the best job I ever had and please come visit me soon so I can show you what I am doing!" I couldn't resist and instead of waiting a week or so as I usually do to allow the student to get settled in a position I went the next day (his fourth on the job). His boss cornered me as soon as I got out of my truck, shook my hand and said "Thank you for sending Qwamine to us! He is wonderful!" He directed me out into the garden where Qwamine was busy mucking weeds out of a pond. It had to be 95 degrees with 100% humidity and awful bugs around that pond - but there stood Qwamine, big grin on his face, loving every minute of it! I asked what he had learned so far - remember it was only his fourth day - and he started a list that went on and on - I think he had memorized every word they had said to him in those 3 and a half days. Talk about someone finding themselves - clearly this young man has!
These are the reasons we do what we do - the long hours, the travel to events, the early mornings and weekends spent in a greenhouse or barn, putting up with administrators who don't understand what we do, hopig our families do understand what we do - you all know what I mean. And just when we start to question what we do, along comes a student like Qwamine! If you are an experienced teacher you have had this exact same experience many times in your career - and if you are a new teacher - you will have it! As I look back on 34 years of teaching agriculture and ahead to a new adventure (a farm and "retirement") I can honestly say that its the Qwamines I remember - the good times and students who, whether they were straight "A's" or "C's" really found themselves - and maybe their success was due in some small way to some guidance I provided. Or maybe their success was due to me being smart enough to stay out of their way! Either way its been a great run!