I figured that it was time for me to share my story about how I became an ag teacher. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I never do things the easy or the "normal" way, and my journey to becoming an ag educator was no different. The Agricultural Educator's Creed begins with the line "I am an agricultural educator by choice and not by chance." In my case, I became an agricultural educator by taking a chance that turned out to be one of the best choices I have ever made. I never planned on becoming an ag teacher and wasn't involved in ag or FFA in high school because my school didn't have an ag program. In fact, had someone not suggested that I become an ag teacher, I most likely would be involved in a different profession instead of sitting here writing this blog post.
When I started at Cook College (the ag school at Rutgers), I had every intention of pursuing a career as an equine veterinarian. I took all the right classes, got all the right grades, got a student research position in my dream equine research lab (equine exercise physiology), and became involved with the right people and organizations. It seemed as if I was on track to get into vet school, and then in the middle of my junior year I became burnt out from all the stress of my hard classes and insane schedule and began to question if becoming and equine vet was really what I wanted to do. The thought of an additional 4 years of the stress and craziness of vet school was overwhelming, and as much as I loved my research, the funding for graduate fellowships was being cut left and right, which made the possibility of getting a PhD in equine science somewhat unlikely. I mentioned my feelings of confusion about my future to a good friend, and they made a comment along the lines of "You know, you should really think about becoming an ag teacher. You might really like it." They then went on to mention that Rutgers had a brand new 5 year Masters program for ag ed and needed people to apply for it.
I gave my friend's words some thought, and then went home and looked up the Ag Ed Masters Program. It seemed like a possibility and would allow me to use my Animal Science degree for something useful, so I decided to apply. My rationale was this: if I get in, this is what I was meant to do and I am going to do it and if I don't, I'll figure out something else I can do with my degree. The admission deadline for applications had passed, but since they needed people in the program, the dean made a special exception and said that if I could get my application in within 2 weeks, they would consider it. Those 2 weeks were crazy as I scrambled to complete my application, get my professors to write my letters of recommendation, and to take the GREs (which I had no time to prepare for). In the end, my efforts paid off and I was accepted into the Science Education Graduate Program at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education.
My senior year was a crazy blur of 21 credit semesters as I finished up my Animal Science degree and began my coursework for my Masters. I managed to graduate with honors, and the following summer was filled with graduate coursework. That fall I began my student teaching practicum, and after a disastrous first student teaching placement (which I was removed from), I was seriously questioning if I had made the wrong decision by deciding to become an ag teacher.
Luckily, a guardian angel of an ag teacher came from out of nowhere and offered me a second chance at student teaching in his program. He turned out to be the best cooperating teacher I could have asked for, and under his tutelage and guidance I blossomed and got my confidence back. My student teaching experience in his program was a success, and wound up turning into the job I have today. He decided to retire at the same time I got my Masters, and the district hired me to take his place. I knew that I had some big shoes to fill because he was there for 35 years, but I was excited to take on the role of running the program by myself. We decided to transition the program to CASE when I took over and as they say, the rest was history and here I still am 3 years later. The program is bigger and better than ever, and we have plans to keep expanding and adding more CASE courses.
Believe me when I say becoming a teacher was never something that I planned to do. I have a mild case of Aspberger's Syndrome, which can make social situations and working with people very difficult for me at times. It is extremely hard for me to read people and unless they are very direct with me, I have a hard time understanding them and what they mean, need, or want. It's been a challenge that I've faced my entire life and has caused people to misinterpret me as rude and uncaring. Because of this, I never considered teaching as a profession because I felt that my Aspbergers would make it a bad fit for me. However, much to my surprise, it has never been an issue when working with my students. Unlike my own peers who often bullied me for my differences, my students have been nothing but accepting and accommodating of me and my "oddities" and as long as they are able to be direct with me when asking questions, I am able to interpret their needs with no trouble. My Aspberger's has impacted my ability to work with adult learners, but it is something I am working on and I know I will be able to overcome to find success when working with them.
Had it not been for that conversation about my future with my friend back in college, I never would have become an ag teacher, and although that friend and I aren't as close as we used to be (ironically, they also became an ag teacher and might be reading this post), I will forever be grateful for their suggestion that I look into this great profession. In the end, what started out as a crazy chance of trying my hand at teaching ag has turned into a wonderful career choice. I can't imagine myself doing anything else, and I truly love what I do. Not only is every day different, but I find myself using what I learned through my research and my animal science coursework all the time. I get to work with amazing young people and help them get excited about ag and science. Until next time when I give you s'Morey, make sure that you continue to love what you do, and do what you love!