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Today I took a field trip with my middle schoolers, and it occurred to me that I haven't really talked about my adventures in teaching this younger age group of ag students. Robin McLean told me for years how much fun it was, and I always thought it would be something I'd like to try. Now that I've had the chance to teach them for several months now, I've realized that she is exactly right and they are tons of fun to work with!


Some of my marvelous middle school ag students.


Prior to my becoming a 7th-12th grade ag teacher in September, I had very little experience with middle schoolers. In fact, the last time I had spent any amount of time with middle schoolers was when I was a student in middle school. Sure, I had spent time with Robin and her students at FFA events, but I had never taught or even observed a middle school ag class. However, instead of being nervous about teaching an unfamiliar age group, I looked at it as a fun challenge.


My attitude on teaching middle schoolers for the first time.


From the moment I met my first rotations of 7th and 8th grade ag, I knew I was hooked on teaching middle school ag. Their eagerness to learn and try new things was a refreshing change from the attitudes that high school students sometimes have. They loved learning about ag and FFA, and were always eager to please. The middle school FFA chapter quickly gained 10 new members, and we had a great showing at our first CDE.


Trying out a cool new soil data app on the iPads.


Now that I've been at this for a few months and am in my 2nd and 3rd rotations of my classes, my love for teaching middle school ag has only grown. While not every student is a delight all the time, overall they are a very rewarding group of students to work with. They ask great (and sometimes not so great) questions, and seem to take pride in their work. I've been challenging them with activities from CASE AFNR and every time I think that it might be too hard for them, they amaze me and do something fantastic with the lab or project they are working on. I regularly have students from former rotations stop in to say "hi" and I make it a point to visit them during lunch at least once a week.


Getting the "dirt" on what's in soil.


To me, offering middle school ag is critically important to the future of ag education. By "hooking" them young, and giving them a firm foundation of ag and FFA concepts, they are better prepared to be stellar ag students and FFA members in high school. They learn the importance of teamwork and leadership at an early age, and are able to spend more years learning the ag science skills needed for a future career in agriculture. They also have more time to develop an SAE and their resumes, which can lead to them finding internships and scholarships in high school. But, the most important thing about middle school ag is that it serves as a type of "Insurance" for getting students in high school ag classes and keeping programs open. As long as we can get them interested in ag education and FFA at the middle school level, it is more likely that they will continue their studies in high school. They help keep the numbers in ag classes up and make it more likely that our programs will be around for years to come.


Future ag scientist in the making!


Even though teaching middle school is awesome, I still LOVE teaching high school ag the most. However, teaching middle school has given me new purpose to when it comes to being a better ag teacher. It's reinvigorated my desire to continually provide high quality ag education to my students and to make what I teach as innovative and relevant to the real world as possible. If I can do these things, my students will have the opportunity to have a wonderful ag ed and FFA experience from day 1. Hope everyone is have a great new year so far. Make it the best one yet, and be the best ag teacher you can be! Look for S'Morey soon!



Wes Crawford

How Many Chances Left?

Posted by Wes Crawford Jan 7, 2014 I read that book that came in the mail the other month.


I'll be honest, when I received an email last fall from National FFA at the tail end of my prep period saying a free copy was being sent to every chapter regarding the fight against hunger, without paying much attention to who the book was written by, as the electronic note added to the 14,997 other ones stockpiled in my inbox (don't tell my technology director), I didn't give it much thought.


And when my copy of '40 Chances' arrived, it looked reminiscent of a trendy Malcolm Gladwell cover, with a nice-short-catchy-title-on-a-stark-white background, and an author's name under the author's name - a sure sign they needed a person recognizable on book to sell it, and a name under that to actually write it, right?


But it had actually only sat a couple days when I saw a mention here on CoP about the meaning behind the title - a farmer only has forty chances in their lifetime to get it 'right;' only forty tries of planting, growing, managing and harvesting crops to achieve their best result.  And I was intrigued.


So in December, I read it. Quickly.  And you should to.


A closer inspection revealed this is truly Howard G. Buffett's book - and the name under his name in his son Howard W. Buffett, not an assisting nameless author.  And quite frankly, these gentlemen know what they are talking about.  Beyond the simple and brilliant premise of 'forty chances' and how it applies to the great work he and his family are engaged in with their lives, the even more engaging and complex concept of sustainable agriculture is examined at length, and how we can indeed feed the world.


It is clear that Mr. Buffett is an agriculturalist and has the heart and influence of an agricultural educator on a grand scale - passionate about his industry and intent to help others realize the purposes and practices in which we can truly and sustainably feed the world.  The more I read the more I appreciated the great work his foundation and others are doing in realistically accepting the hunger challenge on a global scale - while recognizing our own challenges at home - with practical and tested methods.


There are a hundred lesson plans in this book, wrapped up in the Buffetts' forty stories.  From the global challenges to differing cultures, around inquiry-based approaches to solutions and problem solving or the concepts of organic and genetically modified crops, or the leadership lessons found in his journeys, the applications to our agricultural science classrooms and FFA chapters from this collection of valuable experiences seemed to be written for our profession.  While I'm sure every person would gain great insight from reading this, as an ag teacher I was continually blown away by how many times I realized how perfectly it fit with what we try to do every day.


How are you using your chances?  As educators, we have forty at best and most likely less to make the most of it.  I'm already into number seven - the perspective I've gained about what I'm doing this year, this month, or even this week really emphasizes the importance of the today.  And just like that one pass on the tractor through the field in that one day affects the whole year's crop - and that farmer' chance - the lesson we taught this morning was our one chance to create knowledge, understanding, and application in our students' minds this year; we may not teach that lesson or unit again until 12 months from now.  And for those students in our class today - maybe they will experience it never again. Now how well are you using your chances?  No pressure.


I hope Mr. Buffett uses every chance to get another person to take a ride in his combine, understand the importance and complexity of today's agriculture, and become another advocate to help in the virtuous and vital mission of feeding the world.  I am hopeful of our chances, and I didn't even need to make a pass around the field to be on board.  But that is one combine ride I most certainly wouldn't pass up.


May your rows be straight and the rains timely, sir.  And let us all continue to help every person understand the importance and purpose of agriculture.



READER RESPONSE:  How are you using your chances to best influence the public and your students?

I rarely make resolutions. I tried last year while I was engaged and not even the prospect of being shoved into white dress in front of all of my friends and family and taking hundreds of pictures could persuade me from going to the gym or putting down the Dr. Pepper. But since I love my job, I think this year I can manage to keep some ag teacher resolutions. Enjoy them, hold me accountable to them, make some of your own.

Just don't judge my




Resolution Number 1:

Tone down the perfectionism.

This is my planner...I can only write in my planner using the designated planner pen...

2014-01-06 15.03.24.jpg

Being a perfectionist may very well be an unwritten prerequisite for entering an agriculture classroom. I could have showed a better video clip for that lesson intro... My classroom could have better wall decorations... the FFA bulletin board hasn't been changed in 3 months... My CDE team needs more work... The lab is in rough shape... I could have handled that issue on the officer team better... I need to hear that speech one more time...


I've often heard the quote, "Comparison is the thief of joy", but for me, the culprit here is perfectionism. It's ok to leave the shop in a mess sometimes, or submit a student-written Ag Issues portfolio that isn't going to win any major awards. Going home and worrying about something can't magically change it, so I resolve to sometimes take a deep breath, step away and be content with imperfection. Even imperfection in myself, which transitions well into...

Resolution Number 2:

Suck at something and embrace it.

This is me struggling with chemistry,

another something that I suck at.


The English teacher may call me about a plant issue and I have to admit that I had maybe 2 plant classes during my entire educational career. I know enough to expose my students to it (aka the "knowing a little about a lot" syndrome), but I will finally shout it from the mountaintop: I am not a plant person.  I dreaded teaching Greenhouse Management. I had two houseplants in my dorm in college and they died slow and painful deaths. I just like animals. They're cuddly and/or tasty.  So when the English teacher is disappointed because I had little insight into why that bug won't stop messing with her Azaleas, I will try not to feel shame and direct her to some good websites for help.


In the spirit of full disclosure, I must also admit... I'm bad at SAEs. FFA is my passion but every time I introduce freshman to SAEs I die a little inside because it isn't a perfect presentation (but like I said, I'm working on that, too). When you look at the list of accomplishments I've coached my students to, there is only one SAE-related one in 5 years of teaching. It's hard to talk about that when I'm a perfectionist because I wouldn't want my fellow teachers to think, heaven forbid!, I'm not the quintessential ag teacher. But refreshing things happen when you suck at something and embrace it. In admitting your area of weakness to another teacher, you may be surprised to hear, "Really? I actually love SAEs. I have some stuff to help you. I suck at teaching soils, do you have anything cool for that?" Which leads to my next point...

Resolution Number 3:

Share and share alike.

Don't know if this better illustrates the perfectionism or the sharing - my CDE files where I keep good stuff.


An inherent part of our job is competition. But is there a reason that we can't have some cooperation in there, too? Many of my fellow teachers have been exceedingly kind in sharing things with me, and I happily share anything I have, but...

More than a few times, there have been teachers who mention being awesome at something and in the same breath uttering, "But I can't share that with ya."  Let's just remember that our ultimate purpose to bring success, not necessarily a championship, to students. All students. My students, your students. So if that could happen from me emailing you my top-secret, high-tech, one-of-a-kind study guide for Parliamentary Procedure, then check your inbox.

Resolution Number 4:

Be purposeful about being grateful.

Owl thank you notes are a good way to go.


This one is simple but possibly the most measurable. I work with so many helpful, enthusiastic people that I often hear myself thinking, "Thank goodness for my Principal." But do I ever actually say that TO her? Probably not enough. I like mail and cards, so I often write thank you notes. I love baking, so cookies are good too. Sometimes an email just to say, "I really appreciated the way you stood up for the agriculture department during our meeting today." could mean the world. I typed that in about 5 seconds so... I have no reason not to be purposeful with my gratitude this year.

Resolution Number 5:

Professional Development is my friend.

Apply in December of 2014 for NATAA. You won't regret it!

Group PD.jpg

Last year I submitted my application to the DuPont Agriscience Ambassador Program and completely forgot all about it. I was accepted and as I packed up for my trip last June, I started getting anxious. I could stay home and get things done, what if I don't make friends with anyone this week, will this PD even be worth it? Going through that week in June changed my outlook on teaching forever. It should be the training every agriculture teacher receives before they're in the classroom. I am now a less anxious, happier teacher because of it. So let's resolve to broaden our horizons and remember that PD is a two letter abbreviation, not a four letter word.

Resolution Number 6:
Slow down and enjoy the little things.

Go ahead and pretend like you didn't cry when you watched this movie.

Enjoy the small things!

This is important, even if it's the last one. I talk about this the most with my fellow teachers. How will I have children and still teach? How do I spend enough time with my husband if 50% of my Saturdays are busy with FFA?  How can I enjoy doing something totally unrelated from work when the deadline for State Degree applications is in two weeks and they are still in rough shape?

Back away from the computer slowly and just say no.The emails can wait. The applications will get done. They always get done every year even though we always panic, right?  But children are not young forever. When I finally have one or two, they are only going to have a few years to wear a massively oversized soccer jersey and run clumsily down the field only to make exactly 0 goals. That movie my husband wants to see? It's only in the theater for a few weeks, and it's just not the same when you aren't shoving extremely over-priced popcorn into your mouth in public.

For all the other perfectionist, type A agriculture teachers who suck at something and spend lots of time stressing out over our jobs because we love it so much...

Let's enjoy the little things both in the classroom and at home in 2014.

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