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Posted by Catherine DiBenedetto Aug 19, 2011

Being an AG teacher/FFA Advisor is one continuous circle revolving around the three core model. I never really get a chance to take a BREAK, but during the summer and periodically through out the year, I force myself to put the BRAKES on and slowdown. Our responsibilities never end. SAE projects continue, expand or become new ideas. State Fairs, CDE's, greenhouse maintenance, and leadership training for a new FFA officer team are only a few of the tasks that keep us busy long after the final day of school in June. E-mail communication never takes a break and there always seems to be something urgent that needs to be done by yesterday.


If this sounds familiar, you may rarely get a chance to take a break either. I hope that you take the time to put the brakes on and slowdown from time to time. We all need a chance to recharge, step away from the daily routine and get a fresh start. Today is the last official day of "summer break" for me. The 2011-2012 school year begins Monday August 22, 2011 with an inservice day. Tuesday in also an inservice day and Wednesday the students return from their break. Wednesday begins a new school year with new and exciting innovative ideas to help students achieve higher success.


Here is my TOP TEN (10) list of things to help make your school year as an AG Teacher/FFA Advisor successful:


10) Set GOALS- make sure they are SMART GOALS- not just your own- have your students set goals too- don't forget to review and update them regularly.

9) Implement one new teaching strategy from Day #1- something you have wanted to do but never really did because it was easier to use last year's lesson plan.

8) Use a planner - it helps keep everything organized- encourage your students to use planners too.

7)With your planner...Plan ahead and prepare several months in advance (if possible for the entire year)- calendars fill very quickly, it is good to know what is going on so that you do not double or triple book yourself.

6) Develop something new to enhance a weak area in your FFA Chapter POA (program of activities)-it is so easy to simply do the same thing from year to year. Poll your members and officers to find out what they want to do. Turn that two star chapter award into a three star! ***

5)Wag More, Bark Less- sometimes it is so easy to complain, try to look at the bright side, keep a positive attitude and encourage you students to do the same.

4) Evaluate and make certain what you are doing is good for students... it has to be all about them! The stakes are high , set high expectations.

3) Do you know what INQUIRY BASED LEARNING is? If so, are you using it in your classroom? How can you implement it more? If not, you have homework to do. Check out how to become a National Agriscience Ambassador and your teaching strategies will positively change forever!

2) EAT LUNCH- preferably sitting down-if at all possible!

1)If you rarely get a BREAK, force yourself to at least put the BRAKES on and slowdown from time to time.

Wishing all of you a successful 2011-2012 school year!




     Spring has sprung and my desk is scattered with a colorful, (organized) mess of post-it notes. Each note containing something that requires my attention; a be deadline to meet, a project to complete, a phone call to return, a purchase order to type, supplies to gather for a project, copies to be made, floral orders to be filled, a greenhouse hose to repair, SAE's to review and grade, invoices to pay, and_____________, ____________, and __________(you fill in the blanks, just look at some of the things on your desk). By the time I complete one task and remove the note, three more appear. I can barely see the wood tone color of my desk because of the piles of things to do and colorful squares to remind me to do them. (Sound familiar?)

      I consider myself to be an organized person but, during many times of the year I am coming and going in so many different directions and have so many things to do, it is difficult to remain focused and feel productive. Does anyone relate? If you are an AG teacher, I know, you know exactly what I am talking about. This is the life of an AG teacher. Constantly busy, always moving in different directions, going in early, working through lunch, and working long hours way beyond the sound of the bell that dismisses everyone else at the end of the school day. You have to love it!

     One suggestion, every now and then sit down to eat lunch, especially when you have a group of students in your classroom. Not only will it aid in the digestion process, it will give you a chance to relate to your students on a different level.  Pull yourself away from your computer or task at hand, sit with them, talk to them, show them how much you care by taking an interest in their sometimes crazy conversations and tastes in music and relax for a brief moment and enjoy your lunch! The Post-it notes will keep coming and going. With every note that I add or delete, I always try to remember the impact that I make on students every day as I open a new pack or new color and I keep plugging away. Welcome to a day in the life of an AG Teacher!

    So.... you want to be an ag teacher? Of course you do! I can't think of a better way to spend my time and it's a career full of opportunities!  Truth is, if I think back to my ag class when I was in high school, I remember my ag teacher telling me what a great teacher I would be. My response....  NO WAY! At the time it was not even close on my radar of career choices. I had bigger and better plans. I wanted to work in a wholesale greenhouse operation and eventually open my own retail florist one day.

     Well.... here's how my story goes in the making of an AG teacher. My ag class was, of course, my favorite in high school. My first horticulture class helped me find my passion and realize my potential to be successful. I participated in Career Development Events that enhanced my skills in public speaking and the floriculture industry. In the classroom laboratory I was able to apply the science and math skills I learned but did not quite understand on the papers, in the books, and on the black boards in my other classes. In my ag class, I was learning by doing.  Seeing the application by doing the work and applying the science made the problems much easier to solve. It all seemed to make sense when there was a real world connection. My SOE Project ( I am dating myself, here!), provided me with the state star agribusiness award and the entrepreneurial skills that I would later need.

     After graduation, I attended the University of Delaware and obtained a BS in Plant Science. I was right on track as planned to land a job in the greenhouse industry. Mind you..... Mr. Walker, my ag teacher still advised that I become an ag teacher. At the time, I felt the need to fulfill my career plan and still had little interest in teaching. I landed my greenhouse management job only to find out that it was not exactly what I really wanted to do.  I moved around in the horticulture industry for about seven years. My ag advisor was never far and we always kept in touch. He would never fail to tell me, "we need good ag teachers". Eventually I decided I was tired of working for other people. I have such high expectations and I wasn't finding the career success and satisfaction that I had hoped for. I wrote a business plan, borrowed some money and sunk all of my savings into opening a retail florist. Now, I was going to make my dream come true. Well... needless to say, although successful, the floral industry is a tough business. Changing trends, increased expenses, lack of skilled employees and eight years working 60 plus hours a week without a vacation took a toll on me. It was again time to make a career change. I decided to try the wholesale floral business and worked for two years as a sales representative. It was an interesting experience, but I still was not satisfied. Next, a local garden center needed a manager and my resume fit their needs and it was another opportunity to finally reach my career goal. An offer that they could not refuse to purchase their land closed them a year after I began. Okay, okay, okay..... the words of my ag teacher kept ringing in the back of my head. "WE NEED GOOD AG TEACHERS!" So... more than fifteen years after I graduated from high school, I went back to my ag classroom and asked my ag teacher for help. Within two weeks of our meeting a teaching position opened. I remember his call, Mr. Walker said, "the perfect teaching position has opened it involves horticulture and floriculture, it is perfect for you, apply now!"  I listened to him this time and here I am! Do you believe in fate? I do. Everything happens for a reason. I finally found my true passion. Teaching AG has become the absolute best thing that has ever happened in my life. I love what I do everyday. I am able to use all of my horticulture and floriculture knowledge to help the youth of our future gain the 21st century employability skills that are needed to sustain and improve our global economy. I have greenhouses and a floriculture lab that I work in everyday. My students and I are creative and inquisitive together. We problem solve and have fun. The FFA Organization provides opportunities for travel and professional development. My passion for agriscience and the FFA Organization drives me to provide more for my students than was provided for myself. I am doing what I love and loving what I do, making a difference everyday.

     This year, I was awarded the honor of being my school district Teacher of the Year. I guess Mr. Walker was right. He saw something in me that I did not recognize. It seems ag teachers have a sixth sense for those kinds of things.  Remember.... "we need good ag teachers", make the choice and find your success and satisfaction in life. Life as an ag teacher is highly recommended!


Posted by Catherine DiBenedetto Mar 13, 2011

I just returned from San Francisco, CA where I had the opportunity to attend the NSTA conference (National Science Teacher Association). If you are not an NSTA member, you should be. There is a discount for membership through NAAE. Check with your state association and they should be able to help provide information for obtaining membership. As a National Agriscience Ambassador, I have attended the conference and presented DuPont sponsored inquiry based learning workshops for the past two years. Our goal is to help increase inquiry in classrooms through agriscience related topics using Lab Aids materials. We are helping science teachers understand that agriscience is the application of the science they are teaching. NSTA provides numerous resources and information that is relevant to the agriscience curriculum. I come home with timely and useful information, bags of resources and new ideas that helps ignite a renewed energy to keep me going for the remainder of the year. I meet many teachers from across the nation and I leave them with ideas to go back to their homes and work with their Ag departments. When we collaborate we can help solve the challenges within the global economic system that we embark upon together.  Check it out and begin your plans to attend next year. The NSTA conference will be held in Indianapolis,Indiana in 2012, a familiar place to many of us!

A typical day in my classroom involves as much "fun" learning as possible, but even the best teachers must admit, it can be difficult to keep students engaged everyday, bell to bell. Ag teachers generally teach 3, 4, 5 or more preps and lesson planning is very time consuming. My lessons include a variety of hands-on activities that differentiate instruction to match learning styles and help students see the connections to the real world. I work very hard to plan lessons that will actively engage students, keep them on task and interested in the material. However, I still find that some students always seem to slack off, forget to finish assignments, turn them in incomplete or never have pictures for their SAE projects! Hmmmmmmmmm. What is an Ag teacher to do? Well, I decided to try a rather simple change that has yielded success. I brainstormed an idea to help keep my students working and completing assignments. What do I call it?  Fun Fridays!   What is it? It is, as I mentioned a very simple change. I plan to have a fun activity on Friday that relates to the current teaching unit in each class.Usually something that is very hands-on and gives me an opportunity to assess performance and understanding of the previous material. For example: Floriculture I - Unit: Principles of Floral Design. This past Friday students designed a triangle arrangement using the knowledge they gained from the previous unit. Example #2- Horticulture I- Components of Soil/Media. Students developed an experiment using various soil components to determine the best combination for seed germination. So you are thinking big deal, these are activities that we would normally complete within the unit anyway. For some reason, kids just like the idea that it is "Fun Friday" and they get the opportunity to do something fun and different at the end of the week that completely applies to the lesson. So what's the hitch? In order for "Fun Fridays" to occur, the majority of all of the work, from all of the students in the class must be completed and turned in by the end of class on every Thursday. What are the results? Well.... I have noticed a decrease in late work and incomplete assignments. Students are working together to help each other stay on task and we are having a great deal of FUN on Fridays! It may be just a simple play on words, but it is keeping my students on task and working to obtain a reward ( an educational reward no less! ) on Friday. Simple, yet successful!

Students at our school proudly wear their "I support FFA" buttons and enjoy answering questions about FFA and agriculture from people that normally do not stop to talk. It is a great opportunity to promote agriculture and our FFA programs. The front showcase in our high school is displayed with agriculture career, scholarship, career pathway, CDE, and SAE information. We also highlight the achievements of our students.

FFA week was somewhat short for us in Delaware this year. Monday was our traditional holiday for President's Day and on Tuesday, a snowy weather forcast forced the majority of our schools to close. We still made the best of it at my high school, and plan to extend the festivities into next Monday. Normally, we do the same things year after year. Tuesday - spirit day (blue/gold day) Wednesday- camouflage/plaid day Thursday- FFA Trivia Day Friday - FFA Gear Day. This year we changed Thursday to AG Career Day- dress up as your favorite agriculture career professional. It was quite successful. We had a number of students and even faculty members participate. It is so nice to see support amongst a group. I, of course, was dressed in my best FFA advisor wear today and plan to sport my favorite FFA sweatshirt and jeans tomorrow. This week offers a great opportunity to promote agriculture and our FFA programs. I hope you all had a fun and exciting FFA Week too!

Race to the Top, State Testing, development and adoption of common core standards has placed a major focus  on the four core courses; Math, Science, English and Social Studies. Career and Technical Education programs seem to be taking a back seat as the times and focus on education changes. As Agriscience Educators, now more than ever before it is extremely important that we showcase what we have been and continue to do in our classrooms and labs on a daily basis. With the beginning of the 3rd Marking Period recently starting, I began new units in every class this week. As I reflect on those units; I am teaching Math, Science, English and Social Studies. The cross-curricular connections are always there and I think sometimes we tend to forget how much knowledge we provide through Agriscience. I think I also heard President Obama mention the importance of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) education in his State of the Union address. Agriscience is the answer.


Here's what my teaching units looked like this week:

1st Period - Floriculture I - Plant Identification and History of Floral Design

2nd Period - Horticulture I - Environmental Effects on Plant Growth - Light, Water, Temperature, pH, Soil Textural Triangle and Transplant Geraniums for Spring Plant Sale

3rd Period - Floriculture II - Plant Identification, Interior Plant Scaping, Greenhouse Maintenance

4th Period - Lunch and Planning- Helping students complete Proficiency, State and American Degree Applications (Due next week!) Plus working on information for an FFA Week Display

5th Period - Floriculture Independent Study- Working on Floriculture CDE Plant Identification, Problems and Practicums, and Preparing Marketing Plan for the Valentine's Day Sale

6th Period - Horticulture II -Plant Identification, Calculating Fertilizer Requirements and Planning a seed germination schedule for the Spring Plant Sale


Hmmmm......... think what we teach is important to help students make connections to the real world? Plus.. we had a snow day this week and were only in school four days!.....And it is Friday night and I just finished reviewing an American Degree Application.


My point... Frequently we are asked to "raise the rigor and relevance" in our classrooms. The average person has no idea what an Agriscience classroom looks like. They have no idea what the daily life of an ag teacher is like. We must tell them and show them.  We know that Agriscience is the application of many core standards and through the FFA we offer students additional life and leadership skills that will help them succeed in the demanding 21st century workplace. We need to assure that we have the support of our administrations. political leaders, community members and business professionals. They need to know what we do and what we provide for our students. The impact we make on students is amazing.


You know the rigorous cross-curricular connections.  You know the value and relevance of your Agriscience program. You know the passion and dedication that you give everyday to make it successful.


FFA Week is quickly approaching in February! It is time for show and tell! What are you doing to showcase your program?

     Agriscience education plays an important role in helping students succeed in all areas. The month of December was very busy. Now that I think about it... what month as an Ag teacher isn't busy? Anyway... as I mentioned before the production of fresh evergreen wreaths, grave blankets (cemetery mounds), fresh evergreen centerpieces and the production, growth, maintenance and sale of a poinsettia crop can be a very profitable fundraiser. A profitable fundraiser with many  opportunities for learning by doing. After all, profit does not come without a great deal of knowledge, planning, organization and hard work.

     Students gain valuable knowledge, experience and perspective on what it is like to operate a business during a busy holiday season in the floriculture industry. They learn work ethic, teamwork skills, plant identification, marketing skills and the science of greenhouse production, management and maintenance. Students gain knowledge and create ideas that expand areas of their SAE projects. They work hands-on to develop a sense of pride and accomplishment in their work that helps to boost their confidence and build2010-2011 Pics 104.jpg a community of students that are learning by doing and having some fun along the way!

     Yes, it is a great deal of work to grow a saleable poinsettia crop. Yes, evergreen branches produce sap that gets everywhere!  Yes, making fresh evergreen wreaths by hand is much more time consuming and difficult than buying them pre-made. Yes, making over 100 grave blankets in 10 days can become hectic and monotonous. However, when my students enter my classroom with a smile on their face ready to work and prepared to meet the production goals of the day, I know it is all worth every extra hour of planning and organization. When I hear, "Miss D, I love this class, can I stay here next period too?", I know I am providing a safe learning environment where kids enjoy learning!


A Day in the Life....If you want to be an AG Teacher in the Floriculture Industry, here is some perspective on what to expect during the month of December. An excellent fundraiser is having your students make and sell Fresh Evergreen Wreaths, Grave Blankets (Cemetery Mounds) and Fresh Evergreen Centerpieces. It is a huge undertaking and requires a great deal of organization, preparation and hard WORK, but also a great way to teach your students design skills, material selection, marketing and sound work ethic; while raising money that you can use to benefit your program. Here is what my 1st week of "Winter Holiday Production" looks like:


Monday - Check Greenhouses to assure proper temperatures to maintain poinsettias during sale time this month. Scout for Whitefly!  Cleanup Poinsettias for sale. Cleanup and organize floriculture lab. Unpack holiday supplies and decorations.

Tuesday- Consolidate plants in greenhouses and lab to clear area, take down and move hydroponics systems, move benches and set up area to make room for CITRUS FRUIT! Yes, that comes in this month too! Make BOWS.

Wednesday - Prepare Floriculture Lab for Winter Holiday Production of Fresh Evergreen Wreaths, Grave Blankets (Cemetery Mounds) and Fresh Evergreen Centerpieces. Receive first shipment of evergreens and supplies. Unpack, prepare and organize work stations for production. Wire Pine Cones. Make BOWS!

Thursday - Fresh Evergreen Wreath Demonstrations, Review and Production for Sale on Saturday! Wire more Pine Cones. Keep making BOWS!

Friday -  Continue Fresh Evergreen Wreath Production... did I mention a sale tomorrow!?  and by the way .... we need more BOWS! 

Saturday - SALE of Fresh Evergreen Wreaths and Poinsettias

.... and that is a rather slow week. Stay tuned for the rest of the month as orders keep coming in from the school district and local community.


Also, don't that National FFA Convention has past and we are in the swing of things back in the classroom, lab and greenhouses...... Remember to consider your own professional development opportunities. As AG Teachers we continuously focus on preparing our students for CDE's, degrees, proficiency awards and LIFE! We keep the candle burning at both ends while teaching, fundraising and planning engaging activities to attract and keep our students coming to FFA meetings. We also need to make and take the time to recharge ourselves. What better way than to attend the NAAE Convention. If you have not had the chance to travel without students, you are in for a treat or possibly you may be wondering why you are in bed before midnight! I was rather lost without them but is was well worth it! As a National Agriscience Ambassador, I had the opportunity to present workshops at the NAAE Convention in Tennessee last year and it was my first time at a NAAE Convention. I was very busy with my presentations, but in between sessions, I managed to attend several workshops and meetings. I met new people, networked and gained many new ideas to take back to my classroom and FFA Program. I highly recommend adding the next NAAE Convention to your list of things to do if you are not heading to Las Vegas this week.

The Time is Now

Posted by Catherine DiBenedetto Oct 19, 2010

     The Stanley Cup, the World Series, the Super Bowl... The National FFA Convention.  In other words, the ultimate FFA fan's dream come true. As an AG educator an FFA advisor we are blessed with many opportunities to travel and this week we are all heading to Indianapolis, Indiana for the National FFA Convention. The 'sea of blue jackets' that will walk the city this week is a rewarding and refreshing experience. It is the moment that we have all prepared for.  It will be a busy and exciting week full of leadership activities, CDE Competitions, Award Banquets and recognition for all of the hard work,effort and time that we have dedicated to prepare our students to become the leaders of tomorrow.

     This is an exciting convention for me. After six years of teaching, I have five American Degree Recipients and a National Officer Candidate.  All of those hours of hard work do pay off. It is extremely rewarding to see the accomplishments of our students. Times like now are why we continue to give freely of our time. 

     Good luck to everyone and safe travels. Enjoy convention and relish in the accomplishments of your students. Don't forget to pat yourselves on the back for a job well done!

     First, where did the summer go and second, how is it possible that it is almost time to leave for National Convention already?  As Ag Teachers we dedicate countless hours to the success of our programs and our students. Why? It is simple.... because we love what we do! Could you imagine how much extra time you would have on your hands if you only had one 'prep'. Wow, I almost think that would be somewhat boring. To teach the same course several times a day...I am not sure that would be for me. I love the opportunity to teach a variety of plant science topics and concepts throughout the day. In the floriculture lab in the morning, out in the greenhouses by 3rd period and outside in the landscape by the end of the day. Now that is a full day of teaching and learning to do! I can't even imagine leaving school when the final bell rings at the end of the day. I love the hustle of my students when they come into the floriculture lab at the end of the school day, excited to work on their SAE projects or gather for a meeting to plan the next FFA activity or event.


     Have you ever noticed that our students seem to migrate to the 'AG Wing' of the school? I always have students stopping by to say 'Hello', look for a friend, use a computer, share a story or ask for advice, and of course, look for snacks to eat. We create a safe environment that our students enjoy visiting. We help provide opportunities to create life-long memories and we provide our students with 21st century skills that are essential for their success . We give them an opportunity to break away from the typical school day and a chance to relax. Don't get me wrong, I run a tight ship with high expectations, I play by the rules and teach my students the importance of responsibility and good work ethic but, my students know that they can come to my room for support and help when they need a place to get away at the end of the day. They also know that you can have fun while working hard and reaching goals.


     Our list of things to do never seems to end and yet we rarely say NO to all of the requests to help with activities, serve on committees, write curriculum, plan leadership events, write letters of recommendation, prepare students for CDE's and ensure that SAE records are up to date. This is where all of our time goes and we love every minute of it. Before we know it, we will be selling citrus fruit and poinsettias(if you can avoid the dreaded attack of the Whitefly!) and preparing for our spring plant sales. All the while, having the time of our lives inspiring our students to become the leaders of our future. Life as an Ag Teacher provides a wonderful opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our students while we are doing what we love and are passionate about! Can you think of anything else that you would rather be doing? I sure can't.

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