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I’ve never been afraid to have students take notes, listen to lectures, or learn facts.  But that doesn’t mean my classroom is one-dimensional.  Being a firm believer in engaging students in as many ways as possible (and having had to write a paper or two on brain-based learning in college) I change it up as creatively as I can, whether through painful originality or blatant thievery.




So is this post about creative teaching?  Nope.  It’s about the things my students have had to do this week in order to step outside their boxes – and maybe for my entertainment.




Example 1:  My agricultural biology class has moved to seventh period (we have seven periods a day – no blocks for us).  While I thought coming back from lunch 5th period jacked up on Mountain Dew was rough for 31 sophomores last term, the end of the day has created a whole new set of challenges.  The worst one being their self-determination that learning ends at 2:23, despite the fact that schools continues until 3:12pm.  Therefore, a little ‘motivation’ was in order Monday as they were taken outside, divided into four groups, and then given the task of creating a dance that demonstrates the four steps of mitosis.




Yep, picture that in your mind a minute.




The beauty of having these 31 particular sophomores is that I had 29 of them in Intro to Agricultural Science their freshmen year, so there is a fair amount of connection/relationship developed at this point.   Otherwise this might have been a train wreck.  As it was, fairly well choreographed.  Two and a half stars.



Example 2:  Like I mentioned, the new semester has just begun.  For the Intro to Ag Science final the week before last, I told them it would be comprehensive and even open-note.  What they didn’t know is that their final would be the task of creating a TV-show presentation that summarized everything we’d done during the term and include why each was important to learn about for the future.  The result?  A couple groups did game shows (quite well), another was a news broadcast, but the gems of the day were “The Young and the Restless present Ag” (complete with theme music and Timmy in a tractor accident) and a sock puppet show.  Melodrama and smelly feet all in one day.  Three stars.




Example 3:  Veterinary Science is currently in their surgical procedures unit.  This includes suturing and some rehabilitated bananas (thank you, Ideas Unlimited!) as well as some of the procedures down in production agriculture, such as castration, docking, etc.  I decided to throw in ear notching for pigs as well.  To apply the learning, students cut out a set of pig’s ears and had to notch them according to the litter and individual numbers they received.




While this may sound pretty vanilla at this point some of you may predict the cherry coming on top.   Upon completion of their ears students had to take the ears to their heads, then go around the room and identify one another on a note card.  One this was done they sorted themselves by litter.




To summarize, juniors and seniors running around with orange pig ears taped to their heads.  I love my job.




Four stars.

Returning to high school as a teacher after 4-7 years of college (depending on how many degrees/victories laps you took in order to get it all done) is kind of like re-enrolling as a freshmen all over again.  Depending on the teachers in your school/FFA advisors in your area, they may regard you that way as well.  Overwhelmed is the word of the day, seven is the number of preps you have and zero is how many lesson plans you've ever put together for that particular unit you're teaching tomorrow.


Some of you just laughed out loud out of recognition - you've been there - or are weeping from realization - you are there.  But that's okay - because I can see the light.  And I am here to share; this post is for you, probationary teacher.


I recently realized this winter that I am reaching the light at the end of this particular tunnel.  No, not the retirement tunnel.  Ha!  I'll retire in 35-57 years from today, depending on public employee retirement systems.  It came to me as I sat at home a Tuesday evening with a laptop on my lap and a clear plan for tomorrow's classes.  I've reach my second high school "senior year" - and for you new teachers it is awaiting you, too.  Brainstorming five lessons until 10pm the night before Monday is not the Sunday ritual it may have been a couple years ago.  After three years I'm closing in on having fairly well put together assignments, activities, and assessements.  Prep is not spent Googling 'asexual reproduction' in the hopes that my next class will have something to do.  I actually have some tests already written.  ALREADY!  Before the day before the test!


Maybe you're much more capable than I.  You could be the person who makes copies of every assignment for the semester during the week of inservice in August.  Bully for all that.  I'm lucky if I can get the syllabus put out before the Friday before school.  So you can understand my joy in realizing that as my senior year continues my newfound preparedness that had cautiously emerged last year has fully bloomed into a much smaller demand on my time.


Of course, this does not mean that lesson planning is a thing of the past.  I am a firm believer in never-ending improvement as well as a routine re-inventor of the wheel, and try to keep bumping up the quality of past years' work.  Somtimes that means deleting the PowerPoint found in that Google search and putting together some real good curriculum.  This year has involved expanding a semester class from two years ago in to a year of coursework and curriculum, so don't be fooled - I still have planning and prepping to be done.  I'm a long ways from being done figuring this gig out, that is for sure.  I just seem to be able to get it done before dark some days now.


So for those of you in your second high school freshmen, sophomore, or junior years, know that every day gets easier and every year greater.  Look forward to having some tools in the toolbox that are already laid out and ready to go - kid tested and self-approved.  Yes, your days are still going to be long (did you read my first post?) but time will be available for many new ideas and efforts.  In short, no matter what it feels like now it will get better - and you will be happy with this choice of profession.  It's worth it.


Challenge for 'experienced' teachers - post a comment and affirm that we all get better at our job the longer we do it!

I tire quickly of people who brag.  I don't even like the word "brag" at some primal level.  With that said, I am going to brag today.


Yes, the irony is there.  My older students know I have a short tolerance for excessive celebration about themselves in front of others.  Can we be happy about what we did?  Sure.  Can we pat ourselves on the back for a job well done?  You bet; be proud of what we do!  Do you have to tell everyone and their dog how individually awesome you are for the sake of comparison?  Now you're lame.  I have one younger student who has yet to master this concept of sportsmanship; in fact, he once asked if I ever brag to the other teachers when we win CDEs.  It was incomprehensible that I did not.


And no, it's not just because one of the other ag teachers around here is my wife.


Yet, I still feel the need to brag about my students today, after what was for the rest of our school a four day weekend (Veteran's Day and Friday were days off) but for ten Sutherlin FFA members was 3 days of fence building, a task that became worthy of a reality TV show.  Here's the gist:


Backstory:  Our land lab is leased from the local irrigation and water control district, has been for nearly 30 years.  The local director is replacing fence around the reservoir and offered to pay the FFA to do it as a fundraiser, instead of hiring the county work crew.  I am all about real work for real money (I inherited a strong dislike of bake sales and car washes from my former ag teacher, as many groups already do them), so with kids on board we signed on.


The Timeframe:  We begin our tale Thursday afternoon, following the local Veteran's Day parades (after all, the point of the day off is so you can participate in such activities).  We begin deconstruction (our specialty) in order to clean the slate for the new fence.  We all agree we want to get this project done this weekend, so we don't have to worry about it later.


The Drama:  Like any good episode of Deadliest Catch, something must go awry.  And so it does:  the irrigation district director bought 1047 field fence wire for posts that were put in the ground for 39" tall wire, so it had to all be taken back.  Then a shear bolt sheared off on the tractor auger.  Then the cattle were in the next field that were supposed to be gone.  Then someone lost the screwdrivers for putting up fence clips.  Then the chain was missing.  Then the crossmembers were put on too high for the H-braces.  Then the drill batteries went dead.  Then we ran out of fence clips.  Then the director drove off with the extra fence clips.  Then it rained.  Then the brace wire snapped.  Then I poked a hole in my thumbnail with barb wire.


And so on...


The Bragging: Too often people complain about the work ethic of today's youth.  To be fair, I can offer several examples.  But this weekend, those kids met each morning at 8am and worked solid until dark every day.  There was no complaining, no shirking, no sitting down on the job, no avoiding tasks.  They were there to get a job done, and that's what they did.  They took care in their work, took apart what needed to be redone right, and had a pretty good attitude the whole time.  These days I wonder if I could find a dozen adults with the same abilities.  None of us really wanted to be there at 5:15pm Saturday evening, but we finished what we could and got the job done.


And so today, I brag not about myself, because I really can't take credit for much more than being able to teach some great kids.  I brag about ten students who put in the time and got the job done.  They are prime examples of what the individuals involved in agricultural education should possess.


But I guess I can brag a litte, because I get to teach them.  And not everybody gets that kind of pleasure.


Share the accomplishments of your students!  If there is one thing that truly keeps us in the business, it's their success!

Everyone knows we build relationships with those who we have things in common.  In high school you were probably friends with the people you played sports with, were in clubs with, or had similar social interests.  College friends we keep in contact today were yesterday's roommates, classmates, (barmates?), and others time was well spent with.  So it's no surprise that ag teachers - as a rule - build strong relationships with one another.


In our part of the world, the ag teacher network is legendary.  New potential administrator?  You call the ag teacher who had that admin last year and get the 411 (or the...details).  Not sure how to prepare for a certain CDE or teach a new topic?  Email the recognized 'expert' in that area.  We know more people in other schools than just about any other teacher - and we are stronger for it.  Do you ever hear your math teachers talk about the great time they had at the math in-service with all the other math teachers?  We get along, we work together, we share the same schedules, we teach the same things, we have the same challenges, and we vacation in Indianapolis together in the fall.


My fellow ag teachers are helping me pull the fat out of the fire on a daily basis.  The week before National Convention was occupied with our State Soils CDE, a short 3.5 hour drive away.  Living on the west side of Oregon, the kids were excited (well, cautiously intrigued?) to journey to the rain shadow eastern aspect of the Cascade Mountains.  We on the wet/west side of Oregon liken the east side to...the Sahara Desert:  sandy, dry, and sparsely populated.  And if those are the only criteria, we're spot on.  But leaving at 6am meant a couple things got left at home on my desk - like the soils manuals.  Probably important.   A quick cell phone call along the way and my able ag teaching colleague Ben meets us at his classroom at 7am as we drive through his community and lets me borrow a copy.  Fat secured.

I am proud to be part of the ag teacher network.  Professional developments are three-quarter workshop, one-quarter family reunion.  This month has offered us Oregon ag teachers several opportunities to get together, with our state association's fall in-service, National Convention, and a state CDE.  Growing as a teacher comes from conversation, sharing, and commiserating together.  If you aren't taking part in these sorts of things, find a way to.  I get a lot out of technical content workshops for curriculum and program components, and I get so much more out of the continued interaction and relationship building with my fellow ag teachers.  Don't miss out on the next chance you get to spend some time with our colleagues; I hear there is a big get together in Nevada coming up in a month.  I hope to see you there.


I'll need someone to hang out with.


Challenge:  Comment below and tell how your colleagues have helped/influenced you!


I'd like to say I'm the only ag teacher sitting at school on Sunday afternoon. And that I'm the only one who spent 14 hours three different days at school this past week (this was a busier week). Or that I'm the only one who is going to be in the classroom exactly half the weekdays of October, and on trips/activities/professional development for the other half and half the weekends too (and to those who think those are vacations remember that for every day I'm not in the classroom, I still come up with the lesson plans and will take care of the grading from those days, besides all the duties that come with the activities - it truly is easier to be at school than not!). And surely I am the only one whose truck smelled like the inside of a cow because I picked up some rumen lining at 7am from the local custom meat locker on the way to school for a lab on rumen microbes. Most definitely, I am the only one who has considered calling my Congressman to legally extend the day two more hours. Yes, I would like to say that I am the only one in this situation.


But if I did say that, my wife would hit me, because she's an ag teacher too.


We all know these situations aren't limited to my corner of the world; it just seems to come with the title 'ag teacher.' We know who gets to school early and we know who leaves the school last, because we are often here for both ends of the day. We are on first-name basis with the night janitors, and know which ones will let you in the office after it's locked and which ones won't.


But then, we also know our students better than just about any other teacher in the school. We know their parents, or lack thereof; we know what they enjoy about school, and what they don't; we know what they want to do after high school, and which ones don't have a clue; we know their personalities and their strengths and their weaknesses and their fears and we know the potential they carry.


It can be easy to feel a little overwhelmed and be run a little ragged from time to time, but I think most ag teachers agree on two things: we do it for our students, and we love it. It's because of those same students we do all the things we do and commit the time we have. If we didn't like our jobs, we wouldn't take the time to craft effective and engaging lessons, we wouldn't set practices during the evenings and on weekends, and my truck wouldn't smell like internal organs. If I didn't like this job, I'd go home at 3:30pm amidst the mad dash of some of other teachers out the door.


The fact of the matter is I enjoyed my fourteen hours here on Wednesday. I was thrilled to watch the FFA officers lead fifty FFA members in the first chapter meeting of the year, handling business, facilitating icebreakers to get to know the new members, and getting everyone excited to have fun and learn for another year. I enjoyed Thursday's conferences; sometimes you are the only teacher who can tell a parent their student is enjoyable, engaged, and working hard in your class. And while Friday night was the first time I've ever announced a football game (it's just like a market lamb show right?) I had plenty of students afterward give me a good-natured bad time for doing it. This week happened to be a busy one, and I still have plenty of opportunity to do other things outside of school I enjoy with family and friends.


I stand firm in my convictions; we may grumble from time to time about the busier schedules and occasional long day, but in the end we have busy schedules because we choose to do it for kids and we love what we do. I avoid things I don't like (see my wife re: laundry). The time I spend with students as they struggle to decide who they are and who they want to be is the most valuable, enjoyable, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny thing I could be doing. So let this be the theme for the year as we share in one another's stories: I love what I do, and doing this for kids is the most important thing I can be part of.


And I wouldn't trade away a minute of this 26-hour day.



Challenge:  1)  post why you love what you do (ag teacher or otherwise!), and 2)  share how you know what you do is important!  I really do want to hear it!

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