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The X Factor

Posted by Tiffany Morey Feb 2, 2016

The X factor: something all possessed by all educators, especially ag teachers. It comes in many forms, most notably positive and negative. It can be a wonderful surprise filled with warm fuzzies, or a harsh reality check that makes one question their abilities. The X factor is something that is continually developed throughout one's life and teaching career, and remains with them forever. It shapes the person and professional they become, and has the power to permanently change their life for the good or the bad. The X factor is free, and is something that never expires or runs out.

Wondering what the X factor represents? It is experience. According to Randy Pausch, the author of the phenomenal book The Last Lecture: "Experience is what we get when we didn't get what we wanted."  This quote applies perfectly to teaching agriculture. Oftentimes, we learn our most memorable and life-changing lessons when things don't do the way we plan. Whether we choose to use these things to help us improve, or ignore them only  to keep having the same experience over and over, is up to us.


Teaching ag can be filled with many negative experiences. First, there those faced by teachers of any subject such as lack of engagement from students, difficulty with classroom management, dealing with tough parents/students, and observations that don’t go as planned. Then, are are those related specifically to what we do: CDE teams not doing as well as expected, FFA officers and members not preparing or fulfilling their commitments, teaching a bunch of different classes all with their own prep, the difficult student clientele put in ag classes, and seeds or plants for the plant sale failing to grow. The list of negative experiences is endless if that is what you focus on.

However, teaching and teaching ag can be filled with endless positive experiences if one simply decides to see them. From a lesson going better than expected to a student mastering a difficult concept when they didn’t think they could to a group of students pulling together to accomplish a task, those great experiences are easily visible.We also are lucky enough to see our FFA members and teams pull off surprise wins and placings, watch officers conquer their fears of public speaking, witness sick animals and plants make miraculous recoveries, and see the looks on our students faces when the lightbulb goes on and they truly become passionate about ag.

The experiences that we choose to focus on can be a tough decision to make and it has the power to either make or break us as ag teachers. While it would be great if all of the good stuff could happen to us right away, sometimes they take time for us to be able to see and appreciate. It’s easy to focus on not getting what we want, but that is also what can cause us to give up and leave our wonderful profession before we find our true talent for it. Like the Rolling Stones said: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well you might just find, you get what you need.”


We all have the X factor. We all have the power to use the X factor for great things in teaching ag. How we choose to express it is entirely up to us. Hopefully you will choose to use your X factor to achieve greatness in your classroom and your life.


Many of you are familiar with the movie Mary Poppins. In one iconic scene, Mary Poppins shows the children her magic carpet bag and much to their amazement, begins pulling out all kinds of crazy items such as as lamp and a plant that they never thought could possibly fit in there. As ag teachers, we aren't all that different from Mary Poppins at times and we often amaze our students with our resourcefulness and our ability to make things happen. We too, possess our own magic bags that contain the necessary items our students need to succeed, whether they be real bags with actual items or our toolkits of knowledge and information.


The real Mary Poppins with her magical carpet bag


I'd like to share the story of my own Mary Poppins bag. While it may not be magical, it is special because it was given to me on the last day of student teaching by my cooperating teacher with the message "every young ag teacher needs a bag to carry all of the important stuff". Over the years, my bag has gotten A LOT of use from being trucked to school everyday and also to FFA events like CDEs and State Convention. It's straps have become frayed, and its print may not be as bright as it was, but it still continues to carry any and all of the things I need to teach ag each day. On CDE days it does double duty and serves as a survival kit for my members with a sewing kit, extra CDE materials, clipboards, calculators, and a place for them to stow their stuff while they are competing. Many of the items in it are mundane and ordinary: lunchbox, wallet, cell phone, chapstick, hair brush, coat/sweater/umbrella etc., but it does have its share of unique things that can be found in it. Please see below for a few of my favorites.



My Mary Poppins bag



The keys to everything ag: classroom, school, supply cabinets, Gator, tractor, golf cart etc.


When accidents happen, ag teachers are prepared.



You never know when you will need your PPE (not pictured: the ear plugs that are hiding somewhere in the bag)


A nostalgic reminder of the place where my ag ed journey began.



For the student (or teacher) that needs a writing utensil at an FFA event: my bag has you covered.



Sometimes, you just need a reminder.



If you have the time, please share what is in your Mary Poppins bag for teaching ag. Hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday! Keep being the magical and awesome ag teachers that you are!



Do you ever snap into the realization, maybe randomly while you’re in the middle of doing something, that you’re an adult?


It happened most recently to me at National FFA Convention. It was 7:00am, I was looking over the wheel of a 12-passenger van, staring at the road, driving into the city with 9 sleepy FFA members in Official Dress in the my rear-view mirror. And it hit me.

I’m in charge.

I’m the adult.

When did that happen?

Does anyone see me over here adult-ing all over the place?





Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being an adult. I plowed through college classes because I was *THAT* ready to graduate, start teaching, and doing “adult” things.



But sometimes, I look around my classroom and realize that everything that happens within the four walls is completely up to me. Me, someone who considers one of the greatest joys in life to be changing into lounge pants when I get home. Someone who considers pizza a food group. Someone who actively utilized words like “fam, turn up, and totes.” Someone who knows why the Hotline Blings. Someone who thinks 1990 was still 10 years ago. Someone who can’t believe that she’s too old now to apply for MTV’s Real World. I’m kinda like a cat. I’m independent enough to take care of myself but someone should still probably do it for me.



Sarcasm aside, teaching high school students is really the best of both worlds. I get the wisdom of being a few years older, and the experiences that keep me young. In some cases, they also help me gain perspective.



*Story time!* Let me tell you what I was doing on the very first day of 2015.



Over winter break, someone was breaking into our farm and animal lab. Long story short, they were people who were uneducated about agriculture and thought they were doing the right thing, even though they weren’t.  At the time, some locks and other security measures weren’t up to par and it was too easy for someone to jump the chain-link fence and do whatever they wanted in my classroom.

After I discovered their break-in, I was enraged. I decided that I am the adult in the situation, I will take control. So…in a very un-adult fashion, I went a little crazy. I had a feeling these criminals were coming back and I was determined to catch them.



I switched my SUV out for my husband’s black truck. I put on all black, charged my cell phone, bought a hot cup of coffee, and drove up to school once it had gotten dark. I parked in a side lot that faced our farm but was far enough away to avoid detection (I’m so covert, I’m essentially already in the Special Forces). I turned the engine off and put my hood up over my head in a feeble attempt at making the truck look empty. This couldn’t be a stupid idea because I’m the adult and adults are the ones who make good decisions.




I had been waiting for about 30 minutes when a member of the regional FFA officer team called. They were in Nashville and asked if I was free to meet up for dinner. As their regional advisor, I had gotten really close to them and wanted to catch up, but I explained I was in the middle of a covert operation. I couldn’t abandon my post. They understood.



I waited… and waited, stewing in my frustration. The area is pretty urban so cars are constantly passing on the road that was to my right. I watched every time someone turned down the road to the school, only to continue past it to the local park.



UNTIL, a Suburban slowly pulled into the school lot and past my truck. They accelerated until they were directly in front of our farm gates. My adrenaline was pumping as I watched a young male fling open passenger door, jump out, and begin to climb the fence. At this point it was basically Def Con 1. I was thinking I might need to moonlight as a police officer because hot darn, I just caught myself a criminal.



My hands were shaking as I turned on the engine. My lights hit the perps and they fled, but I pulled up to block the only exit from the parking lot. What now, thugs? My face was bright red with anger as their car got closer. I was about to come face to face with these jokers. What in the world would they look like? Did I scare them, or were they going to confront me??  What gives someone the right to just come into MY classroom and do whatever they wanted?!



And then the faces in the front seat came into view… the smiling faces of my regional officers.


After hearing about my secret mission, they wanted to give me a laugh (and a heart attack) by coming up to school on their way to dinner. Of course, they weren’t really the ones breaking into the lab. But in that moment, teenagers gave me a reality check and snapped me back into being a rational adult. My frustration melted with the massive amount of laughter that echoed off the brick walls of my school building. The anger was replaced with validation and love of some of the best students I’ve ever known. I ended my mission and warmed up back home.

(Don't they look like trouble? I took this picture after I recovered.)



Soon after, a security camera was installed and locks were changed. Moreover, our community began to embrace our urban farm and we haven’t had any incidents since.



Whenever I lose perspective, I think back to my covert mission and those awesome kids that remind me that I do what I love, and love what I do.



Now ... where’s my adult-ing award?

Home Sweet Home

Posted by Tiffany Morey Oct 20, 2015

Last spring, it was announced that the ag classroom would be undergoing a full renovation to make it more ideal for teaching the current course offerings. The classroom hadn't been changed since the school was built back in the 1950s and was still set up for a program specializing in landscaping and ag mechanics/farm machinery maintenance. It was comprised of a large shop area and small classroom outfitted with a random assortment of furniture and equipment that had been recycled from other classrooms.


Over the years the maintenance department had taken over much of the shop area to use for storage of supplies and broken furniture, and it was very cluttered and crammed. On occasion, it was also used to store vehicles and it wasn't uncommon to come in in the morning to find John Deere Gators, golf carts, tractors, and even mini vans parked in the middle of my classroom. These vehicular surprises led us to lovingly nickname the room "the ag garage" and led the school to refer to it simply as the ag shop. Thanks to a wonderfully committed administrative team who truly believes in the benefits of agricultural education, and a generous grant from a local donor, the classroom has been completely transformed from the ag shop into the ag classroom. We even have a sign for the door to signify the transformation.


However, the move into the new room wasn't without it's share of complications. Renovations were supposed to be completed by August 1st to allow for a month to install the furniture, get the CO, and give me a chance to unpack and move. In a perfect world, this would have allowed for us to start school in our brand new room. The world is not perfect, and the room wasn't even close to being done until the end of September. After several crazy and difficult weeks without a classroom, desk, or computer and having to teach CASE/ag on a cart in a variety of different classrooms, we finally moved in at the beginning of October. The new facility is everything we could have wanted and then some. The students love their new home and having everything they need to learn in a space where they have lots of freedom and flexibility. They were also given a rabbit for a classroom pet from a local family as a "housewarming" present. Gus has quickly become a fabulous addition to our classroom and the students love taking care of him and snuggling with him.  As for me, I am thrilled to finally have a classroom that is outfitted for CASE and not for storing mini vans!

Food Science and Safety students utilizing their new lab facilities








The view of the new classroom






The newest member of the classroom-Gus the rabbit!



Have fun at National Convention to all those who are attending!





What?  Were you thinking Christmas??


As I work through the late night of Conferences, I have been reminiscing on National Convention Trips of the past.  Indulge me.


National Convention

1999-2003 -- PRE-digital cameras,

phones and selfies.

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Not my first group, but my first at Southeast Polk.  A great group to travel and learn with.



Somehow they talked me into stopping at White Castle. Great kids, but the food wasn't up to their level.

I still don't understand Herold and Kumar's rush to get to this place.

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I should have seen this selfie thing

coming a long way off.

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It's the ties that bind us.

Kids always love seeing the National Officer do the Opening Ceremonies -- and saying their part along with them.

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The first and only year (to date) I have missed National Convention and it was to stay home with my sick family. It was surreal to see the bus pull away that morning and not be on it.

I learned a couple things though:


1. Sub Plans are made to be used. :-)


2. The benefits to a bus trip with multiple chapters are underrated until mayhem rears its ugly head.


3. The parent/teacher who went in my place still describes it as one of the best educational experiences he has had in his career.

It left an indelible mark with him.



When you are 850 miles from home, you make new discoveries.


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The first American Degree since the inception of Southeast Polk in 1964 - and incidentally the first Star over America.

I look forward to the big things that Vivian will accomplish.



They taught the presenter how to do the 'Proud to be a RAM' sign that they made up.

'Cause... you know... that's how we roll.



#4 and #5 American Degrees -- I will let them argue about which one was which.

This year Brett (right) will take her own FFA members to their first National Convention.

I hope hers will go as well as mine have.


It's a magical time of the year -- harvest is in full swing, the school year is into a groove and it's time to head home -- to see my FFAmily.


Stop and say hi -- I'd love to hear from you.

It sometimes takes bad things to make you realize the good things.


It is no secret ag programs are community programs.  More so than most teachers, we all have stakeholders engaged in our classrooms, FFA chapters, and SAEs.  It goes the other way as well - we become part of community organizations, leadership, activities, and our neighboring schools.  And colleges.


But we don't always give credit to the community-building ag programs can do.  This is more than adding the Alumni, Rotary or Lions clubs, donors, or others who contribute to your program.  It is creating that sense of community in our students.


It is opening their eyes to what is possible when a group has common purpose. 

It is connecting your youngest leaders to the most experienced in your town.

It is teaching youth how they can invest and contribute to the world closest around them.

It is living up to the fourth line of the FFA motto.

It is opening doors to opportunities not for personal success, but for the common good.

It is creating the future of your community - the future where people care, where people support, where people make a difference, where bad things can happen and you know we will be okay in the end.


We do these things. We can do these things greater. And it is so important.  It does not happen enough, in enough places.  It is not intrinsic anymore, or guaranteed - it must be taught.  It must be nurtured.  It must be modeled.  It must be built so that when it is needed most, it is ready.


This was not my intended first post of the school year.  I'm not sure it will even make sense.  But I can't describe how it is when something so heinous happens in a building you've sat in, on a campus you grew up with, down the road you live on, where the students you taught were in class.  I can't do anything about what happened, but I can choose how to respond, and where I will focus. I choose to contribute, in the best way I know how.  And I am so proud of how our part of the world, our towns and our communities, have chosen to respond as well.  It isn't always vogue to admit you've moved back to where you came from.  I've never been more glad to be from here.  And I hope we all live up to the quality of character that has been displayed over the past three days.


Don't take for granted the things - big and small - you do for your community by preparing your students.  Continue to build that, with the hearts and minds of those who come into your classroom tomorrow.  Make the world better because you were there, and because those students were with you.  We have been given a powerful tool and an influential avenue with agricultural education and FFA.  Use it.  We all may need it.


My community has been tested.  It sometimes takes tough things to make you realize how strong you can be.


Our community has proven strong.


Matt Eddy

What about you?

Posted by Matt Eddy Sep 10, 2015

"Come inside, the show's about to start

guaranteed to blow your head apart

Rest assured you'll get your money's worth

The greatest show in Heaven, Hell or Earth.

You've got to see the show, it's a dynamo.

You've got to see the show, it's rock and roll ...."


Working my way into another school year.  We've made it through the Iowa State Fair and are settling into a school-like routine.




As usual, as Nina Crutchfield once explained to me -- (not the exact quote) "Ag teachers always master something and then move on to something else new. Not really getting rid of the old, but just heaping on the new."


I don't suppose this isn't far from my truth. 


We've added a drone to the Ag Department (maybe more if some grants get funded) and we haven't seemed to stop doing any of the other old stuff either.


I have truly enjoyed blogging about a 'Day in the Life of an Ag Teacher' and it's provided a nice cathartic release for my thoughts - odd as they may be.


Blogs on Grading 1 & Grading 2, teaching, FFA, the Trials and Tribulations of being an Ag Teacher.  But I wonder --


What topics would you like to hear about?  DM me on Twitter @AgEd4ME or message me on CoP or email me


For those about to rock (teach) -- "We Salute You"

Wild Times in MN

Posted by Tiffany Morey Aug 11, 2015

This summer I was able to travel to Minnesota to attend the CASE Food Science and Safety Institute hosted by South Central College. It was by far the neatest and most fun CI I've ever been to, and the people were some of the best I've ever met. Staying at the Center - CVM - Dairy Education Center, University of Minnesota located at New Sweden Dairy, was an unforgettable experience. Watching calves be born 24 hours a day on COW TV was our favorite form of entertainment, and the picturesque scenery around the farm made for some relaxing runs.


Not only was the curriculum interesting and something I know my students will absolutely love, but my fellow participants made conducting the APPs tons of fun. Our hosts made sure that we got out to see the area, and planned fun activities such as visiting a local butcher for a tour and tasting, and going out for bowling and laser tag. We found ways to amuse ourselves on the weekend by touring a local brewery, sampling local cuisine, posing with Hermann the German, seeing the largest glockenspiel in MN, and visiting a local ag teacher whose husband keeps exotic animals at the family farm. It was also nice to catch up with old CASE friends like Kimberly Fogle  make new friends, and to finally meet some of the ag teachers I've come to know from CoP like Kellie Claflin in person. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I will let them tell the rest of the story. Thanks to Kellie Claflin and The Southern Minnesota Center for Agriculture for letting me use their pictures!




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Hope everyone is enjoying their last bit of summer and is feeling refreshed and ready for the year ahead. Good luck as you head back to school!



Jessie Lumpkins

I rest my CASE...

Posted by Jessie Lumpkins Jul 8, 2015

I've mentioned before that I love Instagram, and my new social media love is a little thing called Snapchat. Snapchat lets you send pictures or video to friends that last up to 10 seconds, or post them directly to your "story", only to disappear within 24 hours. I realized that Snapchat is an appropriate analogy for my summer so far. I've had some amazing "snappable" moments that are over now, but they've left their mark on me in the best way possible. (Most of my summer adventures so far have involved CASE. Never heard of it? Check out some info here.)


Early in June, I loaded up my CRV (which I lovingly named Idabel) and drove 11 hours to McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana for CASE AFNR. There I met up with Karen Van De Walle, a friend I made last summer at my first CASE Institute. (Josh Day was the other lead teacher, also amazing!) I lucked out when I got her as my co-lead teacher. For those who have gone through CASE or similar intense PD, you know the type of bonds that can happen when you spend 8 hours a day for 8 straight days with the same people. Sometimes, you make new friends. Sometimes, you end up with bad blood when you used to be mad love, TSwift style.


But these 10 teachers I met in Louisiana? And the bond that we made those 2 weeks? It was amazing from the start, and only got better. Mad love forever. Sorry everyone else, but the casecowboys will always be the best. We missed each other so much that we're still in a group chat on Facebook. (Shout-out to Mitchell, Leanna, Grace, Carroll, Tamra, Jerry, Dara, Kolby, Paul and Susan!)


Here are some of my favorite snaps from my time in Louisiana. 

When it was all over, I was truly sad to see it go. If you offered me the chance to drive back down to McNeese and keep working with that same group, I would leave tomorrow. *sigh*


Once I was home, I had 2 days to do laundry and attend a wedding, then it was on to Texas Tech to be a participant at CASE ASA. One of my lead teachers there was the fabulous Kellie Claflin, whom I had first met when we followed each other on Twitter years ago. I had talked to her once or twice in passing at NAAE Convention, but now we got to be real life friends! (The other lead teacher was Mark Meyer, thanks Mark!) My time in Lubbock provided for some very memorable snaps...



After a few days at home, I was able to attend our state CTE Conference and share with my fellow TN ag teachers why CASE is a great choice for their classrooms. It was the perfect bow on an amazing month of being a CASE junkie.


Find me on Twitter and Instagram @jlumpffa

The Long Day Is Over

Posted by Tiffany Morey Jun 15, 2015

Graduation is tonight and caps off the end of a very long year. While there were many successes, there are still many things that need to be improved for the program. However, I made it through the most difficult year of my teaching career thus far, and things are looking bright for next year. When things get tough, it is hard to remember that teaching ag really is a rewarding and important job, and although it might not feel like it at times, we really are planting the seeds of the future and inspiring others to pursue a future in agriculture.


The Successes

  • Seniors going into ag-Of the 7 FFA seniors graduating this year, 6 are going on to study agriculture in college! This is very exciting for them and the future of our field, and we wish them the best of luck as they pursue careers in animal science, dairy science, livestock management, landscaping, and veterinary medicine.
  • 1st State Officer-At this year's State Convention, our chapter had it's first member EVER in it's history (60+years) be elected to state office! We are extremely proud of her accomplishments and she is going to do a great job as the 2015-2016 New Jersey FFA State Treasurer!
  • Garden State Stars-This year we had a whopping 7 members receive their Garden State FFA Degrees. We also had members take home the awards for Star State Farmer and Star State in Agribusiness, and both of them will be continuing on to the Big E in September to earn more recognition for their hard work and outstanding SAEs.
  • Winning CDEs-For the first time in many years, South FFA had a winning CDE team. The Ag Mechanics team took first in their event at the state level, and while they won't be going on to represent NJ at nationals, we are still proud of them! We also had the individual winner of 2 different CDEs as well.


The Improvements

  • New classroom facility-Goodbye ag shop and hello ag science lab! After years of making it work in the outdated, overcrowded, and messy ag shop, the walls are coming down this summer as it gets renovated and turned into a state of the art ag science laboratory and classroom. Gone are the days of shop tables, clutter, and teaching in the school furniture and equipment storage room. Come September, the room will be outfitted with new desks, lab tables, sinks, cabinets, counters, and technology, and will be the facility we need to continue to offer CASE. I can't wait!
  • CASE Food Science and Safety-Floral Design has been officially removed from the curriculum, and is being replaced by CASE Food Science and Safety. Student interest in this class is high, as we have filled not one, but two sections of this new course! Close to 30 students have already enrolled and numbers continue to increase. I'm headed to MN in July for training, and am looking forward to teaching this exciting new class.
  • Grants-Thanks to grants from the NJOAE/NJDA and a county scholarship foundation, we were able to order everything needed for our CASE classes next year and to outfit and furnish the new classroom. It is good to know that next year's students will have the tools and equipment that they need to succeed.


This year may not have been the best ever, but it was a good learning experience. I'm glad it's over, and am looking forward to the summer to relax and reflect. Have a fun and safe summer!



Matt Eddy

Grading - Part Deux

Posted by Matt Eddy May 21, 2015

Maybe you caught the last time I was talking about my grading 'walk-about' -- if not - here -> My kid got a what??


I had been studying, researching, reading, contemplating for a couple years prior to Fall of 2013 -- so don't think this was a whim.  No one forced it upon me (see below) and I felt it was necessary part of my getting better at my craft.


I thought I would report back some of my findings:

  1. Doing something because you want to, as opposed to a school mandate, is way more fun. (Crazy, I know)  My reflection into my grading practices was something I wanted to do, not something that was pushed down from on high -- I suppose that makes all the difference.  I'm probably ahead of the curve.  SBG is coming - it's just a matter of time.
  2. What do you do with Tommy/Sally when they don't learn -- are all students able to learn?  Should they?  If they don't - what do we do then as educators?  Can a student get more than one try at demonstrating their learning?? Can a student demonstrate their learning in a different manor? How does this affect the 'assembly line' approach to education?  Paradigms might need to be shifted and re-aligned.  How can education be more effective for EVERY student.
  3. The Game of School -- If you are like me (and let's hope you aren't) I've been playing this game of school for a while.  The grading part was just the encore.  I wonder to myself now - did I really learn all that much in school or was I just good at parrotting the answer the teacher wanted?
  4. Who moved the cheese? -- Kids are very willing to go with it - parents, not so much.  We have really put a lot of emphasis on GPA.  Maybe more than I am willing to be comfortable with.
  5. Research - Ken O'Conner (@kenoc7) and Rick Wormeli (@rickWormeli2) will certainly give you something to think about. I suppose someone with more letters behind their name than I can give an educated opinion on the research, but the best stuff I have found is from practitioners. It certainly takes some time to ground the theory in your day-to-day practice. I'm still working on it.
  6. Doing What We Have Always Done -- why do we grade the way we do? Ever wonder to yourself??  Is it because it is what we know from being student?? Changing a thought process on something so ingrained in education could be defined as kicking a sacred cow.  But it might be one that needs it.  Does our grades accurately reflect what a student has learned? Or are they clouded with a multitude of confusing issues.
  7. Get rid of -- zero's, late points being docked, extra credit, extra credit for bringing in kleenex, weighting, averages, group grades et al -- the list goes on.  I am ashamed to say I used to do some very bad practices.
    1. Who do you want packing your parachute? The kid with an 83% average, the one who got 100% proficient by the end of training, or the one who got an A because they mopped the floor every Friday after class for extra credit??
  8. Do you have a grading culture or learning culture? -- are kids more interested in learning for it's own sake or doing whatever it is we deem them to do to get the grade they want.  It kinda makes you think a bit about the culture we have created in school.  I would much rather teach in a learning culture.  Maybe that's why I am so intrigued with the SBG grading systems.


What a long strange trip it's been.  After some re-tooling this summer, I hope to be almost fully immersed in a SBG system.  There are lots of schools you can look to for examples and help.


Maybe this summer is a good time to engage in professional discussion around grading practices.  C'mon in - the water is fine.

By Choice

Posted by Tiffany Morey May 5, 2015

In a former blog post, I described how I became an ag teacher by chance. Getting into the profession happened by chance. Staying in the profession was a choice.


This year was the most difficult of my career thus far, and I seriously considered leaving the profession. I know this isn't something that a Teach Ag blogger should say, but it's something that every ag teacher considers at least once in their career. Ag teachers lead very busy and stressful lives, and the burnout rate is high. I came very close to being a part of that statistic.


I thought last year would be the hardest one I faced here in my new job. I was teaching in a new school, living in a new place, was very different from the former teachers, I needed to form a rapport with a whole new group of students, the curriculum I taught was more rigorous, the FFA chapters hadn't been active in past years, and the classroom I inherited was a mess. Every day was a struggle and fraught will new challenges. It couldn't possibly get any worse, right? Wrong.


This year dawned with its own new set of challenges and difficulties. While the FFA chapters had shown great improvement, the students and I had developed great rapport, I was no longer new to the school and the area, and students enjoyed CASE, I was still teaching in the ag garage and did not have a proper facility for what I was teaching. Teaching in a small school made it pertinent to constantly market my classes and find students to take them. While they were interested, they only had so many openings in their schedules and many, many choices of classes to take. My new, more modern way of teaching (CASE) and managing the FFA chapter (AET) also did not sit well with members of the community. They constantly compared me to the old teacher, and criticized the job I was doing. It made me doubt myself and my abilities as a teacher, and scramble to find ways to try and please them. I also was not getting much help when it came to being an FFA advisor, and the stress of managing 2 chapters began to take its toll. Every molehill and small problem began to feel like a mountain, and I became overwhelmed. I was devoting all of my time to my job, and very little to myself. It seemed as if there was nobody to help, and there was no way I could ever get everything done by myself. I was stressed to the max and it started to affect my health and well-being. The only solution seemed to be quitting teaching ag and finding a new job.


Thankfully, some good friends stepped in and helped me prioritize and seek the help and guidance I needed to persevere and succeed as an ag teacher. The administration approved plans to remodel the classroom for next year into a real lab, and we got a grant to furnish and outfit it properly. Guidance is behind me and has done a great job marketing my classes. While the numbers still aren't fantastic, there is a push to make the CASE classes count for science credit, which will help solve the numbers problem. I got a great final observation from my principal, which reaffirmed my belief that I am an effective ag teacher. And while I may never satisfy the members of the community to expect the program to be "like it used to be", I've learned to grow a thicker skin and know that there are enough good, helpful people who are supportive of me. I've gotten better at asking for help, and not being afraid to seek assistance in solving problems.


Choosing to stay in the profession was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made. However, I'm glad I did. As much as teaching ag makes me crazy and can be tough, I can't imagine doing anything else or anything as meaningful. I became an ag teacher by chance. I am staying an ag teacher by choice.



Wes Crawford


Posted by Wes Crawford May 1, 2015

Social media is not really new anymore; I just celebrated a decade of Facebook last year (okay, celebrating's a strong word). So to call it an innovative marketing tool may be a bit behind the times, but it is something neat all the same.  Our Ag Business, Leadership, and Economics (ABLE) class has had a ball with using it to market our plant sale, which is currently in the throes of the event as we write.


We've identified hashtags for this year's endeavor - #sutherlinffa and #FFAflowers.  We've even gone so far as to use Facebook post boosting on a very limited basis to see what we can accomplish.  The clever thing is that you can really target your Facebook audience you want with the tools available, which makes it great to apply those theoretical marketing plans.  This means geographics, demographics, interests, and more.  Pictures, videos, posts, reshares and more have led to more than one of my students being unfriended by their peers - but loved by their Facebooking grandmothers - I'm sure.  But we've also cracked 6,000 post views in the past 48 hours within 25 miles of our greenhouse - and Facebook tracks such data for you!


With that, here at the end of the process, I feel like you could also use social media to chart the emotional rollercoaster these 20 students have under gone the last few months. Most are not of agricultural origins, so the idea of raising a crop, tending to all its needs, surviving disasters, and more have been all new experiences.  And like other teenagers, they tend to blurt said experiences and feelings to the world.


So, while I have no data to back it up, here are the hashtags I predict you might see appended to Tweets and status updates over the course of the past five months to now:

In January:


In early February:

In late February:




In March:







In early April:






In mid April:






In late April:


#forgoodnesssake #pleasetakethem




In May:



Enjoy the spring. Keep on #tagging.



What would your students tag?  What would YOU tag your posts with?  #youcanleadastudentowater #butyoucantmakethemwaterlongenough

Have you ever eaten salad off of a pipette? Have you ever met the Blues Brothers during a fancy dinner in the middle of a museum? Have you ever listened to bagpipes in the lobby of a beautiful old hotel? Let me explain...


The summer of 2013 was awesome for a lot of reasons, and my week in Maryland at the National Agriscience Teacher Ambassador Academy was one of them. This program single-handedly saved my teaching career and I'm thankful every day that I was part of it. Because of the Ambassador program, a few weeks ago I found myself lucky enough to be presenting at the National Science Teachers Association Convention in Chicago with some of my fellow ambassadors. During my flight, during my taxi ride to the hotel, and essentially during the entire trip I just kept reflecting on how amazingly blessed I was to be there. There had been a domino effect that lead me to being in an amazing hotel in downtown Chicago surrounded by fantastic people, and it was not lost on me... what if I had not applied for NATAA at all? Or had just forgotten? Or applied a year later?

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Forgive my country girl rambling, but Chicago is the biggest city I've ever been to and it kind of blew my mind. While Jeana and Christa shopped for shoes on Thursday, I just stood on the sidewalk and took in how tall the buildings were. (I also must be approachable and/or friendly-looking, because during that time, more than one person asked for directions.) It was pretty exciting to eat real Chicago-style deep dish pizza, since I basically consider pizza a food group.

After lunch the group walked around downtown and I got to talk more with Jessica Jones (who is the 2015 George Washington Carver Agriscience Teacher Award winner!). We talked about the fancy shopping in Chicago and I mentioned that I had never seen a pair of Louboutin shoes in person (the expensive ones with red on the bottom of the sole). A little while later, Jessica insisted we check out Neiman Marcus, but never mentioned why. Since I knew I wouldn't be able to afford anything, I was eager to just get in and get out. As we glided up the escalator, she led me to a corner of the third floor and... tons of beautiful Louboutin shoes! I had met Jessica just hours before and she had already helped me check something off my bucket list. Ag teachers are probably the friendliest people in the country.

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That night we were treated to an amazing dinner in the middle of the Museum of Science and Industry, where we enjoyed salad appetizers on a pipette (the dressing had to be squeezed from the pipette, how cool is that?) We also were able to celebrate the careers of Phyllis Buchanan and Peggy Vavalla, two women from DuPont who love teachers. (And the famous PJ of course, but luckily she isn't retiring soon!)

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The next day I was able to witness some of the other ambassadors in action, walk around the expo, and work the DuPont Challenge Booth with Jeana. I can't count how many times I said, "Have you heard of the DuPont Challenge?" (By the way, have you? ) It was refreshing to connect with so many science teachers who were eager for opportunities for their students. 

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I already mentioned that ag teachers are the friendliest people, but I also think they're the most fun. On Friday night we checked out a piano lounge, something I wouldn't have thought to do on my own. Loved it!

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On Saturday, I had the pleasure of helping David Black present a workshop on DuPont's Food Security Index and how teachers can utilize the information in their classroom. Coming from an agriculture perspective meant that my views could have clashed with the room of science teachers, but I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion and walked away with some new contacts who were interested in agriculture-based lessons focused on food security.

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That Saturday was St. Patrick's Day, and Chicago is well-known for their celebration. The river was turned green, the streets were filled with people wearing green, and there were even live bagpipe players in our hotel. On the way home, I was able to eat lunch with David, who was one of my Ambassador Lead Teachers. I have such a great admiration for him, and it was nice to get to know him even better. Also, thank goodness he was kind enough to wait 40 minutes in airport security while TSA kept checking me for some kind of chemical substance on my clothes (maybe I had gotten too close to the river and whatever they use to turn it green? )

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When I first set out to be an agriculture teacher, I never knew it would take me to places beyond the normal conventions and camps. Even during some busy weeks here back home preparing for state convention and a busy April, that trip to Chicago reminds me that I truly, 100%, without a doubt... do what I love, and love what I do.


Find me on Twitter and Instagram - @jlumpffa


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Changing the Statistics

Posted by Tiffany Morey Mar 26, 2015

We've all seen the statistical evidence showing that ag teachers have a fairly high rate of leaving the profession early on in their career. Burning out is more common than leaders in agricultural education would like it to be, and many never teachers succumb to the pressures and demands of the job and quit. What can we do to reverse the statistics and keep more people in the profession? What have you done personally to keep yourself teaching ag?


Let's face it, being an ag teacher and FFA advisor is an EXTREMELY demanding job! We often teach many different courses throughout the day or school year, and most of them require more prep time than your traditional classroom subjects do. FFA also requires a significant amount of time outside of school, as do coaching positions. but unlike sports which have seasons of only a few months of the school year, FFA is year round. FFA also comes with it's own set of paperwork to complete and review, which must also be done outside of school hours, and can be an exhausting process.


Our jobs often carry over into our personal lives. Besides just the time commitment of the job, teaching ag and being an FFA advisor are very much a part of our daily home lives. Many ag teachers are involved in their local agricultural communities and serve as members of other organizations. We often live near our students, and see them while doing our normal everyday things. The job carries a high emotional commitment as well, and that can sometimes affect our relationships with our families, friends, and significant others. In addition, the demands of the job also may not leave as much time as one may like for exercise, socializing, travel, and other fun activities that we enjoy.


The recent trends in education where a greater emphasis is placed on standardized testing and an increased amount paperwork/documentation, cracks down on the amount of time that any teacher has prepare lessons, grade assignments, and even just teach in general. Ag teachers really feel this for the aforementioned reasons. We are faced with the challenge of getting the same amount of work done, in a lesser amount of time. At times, it may seem very overwhelming.


However, despite the challenges and demands of the job, teaching ag is truly a wonderful and one-of-a-kind profession. We get to work with amazing students and teach a subject with real, real world applications. The lessons that we teach have legitimate value and significance, as well as being engaging and fun for students. Agriculture is something that every single American relies on for their basic needs. We are tasked with the very important task of teaching the fundamentals of this field and getting young people to get involved and stay involved with it. The future of a safe and secure food supply starts with us. Not many teachers can say that they teach something that is is critically important to our country's future as we ag teachers can.


Besides just teaching something so meaningful and worthwhile, we also get the pleasure of working with the fine young people that are FFA members. We help to shape and develop the future leaders of not only the agricultural industry, but also of many other industries and even government. Being tasked with the challenge of helping students develop into proficient and successful leaders and team players is rewarding and refreshing. Teaching life lessons, as well as educational lessons, is an added perk of this job.


So how do we convince students to even enter the field of agricultural education? Better yet, how do we convince them to stay once they start? The demands and realities this job are daunting, but the rewards and positive aspects, are something that make it worthwhile. However, it takes time for teachers to be able to understand this.


The future of agriculture needs ag teachers. We need people to become and ag teachers and stay ag teachers. Let's work together to change the statistics and keep people in this great profession. It won't be easy, but it will be worth it.



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