Remarks from Utah State Supervisor Mr Buddy Deimler at the DuPont Pioneer Mystery Speaker and Networking Reception during the NAAE Convention on Tuesday, December 3rd. Read this to be inspired and to remember why being an agriculture teacher matters! Thank you Buddy.
David Letterman’s Top Ten Reasons Agricultural Education Teachers are Effective in the Classroom
#10. Agriculture Teachers have the ability to keep things in perspective.
I graduated with my degree in Agricultural Education on Saturday night, moved on Sunday, and started teaching on Monday morning, replacing a teacher who had left before the end of the school year. Thus, I started my teaching career finishing the last four weeks of school. I don’t remember much about those four weeks except that I survived. I worked through the summer preparing my students, my classroom, and myself for the new school year. And so I started my first school year as an experienced teacher of four weeks and one summer. One day, about three weeks into the school year, I was straightening the desks when I noticed written across the top of one of the desks in the back of the room, DEIMLER SUCKS! I was shocked, I was furious. I mean did they understand that I was an experienced teacher of seven weeks? I mean I wasn't amazing . . . yet, but I didn't suck. I scrubbed the writing off of the desk and day after day, week after week, I walked to the back of the room to find and remove from the desk the words DEIMLER SUCKS. After about six weeks I walked to the back of the room and a smile came over my face. I knew I had finally won . . . written across the desk were the words Mr. Deimler Sucks!
All things are relative. You just have to keep things in perspective. Agriculture Teachers know how to find victory in the most unlikely places. You can’t wait for someone to hand it to you. Sometimes you have to make it yourself.
#9. Agriculture Teachers understand the importance of pictures.
My father often tried to help me with my algebra homework. He was an engineer type. He never had the opportunity to complete a college degree, but he loved math, understood the power of math, and the slide rule was his favorite tool. He worked in the defense industry at White Sands Missile Range where he took part in the development of fighter jet and missile technology. He was recording and retrieving data on huge reels of magnetic tape long before floppy disks and hard drives were invented. Our algebra homework sessions always started with good intentions. He not only knew algebra, but he could apply it in everyday situations. But, at some point in the evening he would lose patience with my inability to understand and would shout, “For crying in a bucket, do I have to draw you a picture?” If I had known then what I know now, I would have told him, “Yes, it would be most helpful if you would draw me a picture.” However, that answer probably would have earned me a one-way ticket to meet and visit with some of my ancestors who had passed on before me and were waiting on the other side. Agriculture Teachers understand that sometimes a picture is the best way to communicate an idea. It addresses a different learning style, a learning style that approximately 80 percent of the students in the high school are very comfortable with.
#8. Agriculture Teachers are an important part of “drug education” in the schools.
As a boy I had a drug problem. My parents drug me to church. I was drug to weddings and funerals. I was drug to school. I was drug out of bed in the morning to do chores. I was drug out to the farm every evening after school and every Saturday. Occasionally, I was drug out to the wood shed when I needed my attitude adjusted. As a 9th grader my Agriculture Teacher took over my drug education. He drug me to a livestock contest and made me give oral reasons . . . which included actually talking to someone. He drug me to the district creed contest—more public speaking. He drug me to the Estancia Lamb sale where I bought some ewe lambs, the start of my Supervised Occupational Experience Program, which took me all the way to my American FFA Degree. He drug me to the State FFA Convention and created opportunities that changed my life. I didn't ask for any of these opportunities. I didn't know that I wanted them. I am so glad for the “drug education” program I participated in as a boy.
#7. Agriculture Teachers have the ability to see things from the student’s perspective.
My son and I are out on the town. He just turned 5, and we are out on his birthday celebrating. We had spent the morning in Home Depot looking at power tools, barbeque grills, and lawn mowers. We decided to stop at McDonald’s for lunch and in short time we were enjoying a Happy Meal. I noticed on the back of the Happy Meal box an activity or test. The picture was a large box divided into four smaller boxes. Each of the smaller boxes contained a picture of an animal: a tiger, a lion, a house cat, and a zebra. The question was, “Which animal does not belong with the others?” I showed my son the activity and asked him, “Which of these animals does not belong with the others?” He studied for a moment and responded, “The kitty cat.” I about fell off my chair, “For crying in a bucket, that’s the wrong answer.” I guess the nut never falls far from the tree. It was obvious to me. There were three cats and one horse. The zebra was the one that didn’t belong. I asked him to explain himself. He looked at me with that, “You’ve got to be kidding look” and said, “The kitty cat lives in a house and the others live in a zoo.” He went on to point out that the zebra and the lion have a ball of hair on the end of their tails and the tiger and kitty cat don’t. And further, the zebra, the tiger, and the kitty cat all had stripes, but the lion didn’t, and three had soft feet with claws and one didn’t. We talked for 10 minutes before he finally pointed out that one of them looked like a horse and the other three looked like cats. Wrong answer? I don’t think so. My 33 years of experience would say, correct answer–probably the wrong question.
#6. Agriculture Teachers know how to use a flexible rule.
Aristotle was impressed with how stonemasons improvised novel solutions to novel problems. Stonemasons discovered they could not use their current set of tools to measure round columns. So they created a novel solution to a novel problem. They created a rule that bends, what we call today a tape measure or a flexible rule. Even though the masons understood the importance of an inflexible and unchanging rule, they also appreciated, as in the specific example of measuring a round column, that sometimes you need to bend the rule. How many times a day do you find yourself in the same situation? In dealing with people, especially teenagers, sometimes you need to bend the rule. Dealing with high school students demands a kind of flexibility that is not found in a straight rule, it is found only in a flexible rule. Agriculture Teachers, using practical wisdom, usually know when and how to bend the rule. I am grateful for the teachers who overlooked my trespasses and encouraged me to be better—to be who I was growing to be, not who I was at the moment. (Adapted from a talk by Barry Schwartz: Using Our Practical Wisdom)
#5. Contact with an Agriculture Teacher improves memory.
Ninety-nine times out of 100 when I ask someone if they remember their Agriculture Teacher’s name, they say, “Yes.” One year at the State Fair I had some pedal tractors from our FFA exhibit that needed to be repaired. I went to the State Fair maintenance office and asked the foreman if he could help me. His first question was, "Who is this for?" I explained that the Utah FFA used these pedal tractors in our Little Hands on the Farm Exhibit. He said, “Yes, I can fix these. Come back in two hours.” I returned. The repair was ingenious and well done. I asked him, “How much do I owe you?” His response was a little gruff. He said, “Everything worth knowing, every skill I have used in life to make a living, raise a family and get ahead, I learned from my high school Agriculture Teacher. Besides my mother and father, my Agriculture Teacher had the most influence on my life. That was 45 years ago and what he taught me still makes a difference in my life every day. I think it’s time to give back. This one’s on me and don’t you ever give up on those kids.” Who are those kids? He was one of those kids. Some of you were those kids. And certainly I was one of those kids, the kind of kids that fill your classroom. Not dumb, just smart in a different way, and it takes a special kind of teacher to see that potential.
#4. Agriculture Teachers are master fly fisherman.
Let me explain. Mr. Jerry Burchett, my Agriculture Teacher, walks to the front of the room to take roll. We are his freshman class, and we are as dumb as a box of rocks. We are halfway to the end of the first semester and so things have settled into a natural rhythm. This is 5th period, after lunch, and so we don't always have the best focus.
The master fisherman takes over. He is the fisherman, we are the fish, the classroom is his pond. As he finishes taking the roll, he makes his presentation, casting the line as he says, "If any of you are showing either hogs or lambs at the Otero County Livestock Show, we need to get those animals purchased ASAP." The fly gently kisses the water and then lifts off again . . . we are focused for the first time that day.
He back casts and then forward shooting the line perfectly to the back row, he lays the fly gently on the surface of the water, so natural . . . so real, and strips the line gently, pulling the slack. He continues, "However, we will not be purchasing or registering any animals for the fair until you turn in a completed budget!"
There is silence in the room as we digest what he said. The water is still except for the tiny ripple created by the fly. There is movement deep in the water, a 90-pound freshman boy breaks the surface, mouth open, lunging for the prize, he asks, "Mr. Burchett, “What's a budget?"
- Mr. Burchett sets the hook, "Well, we were not going to talk about budgets today . . . but since you asked, I think we can cover that topic." And we are hooked. For the next 5-days, because we asked for it, he plays us back and forth as we discuss income and expense, debits and credits, budgets and depreciation. We create our own personal record books and long-range SOEP plans. He finally lands us, exhausted on the bank, as we turn in our budgets for our show animals—all without any fussing from us. For some reason he is smiling . . .
In Matthew 4:19 Jesus Christ said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” I believe that as teachers we are called to a similar service to be, “Fishers of boys and girls.” I share this with you not to cheapen the labor that the Savior performed but to impress upon you the importance of and the magnitude of what we can and should be doing for the youth that we have been called to serve.
#3. Teaching in an agricultural education class defines the word rigor.
When a school boasts of its academic rigor, it means its students learn a lot and work really hard. Rigor means thoroughness and exhaustiveness––the gold standard for a good teacher. The world defines rigor in these three ways: 1) Excessive sternness, strictness, uncompromising resolution; 2) Something hard to endure, gloomy, forbidding, the quality of being difficult; and 3) The quality of being valid, believable, or truthful, adds to credibility. (Vocabulary.com)
I believe that the third definition is more closely associated with good teaching than the first two. We do have a problem with rigor in our schools. It’s a problem because a lot of the instruction that takes place in our schools today is not valid and is not relevant. Most teachers tend to plow a mile wide and an inch deep, worried about reaching the end of the textbook instead of about teaching the concept until the students know it and, more importantly, can apply it. Think about how unacceptable this situation is. The student brings you her first welding pad after 30 minutes of practice. It would be kind to call it horrible. It looks like a chicken has pooped its way across the plate. Because it’s time to move on to the next chapter, you grade on the curve and give her a “B”. That is unacceptable teaching.
As Agriculture Teachers, we should be plowing an inch wide and a mile deep. This is the conversation I have heard a thousand times in agricultural mechanics shops.
Student: Showing the teacher her weld, “What do you think of this weld?”
Teacher: I don’t know. What do you think?
Student: It looks like a chicken pooped its way across the plate.
Teacher: Good observation and great use of technical terminology to describe the weld. What do you think caused that?
Student: Probably the weld is too cold, and my speed is too fast and uneven.
Teacher: Hum, is there a solution?
Student: I should probably turn my amperage up to 180, slow down, and watch my puddle to make sure it travels all the way across the plate.
Teacher: Hum, well let’s try it and see what happens.
Now that is RIGOR. There is an uncompromising resolution to coach the student until they meet the well-defined standard. There is a quality of being difficult; the level of welding is difficult, the evaluation of the weld is difficult, and the problem solving to come up with the appropriate solution to improve the weld is difficult.
This is a process that is real, that is valid, that is relevant, and that is credible. Good teaching is rigorous and requires plowing an inch wide and a mile deep.
#2. Agriculture Teachers wrote the book on relevance.
I am sitting in Geometry class. I have a headache. You know the one that starts right behind your eyes and goes all the way down to your toes. The teacher has just asked me for the 97th time that year, "Deimler! How can you not understand this simple Geometry concept?" He continues, "The base squared plus the side squared is equal to the hypotenuse squared. For crying in a bucket, do I have to draw you a picture?" I think he knew my father. I don't even know where to find a Hypotenuse. Fast forward in the day, we are in Agriculture Class. Today we are out in the shop. I have left my headache behind . . . in 2nd period. Mr. Burchett is saying, “Deimler, this panel better be square before you weld it or you’ll do it again.” He was a great motivator. I asked him how do I know if it is square? His response, "We use the 3-4-5 rule." He draws a picture of the panel on the floor and explains, "You mark the side of the panel from the bottom up 3 feet, then you mark the bottom piece from the same corner out 4 feet. Now measure between the two marks at an angle. If the measurement is 5 feet the corner is square. If it’s not move the pieces until the distance is 5 feet. At that point the corner will be square.” I looked at the drawing on the floor. I had seen that drawing somewhere before, but I can't remember where. All I know is this drawing on the floor and what I have to do makes perfect sense to me. The only way Mr. Burchett could have improved on this teaching moment would have been to say, "OK. Let's stop for a moment and go back into the classroom and talk about math. This is called the 3-4-5 rule. It’s the same thing as the Pythagorean Theorem you talk about in Geometry class. Let's do the math on the board. The side is 3, the base is 4 and the hypotenuse is 5. Three squared equals 9 and 4 squared equals 16 and 5 squared equals 25. Nine plus 16 is equal to 25. In other words the side squared plus the base squared is equal to the hypotenuse squared. The math proves that it is a perfect right angle, or that the side is perpendicular to the base, or in shop terms, ‘the corner is square.’” When it's a panel laying on the shop floor, it makes perfect sense.
#1. And the #1 reason Agriculture Teachers are effective in the classroom is that you know that it’s all about the relationship.
Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!
When I registered for high school in the 8th grade, I signed up for reading class because I loved to read. The counselor called me in and said, “Deimler, reading class is for kids who can’t read. I’m signing you up for Vocational Agriculture.” So an administrative decision set me on the pathway for my career.
I started out in Vocational Agriculture class like everyone else, memorizing the creed. At the end of the second week Mr. Burchett pulled me aside and said, “Deimler, I have been watching you. I think you have real potential. I think you ought to say the creed at the District Creed contest.” Caught by surprise because high praise was not something I was used to hearing at school, I said, “Do you really think so?” I didn’t know that he had said the same thing to 10 other boys, but I believed him, and I went to the contest. It was the worst experience I had ever survived thus far in my short life. I could not see over the podium. I was so scared I could barely talk, and I completely forgot paragraph 4. I didn’t even get an honorable mention. On the way back to the truck, Mr. Burchett put his hand on my shoulder and said, “That was pretty good. Now let’s talk about livestock judging. I’ve been watching you, and I think you have real potential . . . .“ And the lies continued for three years as he convinced me to believe I could do the impossible. By the end of high school, I was doing the impossible.
My senior year I got a new Agriculture Teacher, Mike Mackechnie. He was also very good at planting the seed. At some point he had a talk with Dr. Leon Wagley, the teacher educator at New Mexico State University. My senior year, during the State FFA Contests, he caught me in the hall and stabbed me in the chest with his ever present pipe and said, “Deimler, I have been watching you, and I think you have real potential. Have you ever thought about being a vocational agriculture teacher? I think you would make a great teacher.” I said, “Do you really think so?” I didn’t know that he had said the same thing to 10 other boys and girls, but I believed him. Dr. Leon Wagley and Dr. Paul Vaughn were the reason I thought I could actually pass Chemistry and Genetics and graduate from college.
I don’t know how good of an Agriculture teacher I really was, but I do know this—agricultural education continued to shape my life. I fell in love with the magical moment of seeing the light come on in a student’s eyes as he understands a concept for the first time. I also got real good at putting my arm around a kid’s shoulder and telling them, “I’ve been watching you, and I think you have real potential.” Sometimes the victories were a real surprise. One year at the Maricopa County Fair, Mark Porter’s mom came to me in tears. I was sure Mark had killed another show animal. But she hugged me and said, “I have never seen Mark in a button-up shirt and a tie. How did you get him to do that?” We are laughing, but that was a real victory for Mark’s mom. There were many victories: State Degrees, American Degrees, Proficiency Award winners, CDE winners, State Officers, and some of my students have even grown up to be amazing Agriculture Teachers. The ones I am most proud of are the students who have grown up to be good husbands and wives, good mothers and fathers, and who work to make a contribution in their communities. I am still in contact with many of them today.
As a parent, I encouraged my children to participate in Agricultural Education and the FFA. Four out of the five did. Yes, we had five children. We were going to have six, but someone told us that every sixth child born in the world was Chinese, and we were worried about a language barrier. So we quit at five. All of my children had a different experience in Agricultural Education and the FFA, but they were all successful in participating at the chapter, the state, and the national levels. And it all happened because they had great Agriculture Teachers. I believe the only reason my boys graduated from high school is their Agriculture Teacher. He would often call, and we would work out a solution to a little problem that would serve to keep them engaged and pointed in the right direction. More than once they put their arm around me and said, “I’ve been watching that kid of yours. I think they have real potential.” I believed them every time, and funny thing is each one of my children did also.
They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care! It’s about the relationship.
- Dr. Gary Straquadine, Agricultural Education Department Head, The Ohio State University, once did a study that tried to quantify all of the variables that contributed to a successful Agriculture program. Through his survey of the profession, he came up with multiple variables: administration, facility, budget, rural vs. urban, single vs. multiple teacher, education level, and so forth. The problem was that all of the variables put together measured only 23 percent of the cause. The other 77 percent was not identifiable. You and I both know what made the difference—it was you, the teacher.
“Everything worth knowing, every skill I have used in life to make a living, raise a family, and get ahead, I learned from the Agriculture Teachers in my life. Besides my mother and father, my Agriculture Teachers, all of them, from the first in the 9th grade to those of you who continue to mentor me today, have had the most influence on my life. That’s 38 years of relationships and what you have taught me and continue to teach me still makes a difference in my life every day.
Please remember these things . . .
Agricultural Education is not a part of the problem. We are a part of the solution. Never miss an opportunity to tell the people around you that what you do is a part of the solution.
FFA and SAE are both an integral and necessary part of the Agricultural Education Program. Deliver that program—Every Student, Every Class, Every Day.
I love my job.
I work with the best teachers and the best students in the education system.
What I do, and what I help my teachers do, makes a difference.I love my job, and I hope that you love your job too.