Number of years teaching: This is year 12!
Who inspired you to be an ag teacher? Just like many ag ed students, it was my high school ag teacher who showed me how I might be a good fit for this profession. Ms. Hendren always included her own two boys in our FFA activities and I really appreciated seeing how she balanced being a mom, teacher, and advisor. I knew I wanted to work in agriculture and had a talent for leading, planning, organizing, and teaching others so I felt like a career in ag education would be one that I could be happy with for many years. Throughout my whole career, I made sure to include my own family in my work as much as I could because although it's easy to give all our time to our students and programs, we only get so many years with our own kids. I've had to make hard choices, including leaving a school district that wasn't supportive of me bringing my own kids to FFA events, but I am grateful for every step in the journey that brought me to my current position.
What motivates you to continue to teach ag? I truly enjoy connecting with students. My purpose has changed depending on the program I've been teaching in over the years, but that motivation stays the same. While I was at Cassia High School, the alternative high school for that district, ag literacy and exposure were my main focus. I wanted to make sure students who did not come from ag backgrounds had the knowledge to make good choices as citizens and consumers. Now that I'm at a community college, I get to work with students who want to further their education in agriculture in preparation for a career in the industry. I don't have to work hard at all to convince them that agriculture is important -- they already know that! Now I get to help students connect with each other, our community partners, and industry professionals and help them build their networks so they can be successful employees in the industry. While I love teaching about agriculture, I truly teach for the students. It is a pleasure to get to know the people in my classes and learn from them just as much as they might learn from me.
What advice do you have for new teachers to create an inclusive and safe environment for your students to be their true, authentic selves? I would encourage new teachers to step outside their comfort zones and experience situations through the lense of their students. It's easy for us to be comfortable in the world of ag ed, but our students may be new to the "culture" of agriculture. There is a lingo, a routine, a way of doing things in ag ed that not all students may be comfortable with, and we need to be aware of how we can help students experience it in a welcoming way. Students today feel much more empowered to identify in a way that fits their perception of themselves and educators have to be welcoming to all types of students. It's ok to ask questions like, "What are your preferred pronouns" if it's not clear when we meet a new student or "How can I best help you feel welcome in our class?" or even just "What do you need from me in order to be successful in this class?" It's ok to have strong convictions and personal beliefs about gender, culture, or sexual identify but it's not ok to let those convictions interfere with being respectful, welcoming, and kind to everyone. We should treat all students, families, and community members with respect and kindness.
What advice do you have for new teachers about being their true and authentic selves in the classroom? Why is that so important? The ag ed profession has not always been a good reflection of the students in our classrooms. For example, in my own state, if I were to attend an ag ed meeting or conference, most of the educators at the conference look just like me and many share the same culture and ideology, too. But if you look at the students in my classroom, you get a much more diverse group. The only way to change what the ag ed profession looks like is to ensure that ag education is welcoming and inclusive of all students. It might be scary, but I would definitely encourage new teachers to embrace their true and authentic selves because you never know which student will identify with you and feel a connection in ag ed. For the agriculture industry to continue to thrive, we need all types of people with a huge variety of talents. We need computer gurus and artistic souls and passionate communicators. We need You-Tube ready personalities and skilled writers. We need meticulous scientists, those who love dirty jobs with livestock, and students who can't get enough time in the tractor. Ag educators can't be all those people all the time, but by embracing our true selves, we can encourage our students to do the same.
What is your advice to the ag ed profession to make ag ed a welcoming place for everyone? It's important to remember that we fear what we don't understand. It's our job as educators to rise above ignorance and understand differences in order to eliminate the fear. Just because someone makes different choices than I would have made or values things differently, doesn't mean that they are any less of a person or should be treated less than others. Be aware of images you include in your presentations and on your classroom walls. Do your students see people that look like them? When you invite speakers to your class, can students relate with their story? When you play music or show a film, do you connect with students from different backgrounds? There are little things you can do every day to help students feel like they belong not only in your classroom, but in agriculture, period. Value different perspectives, be willing to learn from others, step outside your own comfort zone in order to enter the comfort zone of someone else. Above all, be kind and smile -- even with a mask on.