Who/what inspired you to be an ag teacher? As a child my family moved quite often, mainly to urban and suburban areas. Wanting to be a veterinarian, I was able to attend Colonial High School in Orlando, Florida. They have an agriculture program and FFA chapter. Being there I soon realized that there is a major gap in agricultural literacy and knowledge in urban/suburban and non-traditional communities. In college I decided that I wanted to focus on teaching and working with non-traditional students, schools, and communities.
What motivates you to continue to teach ag? My motivation stems from two things; my internal drive and the positive impact I have seen in my students. Agricultural education and the FFA can open so many doors for students. It is great seeing students grow, develop, and thrive with my support.
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 think it is important to be open and accepting. Everyone is unique in some way, but those “uniqueness’s” are what connect us. Having an open door and showing the students that you genuinely care is vital. I make sure that I treat all my students the same, never singling out a student for any reason. It is important to let the students see or know about your “uniqueness’s.” I also did simple things like avoiding discussion on specific religion, having open discussion on differences, listening to the students, getting to know the students on a personal level, and learning from my mistakes. We are all going to make mistakes by saying or doing the wrong thing, but at the end of the day you need to apologize and learn from them. Get involved with school activities outside of agriculture. Go to sporting events, cheer on your students, get involved with spirit week, volunteer to get pied in the face during pep rallies, etc. When the students see you “outside” of the classroom, they see you outside of being a teacher. This allows them to step outside of the “student” role and be themselves.
What advice do you have for new teachers about being their true and authentic selves in the classroom? Why is that so important? Be yourself and have fun. Don’t try to fit the “mold” of what an agriculture teacher should look like or act like. While it raised some eyebrows initially, when I first started teaching I had a mohawk. I had just moved to New Mexico and was obviously new to the school. I wanted my kids to see me for who I am. Wear those bright colors or cowboy boots. Have fun with your appearance or teaching style. This will help you become more confident, but also allow the students to be more confident. When they see you being yourself, having fun and showing confidence, it will allow them to do the same. Students warm up to teachers they feel comfortable with. Those are usually the teachers who are confident and engaged. There is a major difference between confidence and arrogance. It is important to make sure that you aren’t arrogant.
What is your advice to the ag ed profession to make ag ed a welcoming place for everyone? Get to know your students and have fun. Let your students see you being yourself. When they see that, they will be more willing to be themselves. Get involved outside of the classroom so other students see you outside of the ag program. Have fun, be willing to make a fool of yourself. Put up the inclusion logo on your door. Have an open door policy and be willing to step out of the teacher role sometimes and just be you.