Determination in Motion
Walton Central School, Walton, N.Y.
Tina Miner-James, last year's Region VI NAAE Teacher Mentor Award winner, wasn't the first person to hold her newborn son 12 years ago. That honor went to her husband. She wasn't the second person, either. Just after being wheeled into recovery from a C-section, Miner-James got a call from the nurse's station, explaining that a very concerned student wanted to make sure she was OK.
Miner-James smiled and told the nurses to send the student, whom we will call "Brent," down to her room. He was the second person to hold her only hours-old son.
Brent was a special case. Labeled in ninth grade as a "killing time kid" who wasn't expected to graduate, Brent posed a challenge to Miner-James and the other teachers. He had some learning disabilities, but back then, the education system simply labeled him as "naughty." Still, Miner-James saw something in Brent, and was determined to help him graduate.
"I worked with him for four years, and the day that I got a call and was asked that I be the one to present him with his high school diploma on stage was incredible," she says.
And it was Brent who called her recently, all these years later, after reading about Miner-James being recognized as an outstanding teacher. Now a successful businessman, he told his former teacher that he attributes his success to her perseverance.
"He said he wouldn't be where was was without me and that he was proud to have been one of my students," she says.
It doesn't get much better than that. But Brent is just one person touched by Miner-James' gracious, supportive and sharp teaching. She also mentors other ag teachers, having answered countless "S.O.S." calls from her peers, particularly those who are new to ag education.
"When I found a little bit of success, I shared it," she says, humbly. "If it worked for me, it will work for them."
She was particularly good at pulling together information and resources, and was told early in her career "you get this; can you help others?" Once CTE-certified, she helped others become so, too.
"CTE certification is a bit of security, especially in the face of budget cuts," she notes.
And although Miner-James has traveled all over New York saving ag teachers from the chopping block, she's sympathetic to budget cuts. Still, she makes a clear, concise argument for keeping ag education in schools' curriculum.
"This is the one area in the school where kids are getting hands-on education; they're applying all the academics that they're struggling to achieve," Miner-James says. "Ag ed takes the book learning from other classes and lets kids apply it in real life. It's outside, they're getting dirty, their hands are in it. Geometry, physics, all those classes where they think, 'We're never going to use this in real life' they use in ag ed. If you cut ag programs, you're cutting practical application of all that learning and all they're left with is a book."
For example, just days ago, Miner-James and her class were wading in a nearby brook, working on a study of gravel deposition to help local officials with stream management. It's a far cry from the "shop class" she took in high school.
"We built hay wagons when I took shop," she says. "Now I teach animal science, laboratory science; I teach in a greenhouse."
Miner-James says she gets a kick out of past high school graduates who come back with their kids and reflect on how much this area of education has changed.
"They say, 'This isn't the ag program I had! This is so cool! I want to come back and take this class again!'"
Miner-James was selected as both the Teacher Mentor and Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher award winner for Region VI in 2012. The Teacher Mentor award is sponsored by CEV Multimedia and the Outstanding Teacher award is sponsored by Toyota as a special project of the National FFA Foundation. For more information about all NAAE award programs, visit www.naae.org/awards/applications.
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