Growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, young Craig Kohn had no intention of ever teaching agriculture. Instead, he wanted to become a doctor. Today, Kohn has just completed his sixth year teaching agricultural education at Waterford Union High School, and is completely devoted to his job and making his program better every year.
On his path to becoming a medical doctor, Kohn found himself wanting to change students' mindsets on learning and the world around them, and decided that the formative teenage years were the best time to do it. That changed his path from medicine to education. Once he was in the classroom, seeing his agriculture students struggle with basic science and its application in agriculture led him to the goal of creating an agriscience program high in rigor that was relevant to his learners.
Waterford High School has a mix of students, ranging from those with no agriculture background to students whose families are still actively involved in food and fiber production. This diverse mix challenged Kohn to create curriculum that was relevant by using real-world scenarios, technology, and STEM concepts. His goal is to develop productive citizens with the ability to apply skills to real-world situations and use critical thinking and problem solving, no matter their agriculture background or academic ability level.
"Being able to see growth, maturation, and change in students is my favorite part of teaching," Kohn said. "It is so important that students have good teachers in their lives."
Every student in Kohn's program at Waterford has a supervised agriculture experience project. He has implemented livestock care teams, summer courses and programs, and weekly lab night research opportunities in order to meet every student's needs. Thanks to the many opportunities he creates, the Waterford FFA program has more than doubled since Kohn began teaching there. In additional to many local, state, and national awards for various FFA teams, Kohn has been awarded the prestigious Tapestry Grant from the National Science Teachers Association to fund a biofuels project being conducted by a group of students. Kohn encourages FFA alumni and industry partnerships to enhance his program by offering job connections, donating money to support new programs, and assisting in the creation of updated curriculum. These partnerships allow Kohn to adapt curriculum and projects to meet the need of industries and companies working in the agricultural field. In addition, this allows him to elevate the rigor of his courses to help students prepare for college.
Kohn has also worked hard to improve his program's facilities over the past six years. He created a fully-functioning student laboratory for agriscience projects, rooms and offices for student fundraising and business skills, a program website, and will have a new hydroponics setup starting this year. Kohn is also in the planning stages of creating a campus barn and livestock facility for students that don't live on acreage but still want to do a livestock SAE.
Kohn has been selected for the Wisconsin Agriscience Teacher of the Year, Waterford High School Staff Excellence Award, NAAE Outstanding Young Member, and was named a Kohl Fellow by former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl. Kohn also leads professional development workshops at several conferences and conventions annually, has served as a research experience teacher with the U.S. Department of Energy, and serves as a teacher mentor for new teachers in his area.
For Kohn, the challenge of driving his students to excel also prompts him to continually develop his skills as an educator and mentor. It's not just about teaching good material in the classroom, he says, but also about helping students develop life skills and connect that classroom information into their real lives.
Craig Kohn was the NAAE 2013 Region III Outstanding Young Member, which is sponsored by John Deere as a special project of the National FFA Foundation. For more information about NAAE award programs, visit http://www.naae.org/awards/applications/.
Thanks to our sponsors!