Freedom High School, Freedom, Wis.2015 Region 3 Outstanding Agricultural Education Teacher Award Winner
There are a lot of ways you could tell the story of Paul Larson, agriculture teacher at Freedom High School in Freedom, Wisconsin. You could start with how, when Larson came to Freedom 29 years ago, the program was on the verge of extinction. Knowing that makes it even more impressive that today Larson's agricultural education program reaches 200 students each year, and has the most advanced high school aquaculture facility in the state.
You could talk about how Larson has been a teacher leader, volunteering countless hours and serving on the board of the Wisconsin Association of Agricultural Educators, as well as with NAAE.
You could point out how he is constantly pushing himself to become an even better teacher. Two years ago Larson was selected as a NAAE National Agriscience Teacher Ambassador, a highly competitive professional development for which he had to submit an extensive application and commit to hours of training above and beyond his regular responsibilities.
All of these things and more are the reasons why Larson was selected as the 2015 Outstanding Agriculture Teacher for Region 3, but what is really interesting is what he's done since receiving the award in New Orleans two months ago.
"Well, I really started when I won the state level," said Larson. He not only sent a release about his award to his local paper, but to the larger regional paper that covers hs area. "They actually put it in, which was great," he said. "Then, when I won nationals, I didn't think they'd do anything, because they'd already done something about it earlier. So I pointed out our program's strong community connection and alumni support."
It worked, because a reporter from the Appleton Post-Crescent visited Larson's program and did a full story, which ended up on the front page of the paper. With a regular readership of about 162,200 people, according to the paper's website, that's a lot of recognition for the Freedom High School agricultural education program.
Even better, because that regional paper is part of the USA Today newspaper network, a blurb about Larson's award appeared in USA Today, which has an average weekday print circulation well over 1.5 million copies.
"Getting recognition like that immediately draws the attention of your administration," said Larson. "Someone notices that something is going on. With the constant change in administration that happens at a lot of schools, it's important to be validated in that way."
Larson went on to point out that you don't have to with a national award draw attention, either. "It could be state level, or your section - you can spin it any way you want," he said. "The point is, you can use whatever recognition you get. Even if you're just nominated for an award, you can still say 'Hey, my peers think I was good enough to be nominated, so something's going on here.'"
As great as the coverage from the Outstanding Teacher award has been, Larson sees it as a piece of a bigger picture.
"It's all about relationships," he said. "Working with alumni - don't be afraid to ask for help. When people come help you train a judging team, or work with your students on something else, they'll talk to other people, and they'll be your advocate as well. That gives more credence than anything."
Larson and his students also do an annual report that they present to his school board, usually right after they return from National FFA Convention. It also is ready to pull out whenever there is an opportunity to advocate for his program. He has shared his report with NAAE, and welcomes any ag teacher to use it to create their own. You can see that example here, as well as another, more state-focused advocacy piece Larson created here.
The NAAE Outstanding Teacher award is sponsored by Caterpillar and Tractor Supply Company as a special project of the National FFA Foundation. For more information about NAAE awards, visit http://www.naae.org/resources/awards/index.cfm
This post is part of our February 2016 News & Views Newsletter. Read more
Mike Sheppard was selected as the 2015 NAAE Teacher Mentor for Region 1. He's been teaching agriculture for 16 years, and was nominated for the Teacher Mentor by his co-workers, both of who came to teach with Mike straight out of college. Get Mike's take on what it means to be a mentor, what he misses about being a new ag teacher, and what kind of mentoring he thinks works best.
To me it means keeping our profession growing. Without good mentoring, teachers struggle, or don't make it at all. In order to keep ag teachers going, they need good mentors. A good mentor checks in pretty regularly, offers help, sees how you're doing, offers moral support.
I didn't have a mentor - not really. When I first started, I was in a single department school, and I had several people that I could call on in my district, so when I really got stuck, I would call them.
The thing that affected that the most is my own daughter. She's an ag teacher too, in her 6th year. I've learned more from her than anyone else how important it is for somebody to have a mentor. She had others she could go to, but when you can go to your old ag teacher, or your dad, it's a little easier. She's been teaching for a while now, so she's offering help to others, even.
I think the thing that holds a lot of people back is that for some reason we are afraid we're going to look bad if we ask for help, but if you can trust somebody, then it's easier.
Maybe the best thing is my past students. I see them quite a bit. I've got five students who are either student teaching now or in ag ed. That's the best thing is to just see how successful they're becoming.
Nothing. Not a thing. That first year was hard. Well, I can't say now that I didn't do something because I didn't know about it. I miss that a little (chuckles).
Pick out somebody you know, or a new teacher in your district, and several times during the year, check in on them. Don't pester them, but call them and see how they're doing. A simple thing like that can make a big difference.
Classroom management. There's a lot to that. Having the kids engaged the entire class, dealing with behavior, dealing with kids, keeping up with their grades. With all three of the young teachers I've worked with recently, that's been it. Getting used to that aspect.
All the changes that come across. We've had changes in way teachers are evaluated, requirements you have to fulfill. It seems like things keep getting added.
Definitely informal. We tried the formal in Washington, assigning teachers to be mentors. We found that doesn't work. It's a little better when you have the new teachers pick, but it happens best when it happens naturally. You see new teachers there. That works best to find somebody close.
It's really rewarding to mentor someone. It's just a good feeling to see somebody you helped out actually take your advice and do something good with it. It's one of the most rewarding things. It's just as rewarding as seeing one of your students being successful.
The NAAE Teacher Mentor award is sponsored by CEV Multimedia. For more information about NAAE awards, visit http://www.naae.org/resources/awards/.
If traveling overseas and helping farmers in developing countries learn appeals to you, consider signing up for the Farmer to Farmer program through NAAE. This is a 5-year initiative that relies on technical assistance from U.S. farmers, educators and others to help farmers in developing countries improve productivity, access new markets and conserve environmental and natural resources.
Farmer to Farmer posts assignments that outline each project's timeline and goals. Here are a few currently available assignments:
There are more than 30 assignments currently available on the Farmer to Farmer website. If you're interested in the Farmer to Farmer program, visit the program page on the NAAE website to get complete details or contact Julie Fritsch, NAAE Communications/Marketing Director.
Our student members will have more and larger scholarships available starting this year, thanks to a commitment from Growth Energy to provide $90,000 in funds over the next three years.
The NAAE Upper Division scholarship is for NAAE student members majoring in agricultural education during the semester when they student teach.
"Student teaching can be a financial strain on agricultural education majors," said Dr. Wm. Jay Jackman, NAAE Executive Director. "They spend every day teaching, so they are essentially working a full-time job with no pay. There is a national shortage of agriculture teachers, so anything we can do to help students finish their degree and get into the classroom is critical."
Previously, NAAE's Upper Division Scholarships were $750 each, and approximately 15 were given each year. Growth Energy's gift means that the scholarship amounts will be doubled, and more of these larger scholarships will be awarded, beginning this year.
Tom Buis, co-chair of Growth Energy noted, "There is nothing more important to the future of agriculture than those who wish to enter a career that will help further the innovation, promise and bounty of America's farmers. American agriculture and those invested in it are the backbone of this nation and Growth Energy is thrilled to help support the future leaders of this industry. We are thrilled to help support those who will write the next great chapter of American excellence by providing food, feed and fuel to move our nation forward."
Students who plan to student teach in the fall of 2016 or spring 2017 should apply for a scholarship this year. Scholarship applications are due May 15, 2016. The online submission form is not yet open, but students can use the information at this link to gather all the pieces they will need to submit.
Growth Energy is also a supporter of the National Teach Ag Campaign. Their gift is a special project of the National FFA Foundation.
If you're considering adding a CASE course to your agricultural education program next year, now is the time to register for a CASE Institute.
These 50 to 100-hour intensive professional developments are held mostly in June and July at a variety of locations across the United States. Completion of an institute is the only way a teacher can become certified to use the CASE curriculum, but according to CASE certified teachers, participants come away with much more than a set of lessons.
"The value of going through a year's worth of curriculum with other ag teacher - I don't know how you replicate an experience like that," said Andrew Boserma, who teaches agriculture at Sunshine Bible Academy in South Dakota. His school, the only private school in South Dakota with an agriculture program, was looking to expand agriculture course offerings, so Boserma turned to CASE.
Registration for 2016 CASE Institutes opened December 1, and institutes are filling quickly.
CASE Institute Scholarships - due February 28
One of the Boserma's takeaways from the institute was the sense of community with all the participants, even the Lead Teachers, who facilitate the experience. "As a young teacher, I was surprised at the openness, the willingness of everyone to learn, including the facilitators. It wasn't like you go there and the Lead Teachers lecture at you for eight hours a day. We really all collaborate on how we can do this better in our own classrooms."
"CASE institutes are regionally located, and spread out (across the United States) by course. Whether you live in the northwest, Midwest, or anywhere, there are a good variety," said Shari Smith, CASE Professional Development Director. "One of the beauties of a CASE institute in another state is that you get to broaden your professional network, meet urban teachers, rural teachers - people with different teaching backgrounds."
Registration for CASE institutes opened December 1, and will remain open until around May 1, but Smith cautions people not to wait. "Registrations are really done on an institute-by-institute basis," she said, "and some institutes are already full." There are a few opportunities for pre-service teachers to attend institutes as well.
Finding Funds to Attend
There are limited opportunities for institutes scholarships available through CASE, but Smith said many teachers find local sources to offset the cost of attending an institute. Alumni groups or local agribusinesses might lend their support. Another place to check is your school's CTE board or the professional development portion of your Perkins funds, depending on your school's situation.
Dale Cruzan teaches agriculture at Allentown High School in Allentown, New Jersey. He has attended four CASE institutes, and is currently teaching CASE Animal and Plant Biotechnology and CASE Food Science and Safety, the two specialization courses in CASE's Animal Science and Plant Science pathways.
Cruzan finds that CASE engages his students because it's more about the learning process, rather than getting the right or wrong answer immediately. That can be frustrating for learners who are used to looking for the right answer, because sometimes there can be more than one. "The curriculum can be challenging to students and teachers at times, but it is beneficial," he said. "My students learn, often without realizing it. CASE gives our program a feather in our cap."
For more information about CASE and the 2016 CASE Institutes, visit case4learning.org.
photos: Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education