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Ag Ed in Bloom

16 posts

Those of you who see my tweets know that I attended a new PD event today - one I was a little reluctant about.  I mean, with a name like "EdCamp" I was picturing a bunch of teachers wearing birkenstocks and jumping into pools, etc.  Matt Eddy will tell you that I usually wait to see if someone else (like him getting me started on CASE or my English teacher friend Erin who drug me into this one) likes something new - I'm not exactly the "Early Adopter" we talk about in technology classes...


But the whole thing blew me away.  Ranks #2 in all-time awesome PD experiences (the first being a CASE institute).  Check out EdCampIowa | Smore


The setting was a college campus - an events facility.  At 8:30, an auditorium filled with over 100 teachers from all over (mainly) western Iowa.  This is the first state-wide EdCamp - a sister camp was held in eastern Iowa and they had teachers from WI and IL on hand out there.  The Twitter feed for both camps comingled, ran together and great conversations had by all.  All day.  Still going as I write this blog tonight.  Check out #EdCampIowa and you'll see the broad array.  Admins, guidance, Pre-K-12 instructors from ALL walks, disciplines, school systems and backgrounds.  What a cool, diverse group.  The only thing we all had in common?  Sounded like we all want to get better at what we do and we see our PEERS as being one of the best resources out there!


From 8:45-9:05, teachers popped up, volunteered to facilitate discussion on topics near and dear to them....  This is a screenshot of the googledoc showing the schedule.  None of these were premeditated or planned.  No powerpoints were in sight after the 5-minute introduction.  No muss, no fuss.  In 15 minutes, we planned an entire day of workshops.  Relevant topics?  I think so!


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Then the workshops.  Every group was small - I think the biggest group I was in had about 20 part of the discussion.  That one was my favorite breakout today.  See "Things That Suck, Lance" (1:15-2:05, session #31).  Seriously.  (Book Club, I thought of y'all!!!!)  For those of you who are familiar with "Vote With Your Feet" activities in the classroom, you travel to the side of the room corresponding to "Sucks" or "Doesn't Suck".  Subjects:

Merit Pay          Facebook in School          Report Cards          PD          Iowa Common Core          Standardized Tests          Extra Credit


After "voting" (and you could abstain or remain on the "Fence" in the middle), each side got a chance to plead their case.  And if you changed your mind, you could move.  As you can imagine, discussion was spirited and engaging.  And a lot of people moved.  I think the main conclusion was that our opinions were mainly based on semantics and personal experiences.  Each topic had a time limit and when the bell rang, you moved on to the next item.  45 minutes was not long enough!!!  How would you have voted on each of the items above?


For most workshops, though, it's a simple format: you go to the workshop and the rule is that everyone participates in every discussion, sitting in as much of a circle as possible.  No presentation.  No prepared notes.  Discussion flows freely.  And if the discussion isn't what you want/need, you are WELCOME to leave and join another group.  Like live chat rooms.  Literally.  I enjoyed a couple sessions on Standards-Based Grading (got some great resources to read up on implementation as it's something I really want to know more about, since I'm not smart enough to envision it in my own classroom), hosting a student teacher and differentiated instruction.  And by 3:30 I was just getting warmed up.


You can go to the googledoc at and find links to notes from almost every session.  Could take weeks to digest them all, and it's going to be a virtual library for me!!!


Take-home lessons & quotes (highlights from my own 3 pages of notes, sorry for any plagiarism - all thoughts below are NOT my own and I cannot take credit for them!):

  • 4.0 grading scales are NOT required for college admissions
  • We have to salt the oats as we lead them to the water trough. Then they?ll WANT (have to!) to drink the water!
  • I hate points...they make me angry.
  • List of expectations by universities : --ABYSS-- : students? actual abilities (ok, most of us already knew that one!)
  • Is grading really objective?  Late grades, behavioral, etc
  • Mechanic analogy: hard work vs. fixed car...
  • ?zone of proximal development? must be met for every student, every day
  • fair is not always equal...
  • report cards are often too little, too late
  • If critical thinking and problem-solving skills are like a Christmas tree (critical thinking skills) then ornaments are the facts students will WANT to learn (LOVE this analogy!)
  • Peer Reviews are everything they're cracked up to be: but improve it by using a critical friends process on PBL: coach students to use ?I like....? AND ?I wonder...? statements verbally OR written, and allow time to re-work projects (etc) prior to teacher assessment
  • permission to do something differently: even if you fail, at least you’re falling forward and changing!


This is an awesome format to follow up a CASE institute or for anyone who ENJOYS regularly going above and beyond the minimum requirements of teachers (and face it, most teachers on CoP fall into THAT category, I read your posts!).  It's just enough structure to disallow for negativity, enough fun to lift spirits of anyone kinda frustrated with their job that day (because we all have those days) but anyone really negative about teaching would HATE the energy, spirit and vigor of an EdCamp.  It's almost like shedding light on vampires - it's so positive and fun that eternal pessimists would probably avoid or flee.  I needed that kind of crowd today and would guess that we would ALL benefit from it once or twice a year.


I'm looking forward to the next EdCamp Iowa and hoping more of our ag ed and CTE friends will join the discussion.  Out-of-staters are welcome, too.  The more the merrier!!!!

Melanie Bloom

Teaching Fun

Posted by Melanie Bloom Oct 25, 2012

While everyone's at National Convention, I'm enjoying a couple of quiet days at school.  No state emails to read this week, everyone's busy at Convention!  Just wanted to share some of the Sioux Central ag ed fun:


Inside Investigation - with "real live dead pigs" from a local farrowing unit.  Amazing the issues students get to see - heart defects, haematomas (bruising from being stepped/laid on by mama pigs - makes a real case for farrowing crates) and other fatal problems that caused the demise of the piglets. 


And this fall, we started a PALS program - yesterday the five students (there are supposed to be 12 in my Ag Ed III class) worked with groups of the 2nd graders to compare sugar content in popular snack items.  Kinda grossed me out, seeing the piles of sugar.  GREAT activity, all the students loved it and the teachers had fun, too.  My ah-ha - the whole bag of dried pineapple has as much sugar as two mountain dews. 


This fall has been interesting.  For the past eight years, we have been working on improving instructional methods at Sioux Central - a lot of emphasis on inquiry and problem-based education.  I've worked on "flipping" my classroom for a couple of classes and created videos for each PowerPoint presentation in the CASE Intro to AFNR curriculum - kids do the notes (which are narrated and enhanced by my own pictures/videos) outside of class and we get to do more "fun stuff" in class.  We're hustling through the curriculum this year, and I think we'll get all the way through both of the CASE classes I teach for the first time!  Facilitating these classes is so much fun.  Such a difference from my first five years of teaching.  Can't wait to see that Environmental curriculum next year.  And excited about the STEM grants in Iowa that are providing for so many ag teachers to pick up more CASE curriculum. 

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On the flip side, though, has been the frustration that comes with a college student trying to grasp inquiry and "flipping" when they've had very little instruction in methods outside of "lecture" and "worksheets" (both of which I've come to despite and limit the use of!).  My student teacher this fall is a trooper, putting a lot of time in trying to understand this "crazy" style of instruction.  But she's understandably stressed now that I've thrown her into the frying pan.  I'm proud of how much time she's putting in, but I really wonder if it's fair to her - and other Ag Ed college students - to have them so unfamiliar with all of the Ag Education buzzwords and tools we use.  That's a thought that keeps coming up in my thinking this fall.  I can't imagine being a first-year teacher in a progressive school district that expects so much from instructors (and there is so little guidance and hands-on preparation!)


BUT - as we're reminded this morning in a staff meeting - the #1 thing that encourages students to success is relationships built on outside interests.  Yup, that's right - not how you teach, or what you teach.  It's how much you care - and how well students see that in daily interactions.  Congrats, FFA Advisors - you already possess one of the most powerful tools for making a difference in students' lives: a vehicle for building relationships called "FFA."


Hope everyone at Convention has a great time.  The Sioux Central blue jackets sound like they're having a great time with their student teacher and the other groups from north Iowa. 

A few years back, you all remember the major earthquake that devastated Haiti.  A year and a half ago, some people from little ol? northwest Iowa (farmers, preachers, teachers to misquote Randy Travis? song) got together and started a project that has been amazing.  Iowa Secretary of Ag Bill Northey (@bnorthey on Twitter) and other government dignitaries worked on the "Special Delivery: Homes. Help. Hope. For Haiti" campaign along with Iowa Soybean Association and Global Compassion Network (kinda headed up by two personal friends of mine).  The goal was to raise funds and raise over  40 specially designed homes (which resemble small grain bins designed by Sukup, an FFA-friendly company from Iowa - their engineering genius is evident!)  Each home would be accompanied by a package of food similar to those packaged during WLC the past few years.


My students started: they wanted to get involved packing meals here at school.  Within a week of that idea, I had a group of students bent on raising funds for one home themselves ($5700), then extended the application to traveling to Haiti - themselves - to build it and meet the people they were Serving.  The Haiti Project was born.  They set up a home during State FFA Convention in April and talked about their project.  Sounded like there were Iowa FFA members interested in learning more and maybe traveling in 2013.


In July, four FFA members traveled to Haiti with Dennis Anderson and Ken DeYoung of GCN and built homes, worked with orphans, and learned about their ag projects near Les Cayes (northeast part of the country).  I wasn't able to go, but the experience described to me when they return was obviously life-changing.  (By the way, there are several good pictures in this article).


Two weeks ago, my students helped set up and man the GCN display at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture conference in Des Moines - they met and talked to personnel from 44 states as well as other countries about their trip to Haiti and the project in 2013.  Most were very receptive (contact your Secretary of Ag's office and see if they remember the "grain bin home" in Des Moines.  This event was the coolest thing I've seen my students get to do in 11 years of teaching.  I was moved by the experience, and the students were so excited and proud to be part of it, and really stepped up to the plate to represent National FFA as well as their own chapter!


Sven (following an unsuccessful campaign for Iowa FFA Vice President) lead the team comprised of Brad (State Rising Star Award), Jordan (first year FFA member) and Carly (who joined us from another chapter for this project).  They're some good kids.  But they want all students to have the opportunity to travel to Haiti next summer to experience what they did.


Hence my blog post.  I want to extend the opportunity to travel with GCN to Haiti next summer.  My four students (and another 4-5 students from Sioux Central who hope to travel to Haiti in 2013) want to lead FIVE groups of FFA members from Iowa - and the US during June and July.  We have not started fundraising, and I don't have a lot of specifics nailed down since an FFA Service project like this has never been done before.


The cost for the 10-day trip was $1,200 per student in 2012 - costs will most likely be the same for 2013.  We will also need male and female chaperones for each group.  Our contacts in Haiti, which are primarily faith-based organizations, are also trying to jump-start agriculture projects (rabbits, chickens, wheat and other crops).  It sounds like SAE projects to me.  Very, very cool connections for our students.  Pretty sure I can relate all of it to the Common Core!  Communications, leadership, 21st Century Skills - they're all there.  Dennis and I were brain-storming last night - what if we found a contact at Disney World in Orlando, FL and set up the pre-trip prep day at Disney for each group so the students can gather in Orlando, do a final training/preparation and then fly to Haiti (and then another debriefing day following the trip before they fly home)?!?  Wow.  The ideas are bigger then I know how to organize, so I'm reaching out to my ag teacher peeps for the following help:


1) If you have contact(s) at Disney (a big dream, I know, but wasn?t it Disney that had the "When You Wish Upon a Star" jingle?!?)

2) If you'd be interested in traveling with a group as a chaperone.

3) If you have student(s) interested in traveling to Haiti.

4) If you know of organizations who might be interested in supporting the project in some way - students and Haitians could use seed, tools, gloves, clothing, etc - as well as financial support to provide some travel money.

Melanie Bloom


Posted by Melanie Bloom Apr 5, 2012

I get my state degree this year.  I'm 32 and I finally get my state degree!  I applied twice as an FFA member; my app met all the qualifications but a few details in my SAE agreement weren't quite the way the review committee wanted to see things done (the first couple of years, my parents "loaned" my siblings and I bred sows, we took care of chores, feed, expenses and then gave the sows back after weaning the piglets - after that first year, we used our own gilts to make more babies - my senior year I think we raised over 200 head of market hogs and I had my six-head beef herd purchased using pig money; I also worked hundreds of paid hours on the farm every year) and I was denied twice.  Not that I'm bitter, but I still have the review sheets with the signatures.    I show it to my upperclassmen thinking about applying for their Iowa Degrees.  They think I'm too hard on them, making them do something they're not really sure about.  But a year or two later, many of them come back and admit that it was worth it.  What a sense of accomplishment!  So far, I haven't had a student apply who hasn't eventually gotten their degree (a couple of them have taken two years, but they get 'r' dun) and that's an achievement worth noting.  Our students who work hard at their FFA membership and ag ed classes and SAE projects really deserve the recognition. 




We had our annual labor auction the other night and it was a HOOT!  A couple students volunteered to be callers and they were a kill - the small but dedicated audience really enjoyed them!  One of them even started calling absent parents to do phone bids.  What a great example of how to have fun and help out.  Great community activity!




As we're preparing for State Convention this year, it's been a frustrating journey.  We've scratched a couple of teams - I've had so many other things in the hopper this year that I haven't pushed the teams to prepare as I usually do.  They didn't have a lot of ambition, and none of them were too upset about scratching.  Hopefully next year we get back on the wagon.  But the students receiving recognition for their involvement - five state degrees, five proficiencies that made it to the state level, a rising star finalist, a Creed Speaker - they are on fire right now!  We've checked a lot of items off our POA in the last two months - chapter banquet, officer elections, leadership CDEs, district convention.  All have gone very well and that makes me appreciate the outstanding group of students I have to work with.  See my freshmen serving the meal at the banquet?  They were pretty excited to get their jackets finally. 




And the new chapter activities getting ramped up right now - an educational livestock display for a local historical threshermens' show, a service trip to Haiti to build homes, a farm safety certification course, an FFA farmers' market - those kids are on fire, too.  All are ideas that came from our Chapter Officer Leadership Training the last two Junes and again in January.  A couple state officer visits made a great impression and we have had District and State Officer candidates again this year. 


All in all, it's been a great year and I'm so proud to be part of this profession, this school and this group.  I can't imagine many other jobs that bring this much satisfaction.


Our Iowa AAE has been through a lot of ups and downs this year, too - a lot of changes, but I'm proud to have been part of the re-grouping of the Iowa Team AgEd.  Feels like we're getting some housecleaning done and making progress toward improvements.  It's been fun to be part of it - growing pains are always tough and there have been frustrations, but all in all, I feel like I'm going to be able to retire in June as our Association President having accomplished some positive changes, just like every President before me.  Just before I retire, though, I get to help host the Region III conference here in Ankeny, Iowa.  It's going to be amazing, y'all.


Have a blessed Easter weekend.  I know I'm going to enjoy some unseasonably warm weather - working horses, landscaping and will probably fit some lesson plans somewhere in there, too. 

Melanie Bloom

Summer Musings

Posted by Melanie Bloom Jul 28, 2011

Had the awesome opportunity to serve as a Lead Teacher for CASE this summer.  Today we wrapped up two of the most grueling weeks I've had as a teacher.  Master Lead Teacher Leslie Fairchild and I turned 23 more teachers loose from Maryland with some great curriculum, training, professional development and networking - watch out world, here they come!!!  Love to hear how other states and schools work, and how other instructors address some of the same issues I see in po-dunk northwest Iowa.  Also interesting to hear how the other half lives.  Can you imagine being a single teacher program with over 200 students every year?  Some of you are.  Or dealing with OSHA on a daily/weekly/monthly basis?  Props to those of you who do.  I also can't imagine living 10 miles from school but having a half-hour commute.


Funnies from the week include "bless your heart," "it's  not your holiday," "BFFs," "tsunami," and "got milk?"  All the one  liners I'm going to be repeating and laughing at by myself while  students/parents/co-workers look at me like I've lost my mind.  Can't  wait to catch up with some of you at NAAE this fall in St. Louis!


At the start of the institute, school was still over a month away.  Now I'm staring down a two-week-long barrel - and I'm not feeling terrifically ready!  Most summers I get one or two classes revised - this summer I've done exactly none.  Ag Ed II could be interesting this year!  But I'm looking forward to it.  I haven't been able to say that the past few years, but this year I'm excited for some neat things to happen.  Great officer team, great colleagues, new challenges at school and at the state level.  Seems like now, more than ever, state leadership is critical to effect some positive changes for the future.  We have some neat opportunities in Iowa this year and I'm looking forward to helping to shake things up!  Have had some good opportunities to get ideas about how other states do things - and that's pretty cool to swap ideas with very cool people (ag teachers!).


My professional goal for the year is to amp up my classroom management and work on organization and storage.  I was identified as slighty Type A this week - not sure I really fit that description, but it's encouraging to know that maybe my ag-teacher piles in my classroom are more organized than they look...  I also have five students interested in applying for American Degrees in 2012.  That's very encouraging to hear.  The past ten years of baby steps in this program are starting to look like we've covered some miles.  The cool things ag teachers get to do.  I like my job!!!!  How many people do you know who say that?  I think we're pretty lucky to be doing what we do, touching students' lives and promoting agriculture.


Look for more from Sioux Central FFA and ag ed classes this year.  Next stop: State Fair, Little Hands on the Farm and a big concert event!  August is going to fly by faster than July!!!


Take care y'all!

Melanie Bloom

Horsin' Around

Posted by Melanie Bloom May 27, 2011

We have some fun, our last week of school.  I horse around all week.  Literally.


We have a 5-day May Term, for the exploration of careers.  Since I do this all year in ag classes, my May Term is more of a field-trip, practical experience for my eight students.


Being a fan of horses, I chose to develop and teach an equine class.


Monday we spent some time talking about the industry.  Students calculated that about 0.6% of the US population owns horses, and the average horse owner has 4.6 horses.  They tried to figure out which part of the horse is 0.6...  We also calculated costs of owning a horse and impact of the horse industry on the U.S. economy.


We visited one of the premier equine programs in Iowa on Tuesday (Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls).  B-E-A-Utiful facility, and close to home for us!  Thanks to Megan Gogerty and Kevin Butt for a great tour!  Couple of the students are actually thinking about heading that way in a year or two.  BTW - they've just advertised for a third equine/animal science instructor.  That could be a fun job for anyone interested in animals!


Wednesday we spent some time at the local farm supply store comparing fly sprays, dewormers, feed and tack.


Thursday, though, was the highlight of the week.  We were supposed to be at my place (the Leaning B) to play with horses all day - working on horse behavior, parasitology, grooming, measuring horses and doing rations and feeding.


The day started off with some major changes.  My daughter's bred pony mare (which I thought was due in another month) decided to have her foal the night before.  So our day started with imprinting a brand-spanking new colt.  He's a beauty.  This is the first foal I've ever had, so we have a lot of firsts ahead of us the next two years.  I've trained and worked with young horses for years, but never foaled.  It is neat to think that the hours spent on him yesterday will form the foundation for his his permanent opinion of humans for his whole life.


We also have a yearling pony that was given to us a while ago which we've been unable to work with, so has never been touched by humans.  After a couple of hours of working with him, the girls had a halter on and were leading him around the stall (see photo below).  I think they all learned a lot about communicating and working together.


All in all, it was a great week.  Everyone can kid me about just horsing around all week (even my administration) but my students have some great take-away experiences and knowledge about the equine industry in Iowa.


Been a fun year, now gearing up for summer activities!

Melanie Bloom

March Madness

Posted by Melanie Bloom Mar 10, 2011

One of my study hall students asked me today, "When does FFA slow down?"  I laughed.  That's a tough question to answer.  Depends on the group of students involved in FFA and how many different career interests are encompassed by the group!  I'd have to say I have a tremendous new officer team this year.  We run everything on the calendar year, so my new officer team already has two good months in and are making some great things happen.  One of them came up with the idea of a Facebook Flood for National Ag Week next week.  Easy, simple, great impact.  We'll give it a try - watch out for those Sioux Central FFA members' status posts next week!  So far, we've entered every CDE in 2011.  Now they're working on other members, influencing them to sign up for CDEs.  "You don't want to be the only team that doesn't participate this year, do you?!?"  It's a source of pride.  We may not win anything, but the sense of accomplishment I heard from so many different students after Districts on Saturday - that's an incredible "thank you" to an ag teacher.  They were so proud of how hard they'd worked and how much they'd learned.  Didn't matter that they weren't real close to the top two - they got something valuable out of it.  That's my goal.  If we happen to place well or win something, that's just icing on the cake.  That's what they set out to do, but often their personal achievements in the event overshadow "losing" the event.  Had a senior try a CDE for the first time this year.  Think he finally sees what he's maybe been missing the last three years.  Wish there was a way to convey that to underclassmen.


Had my post-evaluation meeting today over a late lunch.  Amazing how much different those meetings are after nine years.  My first three years I was terrified of getting called in there....  I know I am not the best teacher out there (which is why I stalk people on CoP looking for ideas from proven winners), so to have someone else point out all my shortcomings is just a reminder of how far I have to go.    It was good to hear that seen a lot of progress and maturation as an instructor.  Wonder when I'll join the ranks of seasoned, experienced, great teachers!  Really struggling with another decision this month, though - I am considering another opportunity at another district.  There, I told the whole world, cat's out of the bag.  Do I want to consider leaving my "safe" place where I'm comfortable and established?  Times like this, I really appreciate the value of being able to call a few trusted colleagues to get some insight, advice and encouragement.  The friends I've gained through IAAE and NAAE are invaluable.  What a support group!


Also heard today that I might be helping with CASE institutes this summer.  Looking forward to another chance to learn more about the program and also meet a few more of you!  And if you register for the course I'm helping with, disregard the comments above about my shortcomings as a teacher.  I'm great!  LOL  When I told a few of my students about it, one looked at me and said, "You mean, you're QUALIFIED to teach other teachers?!?"  Great confidence builder, right there.


Watching Modern Marvels: Black Blizzard this week with one of the ag classes.  Cannot imagine the difficulties our recent ancestors lived through...  As a mother, it's so hard to hear them talk about the children that got sick and died from Dust Bowl-related illnesses.  How helpless would you feel?  But what keeps running through my mind is the first paragraph of the FFA Creed.  The "faith born, not of words, but of deeds;" the "struggles of former years" - what a great way to illustrate that.  And when I brought it up, students joined in reciting the paragraph - it hit home what that paragraph might be trying to get across to the listener.


Students conceived the idea of a "new" fundraiser for our chapter this year - we're trying a labor/silent auction to raise some funds for WLC - and the community support has been overwhelming.  Parents, students, businesses, Alumni - everyone is really pitching in to help make this a sucess.  And they need it to be - we have 10 kids wanting to go, and with a goal of about $1,000 per student, they need to make this thing work!  April 31, if anyone's around - come on over!  Won't be anything fance, but I'm sure we'll have some fun!


Also starting to plan our Chapter Officer Leadership Camp (COLT) for this summer.  See attached picture - this is our "idea board" from last summer.  Looking forward to taking a bigger group of "my" kids down and working with a couple more chapters.  Always fun to get together with the ag teachers with the great ideas and enthusiasm.  It's catching, you know!


Hope your March Madness is treating you well!

Melanie Bloom

'Tis the Season

Posted by Melanie Bloom Jan 28, 2011

Yes, I know the holiday season has passed.  It's FFA Season!!!  Some days it's both my favorite AND worst season!


It's been a while since I've taken the time to get a post written, but have had an AWESOME week!  Lots of exciting things happening.  It's amazing to see the effects of a little bit of effort.


Completing a grant application to send to the USDA is a big task, but very enjoyable.  Also understandable why more instructors don't try - it's a daunting task to tackle, especially if you don't have a lot of time or experience.  Matt Eddy and I found some tremendous support people to assist, but when it came down to it, the two of us got it handled.


As we finished that, the IAAE opened registration for a CASE institute here in Iowa next June - at a deeply discounted rate thanks to Cargill Animal Health.  See what happens when you ask?!?


Had our first county advisory committee meeting on Wednesday.  Good adult time - great advice and feedback from industry and adults in the area and also great to hear an administrator's view on ag programs.  Great conversations and ideas to bring home and ponder during my 10 minutes of free time every day.


New semester brought a few new students - over 85 high school students and another 17 college members active - the first time in my nine years that I've had over 100 members on the roster.  Holy cow!


But so glad for support.  Our Alumni catered our banquet a couple weeks ago - LOVE having that done before February and I think we'll keep doing it that way if possible.


We host sub-districts (the preliminary round for 9 leadership CDEs here in Iowa) for nine schools and the "independent study" Ag II class (five kids during my prep period, hahaha) have worked really hard to get judges lined up.


Most exciting, though, is the volunteers coming out of the woodwork.  A former instructor, a friend of mine, offered to "coach" my parli team and also teach parli to my sophomores.  Having very little training in parli myself, I'm picking up a ton of experience as we practice our in-class teams, preparing for an in-class competition.


Fifteen CDE teams/events preparing right now - feeling pulled in every direction, but LOVING the energy the kids are pouring into their preparations.  Heartening this time of year, when you start feeling buried.  State Degree and Proficiency applications due in a week.


If I survive next week, then I am SO exicited to see the Hadricks (google the Advocates for Agriculture blog or friend them on Facebook) in a town near here.  Over 15 members & another dozen parents planning to see them speak on a Wenesday night.  What a great opportunity for students and adults to hear about an everyday producer turning the tables on anti-ag activist groups.  Hoping we all come away with some ideas and enthusiasm to follow their example.


Among all this, I'm still managing to teach classes - thanks to CASE!!!!  One period a day that I get to pour energy into the lesson as opposed to energy devoted to planning lessons.  Loving me some AFNR!  Hope you all get a chance to look into it.  If you get a chance to visit Iowa this summer for our CASE Intro to AFNR institute, I'd love to meet you and treat you to some Iowa hospitality during the weekend!


Am hoping that all of you are able to get through the winter blues as we face the FFA Season.  Enjoy the days - and the teachable moments with your students.  Those students will probably be looking you up (or running into you) and saying thank you for the efforts.


Remembering WHY I'm an ag teacher - completely by choice - and loving the job this year.

My daughters have been enjoying the Wizard of Oz (Judy Garland version on our DVR) this month.  The other day Annaliese (my oldest) and I were walking down to talk to an administrator before dropping her off at her preschool classroom.  She asked where we were going and I told her, "to talk to Mr. Scharn," and she started skipping and singing "Off to See the Wizard."  I laughed, and he thought it was pretty funny, too, when I told him the story; but I also think it may be somewhat appropriate.


When you think about how you and your administrators interact, think about the pressures of their job, too.  I would not want those responsibilities most days - dealing with problems and making some tough decisions in these economic conditions.  The Wizard in the movie ended up being a plain guy, with lots of bells and whistles and smoke and speakers to make his apparition seem very intimidating.  Every administrator has their own style.  One of our past superintendents told me once that most supers have a personality or style that is top-down.  She'd done some studying of the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator and could really recite some interesting - and useful information.


I've had a few issues with students this fall.  Our school initiated a 1:1 laptop program and most of us are really trying to integrate the new technology.  A few of us decided the other day that we, as teachers, feel a little overwhelmed because of all the new sites and programs available to us.  The kids are definitely feeling the effects - they're the guinea pigs this year!  But the cool things we're seeing students do is SO exciting.  And the discussion that often stems from using the new technology is promising.  But there are a few kids who are not quite "sold" on this initiative. Their dislike of the computers was coming out in negative ways - and didn't start out as complaints about the computers at all.  It started out with complaints that I was doing a poor job of teaching an upper-level animal science class (college credit) that is pretty rigorous.  They howled about assignments and lack of instructional time, when in reality, they were struggling with time to get their work done and not really liking the new types of "homework" resulting from the availability of the computer technology.  I wasn't smart enough to figure this out, but finally drew that conclusion when I had them reflect on their first quarter efforts and resulting grade.  I had them take a learning style quiz on Edutopia and - *BAM* - there's the answer!  Turns out the three most unhappy students are "Naturalistic" learners - and they are just plain anti-computer.  Since that time things have improved a lot and I've been able to approach many activities differently, now armed with that knowledge.  I'm considering having all my classes take that type of quiz and using the information to make groups, seating charts, etc.  It's made a lot of difference.


I love the computers, love having each student on their own machine, love the dependability of the internet (last year it was pretty hit-and-miss on the old system), LOVE the new opportunities, love the idea of each student having email, love the new website with quizzes and blogs, etc.  I've spent far less time grading quizzes this year and far more time reteaching material or coming up with more interesting lessons.  I'm definitely sold and would recommend it to anyone!  The machines are MacBooks - which I wasn't excited about at first, but they're not too bad, really.


Was at a mother's group last night (anyone heard of MOPS?) and they topic was TV & video game exposure for your kids.  Most of moms there were thinking about how their own kids are affected and how to limit their exposure; I'm thinking about the kids at school who are the product of the use....  I'm pretty naive when it comes to video games, so learning more about Grand Theft Auto (which I've heard kids talking about) - and worse - was a little scary.  Did you know that today's TV programming has actually "rewired" many kids' brains, so their learning styles are greatly affected - nearly always negatively.  Reading abilities, social skills, creative thinking skills are all being affected according to the research presented to us.  WOW!!!!


The CASE Intro to AFNR curriculum is going pretty well - the kids struggle in some ways to break out of the "take notes, take tests" mold (see above comments about learning styles) and having the freshmen come up with dynamic speeches and presentations is my biggest issue.  Maybe they haven't seen enough of us crazy teachers who make "speeches" interesting, or maybe they're just scared to try being a little goofy in class.  It'll come, I'm sure. They enjoy the lack of note-taking and talking and the dearth of hands-on activities, though.  We're sold on the curriculum.  It's pretty good stuff!


It's supposed to snow here tonight... 6-12 inches according to the forecast - our first blizzard of the winter.  I'm headed to the 212/360 conference with a handful of excited kids, so we won't probably see any of the white stuff.  (Despite the anticipation by the snowmobilers and other people who love winter I just don't get it...LOL.)  While the students are in conference, the teachers will be in meetings - IAAE Board meeting, conference planning meeting, Enrichment Center meeting, probably some talk about hosting a CASE institute in the wonderful state of Iowa as well as Region III in 2012.  And lots of informal meetings where ideas and tips are exchanged - I leave with  bunches of great ideas and a lot of respect for my colleagues.  It's like a family reunion with all of those ag teacher friends (because no one else will be, right?!?)  I guess I could say that I'm Off to See the Wizard(s) myself - the Wizards of Ag Ed!

Melanie Bloom

Well Begun....

Posted by Melanie Bloom Sep 20, 2010

Our school year starts out pretty busy - the second week of September is the Clay County Fair (see  It's like a small state fair in Northwest Iowa; thousands of animals in hundreds of youth and open classes go through the fairgrounds during the nine days; over 250,000 people visit every year.  The fair foods, the machinery displays, the midway carnivals.  A lot of our kids miss a few days or a whole week of school so right away there's a "break" in our fall semester.  Today our focus is getting everyone back into school mode....


I had the opportunity to serve on a media panel for the Iowa Secretary of Ag "forum" last Saturday.  What a neat experience - rubbing shoulders and shaking hands with the local "Who's Whos" of agriculture; it was really neat to hear, in person, the platforms and issues affecting Iowa agriculture.  I got to ask a couple questions - focused on increasing the livestock industry in Iowa again and also how we're going to work with all the stakeholders associated with agriculture.  I mentioned HSUS and their recent activities in Ohio, Florida, California and New Mexico; got the answer I was looking for from one of the candidates that each stakeholder position needs to be clearly identified before any discussions take place.  (Sickeningly enough, HSUS's multi-million dollar budget allocates less than 1% of the entire budget to actual animal care and shelters; instead it focuses on legislation desigend to limit animal agriculture and also on marketing/promotion of vegan lifestyles). That information got the attention of a lot of audience members and a few cattle feeders came up afterward and thanked me for bringing that issue to light.  If you're interested in finding out more about HSUS, check out the HumaneWatch group on Facebook or google their organization online.  Interesting stuff...  Advocates for Agriculture is another great blog by a South Dakota rancher and his wife.  Just think, if each town or county or FFA chapter had one citizen or member or alumnus doing something like this, what would the impact be on the public?  How would consumers change how they "vote with their dollars" at the grocery store?!?


It struck me, though, that there were more "officials" and campaign people and local elected representatives than there were actually audience members - maybe 30 voters at best.  In a state that's dealing with the salmonella outbreak in eggs and other confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) issues, that seems alarming.  After the debate I was ambushed by a "voter" who (with his 56 years of farming) knows more about my job than I do.  In between accusations of brainwashing students and being an example of what's wrong with American agriculture, I tried to make the point that the disconnect between production and consumption is causing some major problems for the producers who feed the world, and we cannot do enough to present that to the public (he says "to heck with Farm Bureau and ed-jecashun of the public").  I did score a point when I asked him what his own children are doing (none of them work in the ag industry today because they didn't think there were any opportunities) and showed him one of my FFA members standing there, an example of the bright, hard-working young people planning to farms and work in ag-related industries; he, in contrast, has no heir for his farming operation.  That one conversation nearly ruined my day, but serves as anecdotal evidence of WHY I do what I do - "I believe in American agriculture; I dedicate my life to its development and the advancement of its people."


All through the week, I came across dozens of former students who had great stories to tell - one recently quit working for the local implement dealership and opened his own full-service machinery repair shop - his work ethic and ability to set his own hours (meaning he works long weeks and nights) has won him a lot of customers; another's home farming full-time with his dad; a third is continuing his college education from home while working on the farm this fall; another was there volunteering at the 4-H shows between time on the farm and a part-time youth minister position; the guys who lost their dad this summer are optimistic about the future of their operation as well.  Really special to see these kids from the last nine years of ag instruction come home and make their mark locally.  We're celebrating our chapter's Tenth Anniversary this year - had quite a few people comment that it can't be ten years already; others said they almost can't remember NOT having the program at Sioux Central.  Looking forward to the Homecoming FFA Reunion and "Ag Stupid Stuff" games and pre-game festivities (thanks to IAAE and Region III for that idea) on October 1.


The other comment I heard all week started with, "you do such a great job; just make sure you teach your students..." If I wrote those all down, I'd have my advisory committee's recommendations for curriculum pretty well sewn-up.  There are so many needs out there - and goes to prove the absolute necessity for secondary-level agriculture programs.  The industry is begging us to guide our students into agriculture and they're willing to help us out.  All we gotta do is ask the right people and learn the right lessons from the nay-sayers.  The proof is in the pudding - we're doing the right stuff and our students are turning out to be great, productive citizens.  Enjoy your time with the students now - they're going to be the adult supporters of the program in a very few short years!

Melanie Bloom

Back to School

Posted by Melanie Bloom Aug 18, 2010

"Back to school, back to school, to prove to Dad that I'm no fool..."  This is the phrase the runs through my mind when I start seeing "Back to School" anouncements this time of year.  The quote is from the movie Billy Madison, a story of an entitled kid who coasted through life, partying and living off Dad's wealth until it came time to choose Dad's predecessor for the business.  Then Billy had competition for the job - and finally got serious about life - and learning.


This morning I attended the funeral of a man in his early fifties who'd passed away with no warning.  His sons, former FFA members aged 18 and 20, have already made the commitment to take over the farming operation.  The whole thing has reminded me of losing my dad eight years ago and our family went through the same scenario.  (I, however, chose to accept this position and started my dream career instead of staying home to farm.)  For these two young men - and myself eight years ago - this circumstance serves to remind us about the precious little time we have here with loved ones.  While I wish I could shield "the boys" from the hurt - and the hurt that's yet to come, I also know that they're embarking on a tremendous task and someday they're going to look back and think about how proud their dad would be of them today and all the days to come.  I got to sit in a row of current and former FFA members there to support the guys; as a teacher of eight years it was gratifying to see these guys and gals come together like this.  The reason for the reunion was tough but it was good to see them all doing well.


I've witnessed other milestone events for former members this summer - the wedding of the student reluctant to accept a female ag teacher (seriously, at my first FFA meeting with them, the 16 farm boys were deadly silent until he finally asked the question, "Are we going to have to do girl stuff now?"  I reminded him of the story and he didn't remember it but he did remember all the fun he had in the two years after I arrived), the acceptance of a great internship, the preparation for student teaching this fall, etc.


As ag teachers, we deal with a lot of competition it seems.  Competing for time with busy students, competing for program dollars, competing for recognition, competing for time with our families.  We're pulled in so many different directions and if you're like me you have a mile-long list of things you want to accomplish.  This year, my #1 item is to focus on building relationships with each individual student.


My favorite activity during the year is completing SAE visits at home - the kids with cattle seem to take the longest since we have to look at each cow, talk about the future, and spend some time leaning on the gate solving the world's problems.  When a student doesn't know exactly what he or she wants to do - college, major, career - it's fun to introduce foreign ideas to them; crazy stuff like majors they hadn't thought of, internships that sound like fun, joining the Greek system, getting involved in extracurricular activities at college, or others.  They get more excited when they percieve that an opportunity is tailor-made for them.  I LOVE being a part of that.


The students that I've been able to build good relationships with are the students that also know I'm available when something happens - either exciting or traumatic.  To be able to help other humans cope with loss, celebrate a wedding, or just catch up and encourage (or be encouraged by) is a great responsibility and joy.  I hope each of you is able to bring that to mind, especially on those days when it seems like it would just be easier to give up and quit.

Melanie Bloom

Almost Midsummer

Posted by Melanie Bloom Jul 2, 2010

Stopped by school today and was reminded by the math teacher across the hall (who was working on basketball camp stuff) that we only have five weeks of summer left before trainings and inservices start.  Did anyone see where June went?  In-service, biotech conference, association conference - seems like those 10 days covered the entire month.  And I've only got 10% of my SAE visits done; I did get our one state fair entry done on time, though.


IAAE conference just finished up yesterday.  It was a little bittersweet as Iowa had nine (NINE!) retirees to honor this year.  Within a few weeks, our association loses the combined experience of over 240 years of teaching (I think that's the number given to us); those nine were active in the profession, serving in leadership and mentoring roles.  I didn't get to know all of them really well, but the ones I've spent considerable time with... well, they will ALL be missed.  The sages of IAAE have offered support, advice, humor and great examples of professionalism for many of us.


On the other hand, it's fun to see friends receive deserved recognition - those instructors that I've gotten to know the past few years.  The new instructors - ok, I know I haven't been doing this that long either, but  - most of them really look young!!!  They are so excited to get started and they ask the best questions, and they're eager to get involved.  I kinda remember being that way - I didn't know what I could or couldn't do yet, and my enthusiasm completely overshadowed any obstacles.


My favorite sessions this year were when different instructors were asked to share their best stuff.  Whew!  Cramped my hand while furiously scribbling notes through those presentations.  Next week I plan to decipher my notes and figure out where to use all those ideas!  We've had great speakers in the past, and good information - but those are nothing like this.  We really got to see how our colleagues perform in their native habitat (their classroom).  It's sometimes hard to picture them actually teaching - we don't really get to see that side of these people very often - but it's fun to imagine their classroom dynamics after seeing that.  The quietest guys and gals at meetings and events are some of the most dynamic teachers.  There was also a session showcasing the CASE curriculum.  This morning one of the first emails I read was the information for the Intro to AFNR institute in Minnesota starting next weekend.  If that's not perfect timing to get a little adrenaline rush, I don't know what is.  I am really excited to see my students delve into agriculture this fall - and to see my own enthusiasm explode!


To top it off, I get to attend NAAE in December and I am so excited to go back to Las Vegas.  I'm looking forward to meeting many of you in person, and gaining more ideas to bring back to Iowa.  To those award winners and board members and other representatives attending from Iowa and the rest of you who get to be there - GET READY!  It's going to be a great time, I can't wait to spend the time with y'all.


To come home for the weekend - we have a memorial bull riding event, the AJ Vanderhoff Memorial Rodeo.  That's going to be hard, seeing her family and friends pay tribute to a young woman who never listened when someone said "girls can't ___."  Our chapter's providing a taco-in-a-bag meal there, and we're looking forward to a big crowd.  Who said Iowa's not a rodeo place?  Shine the boots, dust off the hat.  Mine are still messy after building fence last week....


I hope everyone else is having a great summer - to anyone who's just joining CoP, welcome and come on back!  I keep this site open on the desktop most days and hope you will, too - there are always good ideas on CoP, as well as these ramblings from those of us who (seemingly) have nothing better to do!  Some of you have some great ideas I could really use - I can't wait to see/hear them!

Melanie Bloom

Summer's Start

Posted by Melanie Bloom Jun 10, 2010

As I paged through the Agriculture Education magazine last week, I saw the graph of teacher attitude through a school year illustrating an article.  The research has been done to study the cause of these valleys and peaks, and thousands of ideas have been researched to see what can help teachers through the tougher times.  For me, I think I reflect student attitude toward the program.  And their attitudes probably mirror the level of energy I bring to the classroom and activities on a daily basis, to some degree.  It can be a vicious cycle.  After observing my kids' behavior at State Leadership Conference, especially at the hotel during those friendly contests to see who can run on the least amount of sleep, I've come to the conclusion that I need to find some kind of Monster Energy Drink For Ag Teachers, to be consumed when the FFA seasons begin to wear us out.  Spring break just doesn?t do it.


Another ag teacher friend of mine and I have organized a COLT (Chapter Officer Leadership Training) camp.  It?s an officer retreat with more than one chapter.  Today is the third - and final - day, and it's been great!  OK, so I only had two of my eight students show up (it's summer after all, and apparently car payments are ALL due this week....).  But the two that are here are having a great time.  We spent time on some I-like-people-esque games.  I brought along a new game I just got from The Core ("The FFA Game, Blue Edition"); the kids definitely enjoyed trying to stump the advisors with the hardest questions.  I recommend it.  Other games we've played have been active, creative, and fun activities to break up the physically and mentally challenging sessions.  Our last game is today - and after we play Braveheart Tag, we're loading up and returning home.


We spent a couple hours on a low ropes course, focusing not on "thinking outside the box" (am I the only one who think that concept is a little over-used?) but instead on teamwork.  The point my colleague (he facilitated that portion while I dealt with my own terror over heights....) tried to get across to the kids was that so often we're so focused on "me" that we can't help solve a group's problems.  As the kids went through the decompression, they seemed to get that point and drew some good parallels to FFA.  Great points that I'm not sure kids hear often enough in our "me" society.


After supper at Hickory Park in Ames one night, we took them to a grocery store and turned them loose with a mission: to plan and purchase a grilling meal for the eight of us for the next evening, given a small budget.  They did a great job - and I'll just share that while I enjoyed the slightly charred steaks and pineapple, I most enjoyed seeing them work together to prepare the meal.  To quote Homer Simpson: "mmmmm, [grilled pineapple]".  But I digress.


The portion of the camp that I got to facilitate and probably enjoyed the most (I admit it, work is often my idea of fun) was sitting down and going through POA planning; it was like Ag Ed I all over again.  As newer ag teachers who are proficient at re-requisitioning materials, we had quite a few old POAs from more successful chapters available.  Going through that process helps me personally focus a little bit more on what's important for the kids - and what they'll enjoy.  The white board is pretty full of new ideas or renovations of current activities.  It was also invigorating to hear the students talk about what would go into making each activity successful - for their unique chapter.  This coming year, I predict that both chapters will have at least one or two new activities that are pretty successful.  We didn't come up with a big, new activity for each of the 15 standards, but just a couple of them - the rest are pretty low-key ideas.  We figure we should focus on one or two big, new events each year to establish some traditions.


This thought comes a bit late in my career - it should be something I had ingrained in my brain ten years ago when I got started in this business.  But there you go; more proof that I am just a "pretty average" FFA advisor at best.  Here's the ah-hah moment: when I explained to the students that if kids have some investment in the chapter (and I'll hypothesize that that "buy-in" comes from activities in the Student Divisions) - then their energy and attitude will spill over into the Chapter and Community Division activities for the chapter.  For some reason, I haven't really practiced that the past few years - I'm going to test this hypothesis this year, starting with doing a GREAT job with SAE visits and facilitating other Student Division activities.


Both chapters are going to come away from this thing with some great ideas.  And as a teacher experiencing a little burnout this year, it was energizing to see the students processing this material and coming up with their own goals, ideas, and wish lists.  We?re excited to get back and have the whole officer team take a look at this... and add their two cents' worth.  With our chapter's 10th anniversary next year, I think these two students are going to inspire some neat celebration ideas to bring our alumni, former members, supporters, and current members together!


Maybe this COLT thing is just the energy jolt I needed back in, say, February and March when things were getting kinda overwhelming.  Or November and December before I started letting it get to me....


After three days of fun and relaxed planning time, I have a feeling we?ll have a few more students along next year.

Melanie Bloom

May Day...

Posted by Melanie Bloom May 11, 2010

Mayday!  Mayday!  Yesterday one of my students came tearing into the building to tell me that the roof panels were coming apart; our greenhouse is breaking up.  I guess when you buy the least-cost item (with a life span of seven years) and it starts falling apart after five years, you shouldn't be surprised.  In northwest Iowa, we are particularly blessed with crazy weather.  They say, in regards to the weather, "if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes."  I'm not sure it's that variable, but we definitely have wind.  And that wind is wreaking havoc on my poor little greenhouse, loccated on a desolate northwest-facing location, exposed to the worst of the elements.  Another student, today, suggested that we just abandon ship and get a new one.  Oh, to be a high school kid and able to solve problems that easily.


On the up side, one of my students - who isn't typically every teacher's delight, but he's a prime example of why we have ag programs - came up with a solution.  Instead of braces and trusses and bolts and all kinds of equipment and labor, he got a ratchet strap from his car and strapped it over the top of the greenhouse.  Everyone from the administration to the custodians were impressed by his creative thinking and problem-solving skills.  He's a survivor, that's for sure.  He's working right this moment to do more permanent repairs on the greenhouse, sending me back inside to work on "paperwork" as he puts it.  He claims he was just getting tired of working in the cold and "threw it together," but it looks like a carefully thought-out solution, and the work he's doing this afternoon reflect some pride in his ingenuity.  The kind of solutions I'm supposed to come up with....  I'm no engineer, but his idea just saved us the cost of a new greenhouse, at least for another year.


As I ponder this greenhouse situation, I realize that this past year I've reached a sort of parallel, a professional "mayday" situation.  Kids wouldn't show up to anything, classes were dull and lifeless and it seemed like nothing would go right.  For a few months last winter, I couldn't find a better job fast enough for the next school year.  Even thought about applying to a local farm store, just to have a different job!  Was completely convinced that I had nothing left to offer to the program, the profession, the community.  I lost nearly every bit of "try" or "care" about the program and even some of the kids.  I was done in many senses.  It didn't help that we've had a lot of family/business/personal issues going on the past couple years that seemed to merge upon my husband and I last fall as well; the culmination of all of this just piled up to the point that I'd started shutting down during the non-vital stressful situations, kind of like your body in hypothermic stages.


I think the event that really accelerated this situation was the loss of one of the most active FFA members in the chapter last fall to a car accident.  Her parents chose to have her buried in her official dress.  All 60+ FFA members were honorary pallbearers in their official dress; they collectively recited the FFA Creed brokenly (she'd been our Creed Speaker last year).  That was a tough week - coming back to school after being at the hospital with the family until late the night before, watching the kids struggle with it (and grappling with it myself).  The funeral (held in the school gym), well, I'll never forget it: following 50+ kids in FFA jackets up the aisle to sit in the front across from the family.  In the ensuing weeks and months I have been amazed at the students' resiliency.  We never forget the hurt, but we also never forget how someone like that made us feel, made us think happier thoughts, believe in things.  Little things make her memory linger - one of her papers dropped from her ag book when I'm cleaning closets out (decorated with doodles from during one of my lectures, I'm sure), her certificates she didn't come forward to receive at the banquet this year, her favorite song played at the National Convention Bulls n Broncs event, her empty seat during Ag Ed II, a photo of her grudgingly reciting the Creed at our banquet last year (she was NOT happy about that one - so instead of reciting it the way she'd practiced for the CDE, she did the 1-minute version, to the delight of the audience).


I'm very satisfied to note that I'm on the exit from this pit.  I learned to ask for help.  The Alumni, my administrators, my family - they were all there when things got tough.  And life is good again, at least most days.  I love my job again, most days.  My FFA kids are nothing short of wonderful and my co-workers and administrators have once again become people I enjoy being around.  OK, maybe I'm stretching it a little, but things are definitely looking up.  We're piloting the CASE Intro to AFNR class, and I'm so excited to try out some curriculum that can do nothing but improve my teaching style and spark student interest.  The Rebel FFA Alumni group has blessed me and my program many times over.  The notes of encouragement I've received from IAAE members have buoyed my confidence a lot of days.  Through all of this, my faith has been tested.  But "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  I realize that God's never going to give me rocks when I ask for bread.  And I have more of a heart for those kids who seem to be collapsing under the weight of their worlds as well.


And the greenhouse?  Well, I'm pretty sure it will be ok, too.  We even planted a windbreak, finally, and someday when we get that huge financial gift from an anonymous donor I'll have the perfect place to build the best little greenhouse in the Great Northwest.  Just don't underestimate those students whose educational experience you've been entrusted with.  And find ways to appreciate even the ones who drive you crazy!  I've found that the most frustrating kids do the best job digging holes for trees....


But the simple act of asking for help - it took a lot to get to that point - led me down an unfamiliar road that have been bursting with blessing.  through this blog post, I want other ag teachers who might be going through something similar, or who might someday go through something similar, to know that a lot of us have been "there." And survived.  And found a way to smile again.

It's May.  *Sigh*  Contract time has just passed.  I know there are teachers out there who sign their contracts without another thought, but I don't know any of them.  I always think really hard about it.  Usually it's along the lines of, "if I left, they'd find someone REALLY good to take this program over."  I love what I do, but I'm pretty sure I'm just "pretty average" at best.


As an FFA advisor, I almost dread the summer.  Getting FFA kids to show up to summer activites has not been a successful highlight of my career thus far.  Can you believe that, for a couple of years, I actually refused to schedule summer activities for the chapter?!?  Oh, sure, I did all of the SAE visits like a good little ag teacher, but a calf show?  Community foodstand and parade entry?  Tractor ride?  Ag show?  Forget it!  We have a lot of items scheduled for this summer, so we'll see if my owl-like "wisdom" (now, there's a hoot) has prevailed for this summer's schedule or not.  On the up side, I have almost all of our skills CDE teams together - until summer work and athletic schedules come out.  Hmmm...that reminds me, I should get copies of the summer schedule to the parents who didn't get last week's email....


But anyway, on the subject of summer events.  First, you need to understand that I do not necessarily enjoy cooking, and definitely don't enjoy serving meals to massive hordes of people.  I especially don't enjoy the cleaning-up-afterwards part of any event.  Pretty sure I'm not alone in that category; just look at the FFA kids' attendance for clean-up-type events....  You'd think the chapter has enough members that getting 6-10 students to an event shouldn't be an issue... I mean, that's about 10% of our membership.  10% - well, I guess it's pretty hard to do that bad when it comes to grades in classes, but we're the perennial underachievers, I guess.  Last summer's annual calf show (despite the raging success of forty head) is a great example.  We had all kinds of help before and during the show; everyone wants to help in the ring, serve the meal and BS with spectators.  Afterwards, however, most of the FFA kids "disappeared."  You've heard the reasons: work, family events, summer activities, etc.  As I recall, two students and I did most of the shoveling of bedding and manure and hair and empty spray cans.  A couple of other kids claim they cleaned other buildings but I didn't catch them in the act.  And then we only had a couple of cleaning tools....


But a couple of our newly-formed Alumni group's members stepped in and helped out in a big way - one drove his pickup through the barns and let us load it to cart the material out; others gave us breaks from shoveling.  That day I decided that this Alumni thing is everything it's cracked up to be.


Since that time, the Alumni has really been a lifesaver.  After every monthly FFA meeting the Alumni meets and goes through the minutes.  It's fun to go to meetings that I don't have to bribe students to go to (ok, I'll admit it; I offer incentives to kids to show up to FFA meetings).  There are only about 10-12 active Alumni members, but it's the classic example of the small group of dedicated people who have effected change!  I can really be a glass-half-empty person some days, but these guys and gals have given me quite a few glass-half-full days this year.  Bus driver and chaperones for state convention, grilled lunches for the kids at state convention and other chapter events - they've even offered to cater banquet next year so there's one less thing on the students' plate (pardon the pun).  They've also helped find a lot of equipment and materials for some new curriculum needs next year (that list for the CASE curriculum is slowly becoming shorter!)  A couple of them are trained horse and livestock judgers (let's face it, I can't find the best market sheep in a pair - and DON'T ask me to give oral reasons; just thinking about it, umm...oh...ugghhh...I think I'm experiencing another panic attack like in my livestock judging class in college).  A couple of others are willing to work with budding salesmen on their sales pitches.  Some of them really, really enjoy cooking and baking.


Just having their help and ideas has really renewed me professionally this year - and it hasn't been the greatest of years.  I can't imagine how the year would have gone without that Alumni support system in place - and again, the IAAE network as well.  I could list the depressing and frustrating events of the past year, but I tell the FFA kids that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you deal with it.  In spite of - or maybe because of - this past year, I signed the contract for next year.  I'm going to try to be a glass-half-full person, at least every other day.  I've decided it's ok to be "pretty average," as long as I keep trying - and as long as I'm doing this job for the right reasons.


And then, there's always the chance that Mike Rowe's going to take me up on my offer to visit our FFA barn clean-up night with the Dirty Jobs crew at the Clay County Fair in September....