December 07, 2023

Rural Issues: The impact of an ag teacher

A friend of mine is wrapping up not only the school year, but a quarter-century career as an ag teacher at a high school in a county with a population of 21,379.

He has served the mostly rural population with a robust offering of hands-on learning experiences for his students.

Like so many other ag teachers at high schools in rural communities, his goal was to guide students to learn relevant skills and encourage them to be productive members of their communities.

It has been entertaining and enlightening to follow comments and reflections he has posted on social media during his final year as an ag teacher.

Chad’s FFA chapter holds a petting zoo for elementary school children during the final week of classes. I chuckled when I read his post a couple of days ago mentioning comments he overheard at the event.

• “That horse just mooed at me.”

• “I want to pet the water chicken,” referring to a baby goose, a gosling.

He has also been vocal in his frustrations about the increasing dependence his students have on “screens” and growing computer addiction. Yes, computer addiction is a thing.

Wikipedia defines it as a form of behavioral addiction that can be described as the excessive or compulsive use of the computer, which persists despite serious negative consequences for personal, social, or occupational function.

Chad sees students who are unable or unwilling to make connections with other people and fail to make observations important in their development. Attention spans are diminishing.

Call me old-fashioned, but I agree with Chad’s opinion that flashy digital learning on screens removes the human element and limits the ability for many students to function socially.

Yes, there are benefits to every student having access to a computer and to the internet; however, there are negative consequences when there is no balance. There should be balance.

In Chad’s early days as an FFA adviser, parents made sure students were where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there to participate in meetings, practices and various contests.

Students and parents took responsibility and respected the role of the ag teacher as an educator, not as a babysitter and a ride home.

Despite the frustrations, and the daily “countdown to retirement,” my friend has some fond memories of his years as an ag educator.

Former students often reach out to thank him for investing in them, as they now have successful careers as welders, sales representatives for crop input companies, mechanics for implement dealerships and so forth.

Some did not pursue a career in agriculture, but the skill set developed through agriculture education and FFA helped them grow into leaders in their communities.

We need quality ag teachers to fill the void left by those like my friend Chad who are retiring. Too many communities are losing their ag teachers and too few young men and women are choosing to pursue a career in agricultural education.

Give the ag teachers at your local high school the support they need and the respect they deserve. If you have a good one, for heaven’s sake do what you can to keep them.

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear

Cyndi Young-Puyear is farm director and operations manager for Brownfield Network.