Enabling students ‘to spread their wings’

ARCADIA, Ind. — Emilie Carson always knew she wanted a career in agriculture.

Her journey in 4-H and FFA led her to her dream job — an agricultural educator at Hamilton Heights.

She shared her story with AgriNews.

Q: Tell us about yourself.

A: I grew up in Rush County on a small grain farm. I always knew I wanted to be in the agriculture industry.

During my first year of 4-H, I began our family’s Southdown flock. I was hooked on showing sheep. As that passion grew, my family and I would travel to several national sheep shows across the country.

When I became a freshman at Rushville Consolidated High School, I took the Intro to Agriculture class — and my fate was sealed.

I enjoyed learning about all aspects of agriculture, but my favorite was animal science. I was an active member of the FFA, serving in several leadership positions in my home chapter and at the district level.

Those opportunities lead me to serving as the 2008-2009 Indiana FFA state secretary. That experience only strengthened my decision to become an agriculture teacher.

Q: Tell us about your job.

A: I am teaching at Hamilton Heights High School in a single teacher program. So, with that, I teach seven different courses throughout the day ranging from animal science to principles of agriculture.

My personal favorites to teach are the animal science classes. I enjoy sharing my passion for the animal industry with my students and engaging with them in class discussions, labs and field trips.

From dissections to greenhouse work, the fun never ends. I feel I am able to teach a subject they enjoy, but make it hands on and engaging.

Q: How long have you been teaching agriculture?

A: I graduated Purdue in 2013 and started right away in education. So, I am finishing my 10th year. That seems unreal that I have been teaching for 10 years already.

Q: When did you know this is what you wanted to do for a living?

A: I was dead set on becoming a veterinarian. I mean what young lady in 4-H and with animals doesn’t want to be a vet?

But I think when I first sat in the ag room and could feel the passion from my ag teacher and the feeling of “home,” I think that is when the thought started to change.

Once I was a junior in high school, I was pretty set on going into education and specifically agriculture.

Q: What do you enjoy most about the job?

A: That is a loaded question. I think I am supposed to say teaching the students content. But in all honesty I love sharing with my students about the current events of agriculture and how the industry impacts them daily.

Getting to spend not only school hours with the students, but then attending FFA events or practices, nearly every night, is what is exciting and encouraging for me. I get to see these students grow from shy freshmen to grown, young men and women.

Through my classes and FFA programs, they are able to spread their wings within their passions of agriculture and leadership.

Q: What is something that has surprised you in this job, or a lesson you’ve learned from students?

A: “Go with the flow” and “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” These kids take agriculture classes because they enjoy the subject. So, if you mess up something, it’s no big deal. They know we are human and sometimes make mistakes.

I didn’t figure this out until recently and it has helped me stay sane on those crazy days.

Q: Do you see misconceptions about agriculture?

A: Even though I teach in a rural school district, it is still Hamilton County. Each year, I have a student, or students, that come in with misconceptions and questions about the industry: “Does chocolate milk really come from brown cows?” “My food comes from the grocery store.” “GMOs are bad.” “Organic is healthier.”

I could go on and on. But that is what keeps my classes exciting. I am able to discuss these misconceptions and make them a teaching moment for all of my students.

Q: What do you hope to achieve by the end of each school year?

A: When I started this year, I wanted to involve my community members more in the classroom and FFA. I did that by having volunteer coaches for some of our contests and bringing in guest speakers for multiple units.

I want to connect my students with the industry before they are dropped into the real world.

I also wanted to start a new contest, Meats Judging, and we were able to do that this winter. And we did better than expected, landing in the top four in the state.

As far as classes, I am hoping my students can earn some certifications for completing some of their pathways, as well.

Q: What’s the hardest part about being a teacher? What’s most rewarding?

A: The hardest part about teaching agriculture is balancing career and family. My family is very involved with my FFA program, but there are still times when I have to step away and just be with family.

I am extremely lucky that I have a community that accepts this and is willing to lend a hand when needed.

Most rewarding is seeing students and FFA members succeed. There are always opportunities for students and I am always pushing students to be better. Now that I am finishing my 10th year, I have students that are in the industry and are making a difference. Their success is my reward.

Q: What does it take to be a good teacher?

A: Passion. Grit. You have to have passion to be around students day in and day out. You cannot let the little things get to you. When you can simply share and be a person of integrity, the students see that and know you are genuine.

I do not shy away from telling stories about my life because that allows me to connect with my students.

You also need to have grit. I teach seven different classes and I have to get to business when prepping my classes.

Q: What do you love about agriculture in Indiana?

A: Indiana agriculture is so unique because we have so many different facets of the industry. I love that no matter where you are in the state, agriculture is seen and heard.

We have communities that understand the importance and are steadfast in supporting the industry.

Q: What’s your favorite item on or in your classroom or desk?

A: Post-it notes and my pens. I have a basket full of Post-it notes, all shapes, sizes and colors. And I also have a Lazy Susan of pens. Students know those pens are mine. I don’t like to share my pens.

Q: Anything else about your career you’d like to mention?

A: This career path is by choice not by chance. Send a nice note to those ag teachers in your life. They give their days, afternoons, nights and weekends to ensure their students are getting the best education possible.

Ag teachers care for their students as if they were their own children. I love being an agriculture teacher because of the impact that my students make on me each and every day.