Managing a growing family and a growing agriculture program is a delicate balance. Looking only at the hours available in a day, it would seem impossible to do both well. However, some have found that teaching agriculture can actually be the ideal career situation for raising a family.
Take Clara Hedrich, for example. One of the first women to enter the profession, she has been teaching agriculture in Wisconsin for 32 years. She married her husband Larry shortly after she began teaching, and they now have five children. In addition to teaching, Hedrich serves as secretary for the Calumet County Fair and the Wisconsin Dairy Goat Association, and she and her husband raise dairy goats.
Hedrich has found that teaching allows her the flexibility to make her family the priority they need to be. “As we were planning for our banquet, my high school students knew I would be at school as late as they needed me Monday and Wednesday,” she said. “But on Tuesday, I would be at my daughter’s track meet when it started.”
Setting priorities and recognizing that some things would be left undone has allowed Hedrich to keep her cool, even when it could become overwhelming. She has worked to overlap family and work activities through their dairy goat farm.
“My husband and I decided that one of the best gifts we could give our children was to learn how to work, so we decided to get a farm,” Hedrich said. Even though she and her husband both have jobs off the farm, raising dairy goats has provided opportunities for them to spend time with their children and for Hedrich to plan lessons for her students, as the goats are part of her animal science class.
Another unique opportunity to bring family and career together occurs in the summer, when Hedrich allows her students to show some of her goats at the county fair. Her children benefited as well, with all five of them learning how to show along with her students.
“The FFA has so many opportunities, and I do not want to short-change the students in my program,” Hedrich said. “On the same hand, you can’t brush off your family.”
Hedrich appears to have balanced both well. All of her children were FFA members in a neighboring chapter, with four receiving their American FFA Degrees.
Mark Steber, a 17-year agriculture teacher in Illinois, will celebrate his 15th wedding anniversary this year. He and his wife Becky have three children under the age of 10. As they approach the age of 4-H and little league, Steber is stepping down from his leadership role in Region IV of the National Association of Agriculture Educators (NAAE).
Steber served as an officer in the state and regional levels of NAAE at the same time. “You constantly have to challenge yourself,” Steber said. “This was a goal of mine, and I decided to do it before my kids got really active in 4H and sports.”
Steber has found that the community fostered through agricultural education has benefited his family. “The social aspect has to be part of the business,” he said. Steber often takes his family to NAAE conferences, and his wife and children find camaraderie with other teachers’ families. Last year, they visited Detroit and Niagara Falls.
But Steber knows that nothing substitutes quality time with his family. “Going hunting, taking family vacations, spending Saturday morning with them instead of going to contests, and going fishing after church are things we enjoy and don’t get to do enough of,” he said. “Just spend time with them; it doesn’t matter what you are doing.”
Hedrich and Steber admit that there is no secret formula for balancing work and family, but common themes have helped them both balance a full house and a full classroom.
- Invest time and energy into your marriage. “My wife is an angel,” Steber said. “There is no way you can prepare a spouse to be a good spouse for an ag teacher.”
- Be intentional with your priorities. “Family is number one, but my job is 1.1,” says Steber. Hedrich agreed and said that though she aimed to provide every possible opportunity for her students, she also recognized when her family needed her to stay home.
- Team up with an active alumni chapter, which can be instrumental in taking a team to compete on the same day you need to be at an important family event.
- Learn from other agriculture teachers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, as countless teachers have likely been in similar situations.
- Look for opportunities to overlap school and family. Officer meetings may be held in your home, teacher conferences become opportunities for family vacations, events may be conducive for a babysitter to accompany you and your children, and after-school time with students in the greenhouse is an opportunity for your children to learn. “There’s a time and place to have your children with, and a time and place not to,” Hedrich said.
- Take advantage of opportunities for your students and children to mentor each other. As an agriculture teacher, you have greater insight into their character and can choose your children’s role models.
- Choose to have a positive attitude and be flexible. Nobody’s perfect, but if you always do your best, you have nothing to be ashamed of.
Perhaps the real key lies in the same characteristics of successful agriculture teachers: a love of people, the desire to succeed and see others excel, an attitude that finds the best way to make it happen and a diligent work ethic.
“There are so many good things that happen on a daily basis that you lose sight of the bad pretty quickly,” Steber said. “Get around positive people. The company you keep and the company you promote in the profession, itself, will make a big difference.”
To learn more about the teachers featured in this article, click on their profiles below: