By Jona Squires, Horticulture teacher, Mid-America Technology Center in Wayne, Okla.
I never thought I would be a soccer mom with a carload of kids, headed to a game, trying to run five errands in between cheering my kids on. However, as an agricultural education teacher, a mother of three kids and a wife to a terrific husband, I am definitely an agriculture mom. Strangely enough, I never really knew that I wore the title of “ag mom.” In fact, in those early years, if you would have stereotyped me into that package, I would have been extremely upset because I had been a progeny of agriculture and felt I had earned my spot in the teaching field.
I was reared and geared in agriculture. My father received an agricultural education degree in the early 1970s and started his teaching career in 1976. My mother was a family and consumer science teacher, so teaching was in the family lineage. As a family we raised cattle, sheep and swine. I had earned my fair share of time calving out calves, pulling pigs and dealing with orphan lambs. I couldn’t wait to enroll in agricultural education, myself, and participate in FFA events. Our chapter had become very successful and established a legacy in the 1980s for having state officers and national officers. I was blessed to have three fantastic mentors: my parents, Dale and Jan Horton, and my other agricultural education teacher, Brady McCullough. They pushed, guided and inspired me to pursue a degree in agriculture.
In 1998 I started my teaching career at age 30 at the same place where my dad had started teaching—Norman High School. Here I was, beginning a career in teaching the greatest subject in the world, and there was no manual that told you how to balance being a mother, teacher and wife. I traded in my Bonneville for a four-door Ford F-250 and joined the agriculture force of Oklahoma. It was scary, fun and challenging—all rolled into one job. There were less than 10 women teaching in 1998 in Oklahoma, and I was one of them. I had a great admiration for those in the profession and looked to them for guidance. However, there were very few teaching who had young kids, were married and co-taught. I felt alone in uncharted courses, but luckily I was fortunate to get involved in several professional organizations: OAETA (Oklahoma Agriculture Teachers Association), OkACTE (Oklahoma Association for Career & Technology Education), NAAE (National Association for Agriculture Education) and ACTE (Association for Career & Technical Education).
My leadership roles started with serving on the OAETA awards committee, which then led to a board member assignment and eventually the vice president of central district. These opportunities allowed me to grow and network with so many people. It gave me guidance and support in areas where I didn’t even know I needed it. From these professional development opportunities, I became more active in OkACTE and served on the state awards committee and recently completely a third term on the regional ACTE awards committee. Again, branching out into waters unknown led to fantastic opportunities, and I have continued to learn and grow, as well as gain many great friends. I would challenge all teachers to try to get more involved in their professional organizations. You may think you don’t have the time or that it takes away from your job or your family, but I would greatly disagree, and so would my students and my family. Oftentimes, I would take my family to conferences and events. In fact, my kids would always plan our summer around the annual Region IV NAAE conference.
Whether it’s been local, district, state or national professional events, I have been more motivated to share new ideas with my students and peers. As an educator, our jobs are always changing, and it takes a lot of support and energy to hang in there. This “ag mom” has traveled a lot of miles, spent many hours with other people’s kids with the thought that if it was something I would want for one of my own children, then I should be providing it to others. As my own children have grown older and are more active, my role as an agriculture educator has shifted again. I know I wear two hats – that of an “ag mom” and that of just “mom.” For those who feel like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do both, just remember that being a positive role model, cheerleader and companion is what teaching agricultural education and being a mom is all about it. I am proud to be a second generation agriculture teacher who wears a skirt with a “blingy” belt, paints her toenails and cheers her kids on at soccer matches!