In the life of an agriculture teacher, summer “vacation” may provide a break from the classroom, but it is far from an extended vacation. Yet even amidst state and county fairs, community events, leadership camps, FFA conventions and helping students with their SAEs, many teachers find ways to maximize professional growth opportunities during the summer. Some are even finding professional development opportunities outside traditional classrooms and conferences, creating learning environments as multi-dimensional as they create for their own students.
For example, agriculture teachers in Utah will have their third opportunity this summer to explore the diversity of our industry through the Agriculture Summer Conference Tour. Every three to four years, state FFA advisor Buddy Deimler leads at least 50 teachers on a five-day traveling summer conference in place of a traditional teacher inservice. The July conference will tour northern California, exploring olive orchards, fruits and nuts not found in Utah.
“We have diversified agriculture in Utah, but the farms here are different than you find in states like California,” Deimler said. “We go to see things we can’t see here.”
The 2004 tour through Idaho, Washington and British Columbia included aquaculture, a woolen mill, an Angus ranch and other diversified farms and agriculture programs. The inaugural tour in 2001 included behind-the-scenes tours of a resort greenhouse, Los Angeles flower market, San Diego wildlife park, golf courses and production sites for almonds, roses, potatoes, carrots and pistachios.
“Teachers have started to take their students,” Deimler said. “Students’ eyes are opened to the enormity of the agriculture industry and potential career opportunities.”
Even teachers who don’t physically take their students on inter-state travel share their experiences through a PowerPoint presentation they develop from the week. Other than a few meals, the expenses of the conference are covered by grants.
“The learning that takes place on these tours for about $400 per teacher provides more long-term value than spending a few thousand dollars to have someone come speak to them,” Deimler said. For example, some Utah agriculture educators track the progress of growing poinsettias in their classroom through a software they discovered by visiting a nursery that used the same software. In another tour, teachers could see first-hand the tissue culture used to ship strawberries all over the world through a visit to a biotechnology nursery.
Deimler also values the camaraderie that develops through the week on wheels. “We tend to be a pretty social group anyway, but this is a different kind of thing,” he said.
Because Utah has fewer agriculture teachers than many states, Deimler admits that the model may be challenging to implement everywhere. However, Bryan Hains, assistant professor of agricultural education at the University of Kentucky, led a group of future agriculture teachers through a similar experience in Colorado.
With the main goal of understanding cultural identities and agrarian practices associated with the people of the Western United States, the students planned the trip, including designing educational objectives and a syllabus.
“There’s no better learning than doing, and we practice what we preach on that,” Hains said. “They gained broader knowledge beyond Kentucky agriculture, which is critical, as having a globalized perspective becomes more important in our economy. When they enter the classroom, these students will have broader stories and experiences from their experiences in agriculture in more than one state.”
Hains said their eyes were opened to the influence of Native Americans and Latin Americans on the area. They saw open ranges and a 28,000-head feedlot, which contrast the countryside and production practices in Kentucky. Tours through Colorado State University’s equine facility, a brewery and wildlife research also filled the agenda.
Service learning was even part of the travel course.
“The pine beetle has killed a lot of forests at the YMCA in the Rockies, and freeze or fire are the only way to help,” Hains said. The University of Kentucky group helped transplant, plant and remove trees, rebuild hiking trails, build a fence barrier and establish habitat.
“Anyone benefits from experiential learning opportunities like that,” Hains said.
Even for those who do not have travel opportunities like those for teachers in Utah or soon-to-be teachers in Kentucky, summer still serves as an invaluable time for professional development. Universities may sponsor special workshops, and most states offer a centralized conference to share tools to help in the classroom.
For the Lenderman family in Arkansas, summer served as professional development opportunities not only for Brookland agriculture teacher Homer Lenderman, but also for two future agriculture teachers—his son and daughter.
“When we went to regional NAAE conferences, I would make it a family vacation,” Lenderman said. “The NAAE conference is family-oriented with spouse tours, and when the conference was over, we would leave from that point to places like the Grand Canyon, Gulf of Mexico, Yellowstone National Park, Indian reservations and Mt. Rushmore, making them all a big family vacation.”
Meeting other agriculture teachers at these events and experiencing an agricultural lifestyle made the profession appealing for both of his children, he said.
“My kids both told me they wanted to teach agriculture around their freshman year of high school,” Lenderman said. “Most people in agricultural education and FFA don’t just like their teachers, they love them. My kids both saw that and liked it.”
Today, his daughter is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in agricultural education, while his son B.J. teaches at a neighboring school. The father-son teaching duo are close friends and often share ideas, but they also compete and have even voted differently in a volunteer board setting.
“He’s certainly not a clone copy,” Lenderman said. “Not only are we father/son, not only are we in the same profession, but we’re friends.”
Lenderman recognizes the differences his son faces as a new teacher compared to when he began 28 years ago, but says many things are still the same.
“The more things change, the more things stay the same,” he said. “Kids are basically the same. Every kid wants to be respected, loved and admired. The time you spend with the kids and the importance of that time does not change.”
Lenderman is grateful for the professional development opportunities he’s experienced in his tenure, and encourages other teachers to take advantage of similar opportunities, particularly those that allow agriculture teachers to experience the industry in another part of the country. But he says the most important thing in any professional development opportunity is for teachers to “show them and tell them every day that you love them.”
To learn more about the teachers featured in this article, click on their profiles below: