There are so many opportunities in agricultural education that a teacher could probably work every single day of the year and still miss out. Juggling all of the demands of the classroom with engaging in SAE/FFA and attending to family priorities has long been a challenge for the dedicated agricultural education instructor.
“I followed my older brothers into FFA as soon as I could,” says Josh Hopkins, a third- year teacher at Graham High School in Graham, Texas. “I played sports and did well in school, but the agriculture department was my mainstay. It was there that I learned the most, and it influenced my career decision.”
Hopkins is a one-man agriculture department, coming in after the retirement of a 25-year agriculture teacher. Hopkins is steadily building relationships of trust with students, parents and the school’s administration.
“It takes time to build relationships so that everyone understands the daily, weekly, monthly and yearly activities of the department now,” he says. “It means stopping in to see the principal, attending FFA board meetings, and talking with everyone to let them know what we are doing.”
Hopkins believes that his work is both a job and a lifestyle. It is a job in that there is always the possibility of being fired or needing to make a professional change. It is a lifestyle because of everything involved and what it represents.
“The hardest part about it is drawing the line and leaving the job to go home to be a husband and a dad,” Hopkins says. “I have an agreement with my wife that if it gets to the point that I need to scale back, to be more attentive at home, she’ll tell me.”
For second-year teacher Jessica Geisler of Shenandoah High School in Middletown, Ind., FFA and her role as an agriculture educator is central to her life. “I would say it is more of a lifestyle than a career,” Giesler explains. “When all your friends and family and the people you interact with from your FFA past or present are intertwined, it is your lifestyle.”
Agriculture educator Tera Harlow strives to find balance by keeping her work and home life separate. Working in a department of four teachers makes it a little easier.
“In our department, there are three main tasks on top of teaching: parents group (alumni), being the advisor to the students and managing the district, state and national activities. We work on a two-year rotation in each area,” she explains. “Right now I’m the liaison for the parent group, so I don’t have to go to the officer meetings or plan events because I don’t have those roles. It’s nice to rotate through and not have to be involved in it all.”
For Harlow, who teaches at Rockville High School in Vernon, Conn., being an agriculture teacher isn’t a 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. job. “You know you are going to go above and beyond,” says Harlow. “I knew what to expect because I came up through an agriculture program.”