When asked to write this article, I questioned what to actually write about because the word balance can have many different connotations. Some people ask, “Can you truly have balance in your life as an agriculture teacher?” To answer that question, we need to find a definition for balance to use in the context of this article. A quick Google search defines balance as “an ability to maintain the center of gravity of a body within the base of support with minimal postural sway.” Does that clear up anything for you? I didn’t think so. In the context of this article, I would like you to think about balance as “striving for equilibrium in our lives.”
As I sit here in front of my computer, I’ve taken some time to reflect on the many demands an agriculture teacher has to juggle—making home visits, gathering materials for class/shop, planning trips, fundraising, attending numerous meetings, serving as the FFA advisor, etc. When I attended Colorado State University, I remember Dr. Cross explaining to us anxious student teachers that when we start our careers, we cannot forget to take time for ourselves and our families. But we also must remember that, as agriculture teachers, we become much more than a teacher to our students. They can and will see us as someone they can confide in—someone who will guide them in life and present them with skills and opportunities for success that they would not have had if it weren’t for us. We have to be teachers, guidance counselors, career advisors, bookkeepers, problem solvers, role models and, a lot of times, good listeners. (I remember thinking to myself, “No pressure there at all!”)
My first teaching job was in a very small rural school where the size of a typical graduating class was eight students. My wife, baby girl and I moved there the summer after my college graduation. My wife and I were aware that everyone knows everyone in small-town America; but what we were not aware of was that everyone knew us before we even arrived in town. It was during that summer when I was cleaning the shop and the classroom – organizing and making it my own – that those words of Dr. Cross came back to me. As I continued working, some of the local students stopped by to meet the new agriculture teacher and get a feeling of what school might be like this fall. The questions they asked were not really related to school at all. They wanted me to know about themselves and what they did at home and wondered if I was going to come see them at their homes. They didn’t even know me yet, but they wanted me to know them.
As I arranged to make summer visits, I was surprised to find the first question from parents and students was “Where are your wife and little girl? We thought for sure you would bring them, too.” What Dr. Cross was telling us was that as agriculture teachers, we need to become part of the community…and make a life for ourselves and family.
As my experiences as an agriculture teacher grew, so did my family. It was not uncommon to see my two daughters in the shop or classroom or even accompanying me on home visits. My wife has accompanied me on judging trips and numerous state and national convention trips as a sponsor. She has also helped prepare food for banquets and fundraisers and has been a terrific sounding board for me during my career. If you are an agriculture teacher or are about to become one, remember there are no do-overs in life. Be aware of your surroundings. Your spouse may not be as dedicated as you are, so supper at a restaurant (just the two of you!) is a good idea.
Agriculture teachers are undoubtedly busy people and are usually the last to leave the school at night; but they also have a unique ability to be there for their kids to watch an after-school ballgame or a play. To help achieve balance, we as agriculture teachers have to be able to say the word “no.” Agriculture teachers, as a rule, are typically able-bodied men and women who can and usually do get things done—no matter the time given them. Being able to say “no” doesn’t necessarily mean you are less dedicated; it just means that you are striving for that equilibrium or balance that I mentioned earlier.
Our lives become so involved at times that it can seem a like a juggling act. We work so hard at trying to keep each part going that, on occasion, one ball drops, falls to the wayside and is ignored. With that image in mind, I would like you to think about this: What if we found the balance between our personal lives and our professional lives much the same as the three circle model of agricultural education? (FFA, SAE and classroom/lab instruction) The circles could have different contexts for different people (e.g., family, faith and profession), but the message is the same: All three need to be juggled or balanced to create a whole unit that is intertwined with our lives.
You may think to yourself, “But what happens when part of my class has to be excused for an assembly, and I was in the middle of a great lesson?” Or “What if my son or daughter has a ballgame at the same time as a district FFA activity?” Or, “What if my spouse needs me at home?” As with anything in life, you will experience some setback, chaos and struggle; it is inevitable that we all will experience some difficulties. It doesn’t, however, mean that you concede defeat and destine yourself to live your life out of balance. Doing your best is the best you can do.