Career Profile: Agriculture Teacher

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Educating the general public on agriculture has become an increasingly important topic to those within the industry in recent years. But have you ever thought about the type of education given to those who are the future of the industry? Agriculture serves as the number one industry in the country and in order to keep it running, we must educate our youth to take over.

There are a select few, like Ben Maples, who take this sentiment to heart and become agriculture teachers. Ben teaches agriculture education and serves as the FFA advisor at Elkmont High School in Elkmont, Alabama.

Pursing the career

An agricultural classroom proves to be quite different then any other classroom in a school. Ben teaches five agriculture classes, including animal science, welding and introduction to agriculture, every day, giving him the opportunity to do something different each hour.

“Here we get up, we go to the shop, we do a lot of hands on things verses sitting there,” he said. “That really makes it a lot more enjoyable on my end and the students’ end because they like the hands on aspect of what we do.”

In addition to teaching, Ben spends four afternoons a week helping develop his students’ career skills through Career Development Education activities, like judging contests. He coaches teams like land and livestock judging, discussion meet, public speaking, tractor driving, quiz bowl, agricultural mechanics, welding, aquaculture and vet science. When he gets home, Ben makes phone calls with program sponsors, his officer team and the community.

There are several was to become an agriculture teacher in Alabama. An individual can study agricultural education in college or can obtain an emergency certification. Someone with a college degree in another subject can earn the emergency certification by passing the state agriculture practicum test. If they pass the test, they can begin teaching, but have two years to complete the remaining classes they need to qualify for a teaching certificate.

Agricultural education is a hot profession to pursue due to the increasing need for teachers in the field. Two years ago, Alabama had 42 agriculture teacher positions open with only six Auburn University graduates to fill them. Ben believes the reason this is a nationwide problem is that people think you have to know everything about agriculture to teach it, but you do not.

“I mean, it’s a learning curve but you get over that learning curve with some dedication and hard work,” he said. “Anyone that wants to go into agriculture education, I would be more than hard pressed to tell you to do it because there is a job market out there for you.”

Ben currently teaches at his alma matter, but if he could offer advice to someone just starting their career in agricultural education it would be to teach somewhere else first.

“The biggest advice I can offer anyone going into agriculture education — your first couple of years, go teach somewhere else, don’t teach in your hometown,” he said. “I taught in Southwest Alabama for two years and that was the best thing I ever did because I was down there by myself and had to do it. I grew a lot during those two years and then as I transitioned slowly back to here — its made me a lot better teacher than coming straight out of school.”

Growing the future

Agriculture education is not an easy career to pursue in large part due to the long hours required for the job. If you are interested in becoming an agriculture teacher, Ben encourages you to reflect on these traits needed to make it.

  1.     Like students — You have to like kids to be able to teach them. You need to be able to make a connection with them so they can take what you’re teaching and use it.
  2.     Be dedicated and work hard — To be a successful agriculture teacher, you have to commit yourself to doing everything in your power to set your students up for success.
  3.     Don’t be scared — You cannot be scared to talk in front of a group of people, especially teenagers. If you are not comfortable speaking in front of others, practice.

“What drives me are these kids,” Ben said. “I love seeing these kids succeed. Seeing these kids succeed and get something out of this is better than anything I could ask for. That’s why I do my job — so I can see these kids grow.”

Becoming successful

Natalie Bartlow, a junior agriculture student at Elkmont High School, believes that Ben helped her open up a world of opportunity for her future.

“He’s opened a lot of doors and opportunities for me,” she said. “I’ve been able to meet people that have gotten me places. My perspective and all of the people that I’ve met has changed drastically and it’s really improved my life.”

Natalie signed up for an agriculture class during her freshman year of high school because of her love for animals. Little did she know, two years later she would be a successful livestock judger.

“Natalie — watching her grow as a ninth grader to where she is now is just phenomenal,” Ben said. “This young lady is one of the top livestock judgers in the state. Going from not knowing anything to the level she’s at now — that’s been very well worth it to see.”

Due to Ben’s influence in Natalie’s life, she has decided to purse a degree in embryology at Mississippi State University upon her high school graduation.

“I want to breed cattle and sheep and have my own operation of show quality animals,” she said.

To reach out to Ben about agriculture education, send him an email at benmaplesag@gmail.com.

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Alex Lowery
alexjlowery@gmail.com
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