Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Reflecting on Year 3

2016 Keystone Degree Recipients
And just like that, my 3rd year of teaching has come to a close! As they say, things certainly do get easier with time and this year of teaching was no exception. I couldn't wait for the day that I could repeat an activity or lesson that I had previously created. I couldn't wait to see my first group of Freshmen grow into leaders on the officer team. And, I certainly couldn't wait to know all the ins and outs of our school's procedures. My second year went smoothly and in August of 2015, I was sitting back thinking that year 3 would be even better.  Come June 2016, I can now say "Yes, it was easier, and no, it was harder than before."
Farm Show Career Connection Video Presentation Group

I don't want to remember year 3 as the "terrible 3" because there were certainly numerous high points of the year. Having the same students as previous years, having a nearly identical teaching schedule, and finally getting to teach an Ag Mechanics course were just a few of the things I was excited about. In addition, attending my 1st (of hopefully many) NAAE Conventions as a Teacher's Turn the Key recipient was a pretty sweet experience as well.

Attendees at the Delaware Valley University CDE Conference

Rather than rehashing the year, I'll summarize what my major "findings" were for the year. 

1. Make very explicit expectations and monthly requirements for your FFA officer team. Yes, it's great to have the Officer Team create their own contract and expectations, but you as the advisor know best which events the officers should have a presence at. Let the kids create a draft, then introduce your thoughts. This makes your life easier for...(see #2).

2. Hold your officers accountable for their duties on a monthly basis. If they fail to complete their duties for 3 months, it's time to consider other ways to serve the chapter.

3. Keep a clear line of communication with your administrators (sometimes all 7 of them). This mantra has been a huge help so they can "keep out the crazies" and not waste my teaching time with petty concerns. Kenny Chesney says it best, "God is great, (an adult beverage) is good, and people are crazy."

4. Put everything in writing (because no one will read it anyway, but at least you tried and it gives you something to hand them when they are confused or arguing with you).

5. Know the skill set of your volunteers. It could be the difference between you holding their hand through the entire task (which you could have done independently) or you successfully delegating the task to a capable volunteer.

Group photo at ACES Conference. A record 53 students attended!
At the end of some days this year, it became difficult to remember the real reason I went into teaching--to get kids excited about agriculture. Don't get me wrong, some days the stars aligned and we pulled off a rockin' after-school agriculture program. But other weeks, I questioned, "What else could go wrong?" This year was much more of a roller coaster than anticipated, but I've learned a great bit about how to overcome all the negativity--and the answer is simply teach.

Whenever I'd receive a negative phone call or ranting email, I found my way of pushing out the negativity was focusing on teaching (that's my job, right?) For 42 minutes, no one could disturb me, I didn't have to answer emails, and I couldn't have a meeting. Pulling out my best teaching strategies to spice up a lesson or coming up with a new way to explain a topic on the fly was my therapy. Some days, I wish I had a solid hour to sit down and plan a perfect lesson, but that time is eaten away by a laundry list of non-teaching responsibilities. This year, savoring each 42-minute class and making it the best 42 minutes of the day was my therapy. 
Group photo from annual Educational Spring Trip to
New York and Massachusetts

So, my goals for next year...

1. Don't read my emails until after school. Reading a negative email at 6:30 am in the morning really set the tone for the day and ate up so much of my time that I should have been using to plan my day

2. Don't leave school on Friday until the next week's lessons are planned. I usually spent my Sunday night (and drive to school on Monday morning) mentally planning the week's lessons. I never felt unprepared, but that was mental time I stole from my weekend, which should have been relaxing.

3. Set monthly expectations for each FFA Officer and check progress at each monthly officer meeting. 

4. Improve on summarizing each lesson and implement more frequent formative assessment (utilizing Google Forms and/or CASE Online)

The year honestly flew by and great strides were made in all aspects of my agriculture program--including classroom instruction, FFA, and SAE implementation. With numerous victories in CDE contests, Proficiency Awards, scholarships, and increased enrollment, I am happy to reflect upon the year and look forward to seeing my first group of Freshman graduate next year in 2017!
2016 Cumberland Valley FFA Banquet with 72 FFA members in attendance!

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