Enthusiastic, motivated, inspiring. these are just a few words that describe an Outstanding Teacher. The NAAE Outstanding Teacher Awards go to agriculture teachers that have kept a tradition of excellence in their program along with the inborn love for agriculture.
With all of his accomplishments and responsibilities, one might think Patrick never sleeps. However, it is not lack of rest that allows him to get everything done; it is never-failing commitment, enthusiasm and drive to impact the future of every student. Patrick is one of seven agriculture teachers at Yelm High School who together, teach more than 1,000 students annually. His area of focus is horticulture, but he also serves as the head of the Agri-Science Department at Yelm.
“I work to make each of my courses real and relevant. I know I am successful when the students take ownership and drive the curriculum rather than me,” Patrick said.
This philosophy has led the Yelm agriscience program and FFA chapter to be successful at numerous levels. Some of their accomplishments include multiple Models of Innovation nominations by the National FFA Organization, a national-winning FFA Agricultural Sales team, and two national-winning FFA individuals. Beyond awards, however, the program at Yelm stands out for its unwavering commitment to the local community; this is exemplified by numerous community service projects and volunteer hours by members of the Yelm agriscience program.
“I believe that Mike Patrick is the perfect example of an Outstanding Teacher,” said Elaine Lewis, fellow agriscience instructor at Yelm High School. “His commitment and professionalism serve as a model and mentor to students and peers. His unselfish dedication has meant success for many lives and changed futures.”
Passion for agricultural education runs deep in Mitchell’s family, whose father was also an agriculture teacher. Mitchell works to teach both career-oriented and leadership skills that will help students achieve their goals. He integrates all aspects of agricultural education, including classroom learning, Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) programs, and FFA into his curriculum.
“I continually stress that they [students] will only get out what they put in and always set an example of caring, willingness to listen, and stay open to new ideas and perspectives,” Mitchell said.
Students in Mitchell’s agriculture classes, who range from eighth graders to high school seniors, participate in numerous activities throughout the year. These opportunities include competing in a variety of FFA contests, assisting with community service events like the Special Olympics and Ag in the Classroom, and carrying out a variety of SAE projects. Mitchell has established strong partnerships with the FFA Booster Club, parents, community members, and school administration.
“Perhaps Mr. Mitchell’s greatest strength is his ability to communicate with people,” Dr. Kenny Beams, superintendent at Ripley Public Schools, said. “He has the wisdom to turn an intense situation into a positive experience for students, parents, faculty members, and peers in the agricultural education profession.”
Gundlach is the agriscience teacher at Randolph High School and has been making a difference in the lives of students throughout his 33-year career. He strives to interact with students in all areas, whether that is in the classroom, through FFA, or as a part of their Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAE). Gundlach embraces humor as a part of his classroom, finding laughter to be a great way to get kids involved in a lesson. This caring attitude has made an impact on hundreds of students.
“I, personally, owe a lot of my success to my involvement in agriculture and FFA; that involvement was magnified many times more than it would have been without the involvement of Keith Gundlach,” said Douglas Jung, former student and owner of CJF Trucking.
A unique element of the Randolph agriculture program is Gundlach’s focus on experiential learning through the SAE program. Gundlach works with all students to develop strong projects, keep records, and apply for awards that recognize them for their efforts. The strong SAE focus this past year alone resulted in three National FFA Star Finalists, of which two were named National FFA Stars. His success in proficiency categories has provided him the opportunity to teach other educators through SAE workshops in Wisconsin and other states.
“With the number of successes that Keith has had, you will never hear him talk about himself,” Jeff Hicken, Agriculture and Natural Resources Education consultant, said. “His focus is always about his students. He is a role model for success not only for students but teachers.”
Bane was hired at Pontiac Township High School in 2003 to restart an agriculture program that had been closed for 14 years. In his time at Pontiac Township, Bane has nearly tripled the enrollment in agriculture classes with his enthusiasm and creative teaching methods. To engage students in agriculture, he strives everyday to provide access to the three components of agricultural education; classroom instruction, FFA participation, and Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAE).
Bane works to help students realize their potential regardless of strengths, weaknesses, and personal challenges. By utilizing a variety of teaching styles and student assessments, Bane accommodates for all learning styles and abilities while providing each student an opportunity to succeed.
Working with his teaching partner, Jesse Faber, Bane started a nationally publicized biodiesel education project that has developed into a renewable energy course taught at Pontiac Township. With aid from the University of Illinois Waste Management and Research Center and a fellow science teacher, Bane developed a program to teach students how to make biodiesel from used vegetable oil. Through promotion, students were able to present their work at the Farm Progress Show and Indiana State Museum.
“Mr. Bane’s personal qualities, his teaching skills, his interest in bettering schools, and his care for students have made him a success as a teacher,” said Leo F. Johnson, Superintendent of Pontiac Township High School. “His tireless pursuit of engaging students in the learning process has led to statewide, indeed national, recognition.”
Bane has been an active member of NAAE and the Illinois Association of Vocational Agriculture Teachers, previously receiving the Teachers Turn the Key and Illinois Outstanding Young Member awards.
Newsom says it was Mr. Warren, with whom he student taught, that first gave him the itch to want to teach and instilled in him the basis for his philosophy on teaching: students learn best when they also have a good time doing it. It is this piece of wisdom that Newsom has taken with him through a 34-year teaching career in agricultural education. He works daily to make sure that students are engaged, interested and learning. He teaches a variety of courses ranging from Agriculture Mechanics to Forestry and in all of these develops lessons that are relevant to students’ lives.
“I am very cognizant to the fact that I teach elective courses—no one has to take any of my classes to graduate. This statement is exactly why I adhere to the philosophy that learning should be fun. I want students to look forward to attending my classes,” he said.
The success of Newsom’s students is thanks in large part to the strong partnerships he’s been able to cultivate with individuals and businesses in the community. Alumni members, agents from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, USDA Farm Service Agency branches, the University of Tennessee-Martin, and Murray State University are all examples of those groups that have contributed to further learning for students.
“His sincere interest in agriculture and students is why he is loved by our colleagues across the state of Tennessee,” Ann Turner Johnson, fellow agriculture teacher at Munford High School, said. “Bill Newsom is known from one end of our state to the other because of his proven success and dedication to agriculture education.”
In the 25 years that Schiebel has been teaching at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill (VVS) Central School, he has seen significant changes both in his community and in agriculture. As the student body and community landscape have changed, the agriculture program has evolved as well. Where the students once grew alfalfa, willow sprouts as part of a biomass research project. Experimental switchgrass grows where corn once grew, and an aquatics laboratory is located where calf hutches used to stand. While maintaining the rich history of the region’s agriculture and continuing to educate students in traditional agriculture, Schiebel has adapted the program to reflect the changing world of agriculture and his students.
“As the face of the community changes, so too has the agriculture program,” said Schiebel. “With fewer students, now typically less than 10 percent having a traditional farm background or experiences in agriculture, the role of our agriculture program has expanded into other facets of non-traditional agriculture; it remains a vital link between student interests and future careers, in not only agriculture, but also other rewarding jobs and careers as well.”
Schiebel believes that students should be the focus in his classroom, and agriculture is the teaching tool. By focusing on the needs of a diverse student population, Schiebel creates a classroom that allows all students to benefit from agricultural education. Regardless of background or future plans, through the agriculture program, all students are able to explore their interests, develop personal skills, and apply their skills in real-world situations.
Recently, the VVS Central School Agriculture Program was given the Career and Technical Education endorsement from the New York State Education Department. With this endorsement, the program can offer agriculture students credit in English, social studies, math, and science. Additionally, students from four surrounding schools without agriculture programs are allowed to enroll in agriculture at VVS Central School. It is one of only five schools in the state of New York with this accreditation.