Who is out there in that classroom?

danjansen2010Summer is gone and with it goes flexible schedules to accommodate all of the things neglected from the previous nine months. Those who attended State Fair have now run out of excuses to avoid the painful teacher in-service meetings the week before the start of classes. So what is left to look forward to now that the three-months of bliss is over?

I envy the classroom teacher. I personally miss the beginning of school since I have left the formal high school setting. Well maybe not the first week as that was a harsh reality check of getting back to a structured life. However, professionally I was always excited. I viewed the start of a new school year as a measure of my individual growth and a gauge of the strength of my program.

To me, the start of a new school year meant the trial run of the summer modifications I made to my curriculum and instructional strategies. This pilot test was usually a mixed feeling of hope that I didn't get too crazy with my ideas for changes, and that the students would respond positively or at least better than they did with old approaches. I know we all have different ways of improving our classroom instruction, whether it is implementing something learned from summer conference or other summer training experiences or maybe we actually found time to read that book sitting on our nightstand for the past six years. The point is that change is always necessary and important to not only keep up with what our students should learn, but also to keep our personal energy and creativity for teaching.

The other exciting part of a new school year is the optimism for program growth. Sitting before you is a room full of scared freshmen who have no idea what they want to do. I always met this opportunity as just that - an opportunity to improve the program by engaging these new faces into the subject matter that I love. These kids chose my class, and I hope that recruiting provided them a basis for selecting my class. It now was in my hands to develop the same passion for agriculture in their lives as I have. The challenge was before me. Can my efforts with curriculum design and instructional strategies keep these students engaged in my program for four years? Can I transform these students into strong leaders to help manage my program and operate the FFA Chapter? The anticipation was met with a reality of hard work for me and those students in the seats.

For most of the experienced teachers reading this, I am simply preaching to the choir. You may have other intangibles to share concerning the challenges before you at the start of a new school year. For younger teachers, you may not have experienced enough new school years to embrace this emotional time. Regardless of your years of experience, go into a new school year with the correct perspective. I know when I changed my personal perspective about the start of a new school year I found more energy and enthusiasm to carry me through to June. I was a better teacher because of having the correct state of mind.

Lastly, I want each of you to encourage yourself to continuously be better. As you teach, ask yourself the question so what? Why do kids need to know this information? How can I make it more relevant to them so they are motivated? How can I teach this so it is more fun for them and me? How can I make it relevant to other disciplines and help the school as a whole? What do I need to do to be a better teacher for this subject? Use Post-it notes or write notes in your planning book to remind you to address these issues and questions in the summer when you have more time. Most importantly, stay in communication with your fellow agriculture teachers and ask questions of each other to share ideas.

It was great to talk with many of you at State Fair and I look forward to more interaction at Fall Conference in Redmond. Have a great start to a new school year. Now get back to work.