They stood before me as I was signing books in my booth at the National FFA Convention this fall in Indianapolis. The man showed his age but was still holding up. “This is gonna be my last,” he said.
I looked at him more attentively. “How long have you been teaching vo-ag?” I asked.
“Thirty-eight years,” he said. There was a touch of weariness in his voice. We looked out over the sea of blue coats that surged through the huge convention hall. His wife took our picture. “That’s a long time to be married to an ag teacher,” I told her, knowing the commitment a spouse must make to accommodate the late suppers, kids’ projects, county fairs, field trips, night calls, weekend practices, long hours and exhaustion that are an accepted requisite of the job description.
She smiled and touched his elbow. “It was worth it,” she said and they walked away.
The very next person extended her hand. She had a broad smile. If I had not seen her advisor button it would have been easy to mistake her for one of the older students.
“Hi,” she said. She was excited, “Would you sign my book?”
“How long have you been teaching vo-ag?” I asked.
“This is my first year, my first time as an advisor to come to the convention. I’ve been here three years before as a student. We’ve brought 23 kids, two in public speaking, a judging team” she rattled on as I signed her book.
“Thanks,” she said, shook my hand firmly and disappeared into the crowd.
A warm feeling slid down my back; I actually chuckled out loud.
I often have occasion in my travels to remind vo-ag teachers of the responsibility they bear. Maybe they know it already, but I think their job is so hectic trying to balance teenage insecurities, practical real-life educational subjects and personal obligations, that they don’t have time to mull over the profound effect they have on their students.
I believe teaching school is a noble calling. And ag teachers take it a step beyond because they are in the position to shape the professional life choices as well as the character of pliable minds.
They say there were 50,000 attendees to the FFA Convention. 50,000 kids dressed nice, behaving responsibly, treating adults politely, not trashing hotels, yelling profanity or abusing the hospitality of our Indianapolis hosts. The locals noticed and commented over and over about what a great group the FFA was.
To you folks in Indianapolis, thank you, but you can thank that advisor who has given 38 years of his life to that end. And you can expect that new first-year advisor to follow in his footsteps.
That sea of blue coats is their legacy. They leave the world a better place. And they have a right to be proud. ANM