The National FFA Organization works to strengthen science and agricultural educational opportunities for students across the country. The Texas FFA Association and Texas FFA Foundation are the largest state organizations in the country.
On this episode of the Growing Our Future Podcast, Aaron Alejandro introduces Ray Pieniazek, Executive Director of the Agriculture Teachers Association of Texas, an organization devoted to supporting teachers through professional development opportunities, mentorship, and legal guidance. Drawing on his decades of experience with agricultural education, Pieniazek gives listeners a rare look at the demanding and rewarding reality of ag teachers across the country.
A Day in the Life
Ray Pieniazek, Executive Director of the Agricultural Teachers Association of Texas (ATAT), knows first hand how busy the life of an agricultural educator can be. In addition to teaching as many as 6-7 different classes in one day, ag teachers have the responsibility of managing their specialized learning spaces–from maintaining animal and plant facilities to purchasing supplies and equipment for welding and woodworking. "There's a lot more moving parts," Pieniazek says. He recalls bringing a cow to school so students could practice palpation, and remembers another educator using chalk to draw skeletal structures on an actual horse.
Furthermore, an agricultural educator's job continues after the end of the school day. "Their second day starts when the bell rings," Pieniazek says. After school, perhaps during FFA meetings/events or Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAEs), teachers are able to build relationships with students that provide that "extra oomph"--in other words, the "competitive edge" that ag education gives students.
Supporting Unique Educators
The state of Texas offers six programs of study under the Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources career cluster: Agribusiness, Animal Science, Plant Science, Applied Agricultural Engineering, Food Science, and Environmental Science. Within each program of study, there are 5-7 courses. The range of offerings means that agricultural educators must be well-versed in everything from floral design to swine to agricultural metal structures. Furthermore, Alejandro points out, teachers must keep up with "growing populations, urban sprawl, pests, wildlife, and more to be able to share the most contemporary information with students." As part of its professional development programming, the ATAT offers an annual conference offering everything from "pesticide certification to tours of a hatchery."
The many facets of the job can be daunting, Pieniazek says, which is why the ATAT's mentorship program, an initiative that pairs retired agricultural educators with new teachers, has been so successful. "We're able to pay retired ag teachers to go into schools and get with first or second year ag teachers to provide that mental and moral support as they navigate their way through a school system", Pieniazek says.
Investing in Teachers and Students
Alejandro and Pieniazek agree that investing in agricultural educators creates more opportunities for participating students. "We know that in the state of Texas these students graduate at a higher rate than their peers. They go to college at a higher rate than their peers. They finish college at a higher rate than their peers," Alejandro says.
Pieniazek points out that while agriculture science education produces great leaders in the agricultural sector, its reach goes far beyond. The "soft skills" learned in the ag science classroom and in FFA, such as public speaking, leadership strategies, and collaboration, prepare students to become doctors, lawyers, and accountants as well. "We are preparing them for those situations where they're going to make a difference in the lives of someone else," Pieniazek says.
Listen to the full episode with host Aaron Alejandro and Ray Pieniazek here.
In this podcast, the host covers:
The mission and history of the Agriculture Teachers Association of Texas (ATAT)
What makes agricultural educators unique, and how can they be supported?
What are the agricultural science options offered to public school students in Texas?
How does agricultural education and participation in FFA prepare students for the future?
About the Podcast Host and Guest
The Texas FFA Foundation’s purpose is to strengthen agricultural education and the Texas FFA program, so each student can develop their potential for personal growth, career success and leadership in a global marketplace..
Learn more about the Texas FFA Foundation at mytexasffa.org.
Learn more about the Agricultural Teachers Association of Texas at TexasTeachers.org
Learn more about Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources at: https://www.txcte.org/resource/agriculture-food-and-natural-resources-career-cluster
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