As an agriculture student at Caldwell County High School just a few years ago, Matthew McIntosh thought he knew what it would be like to become a high school agriculture teacher.
However, his college experiences and the wide range of agriculture applications now available internationally make him see a new world of opportunity for his students. He says he’s happy to be the new agriculture teacher at Lyon County High School.
“This year,” McIntosh said, “I teach principles of agriculture, greenhouse for growing plants, ag construction, and environmental science. Most years, I’ll probably have animal science courses, including cattle and swine production, but also the biology and science behind it.”
He concluded his list, by adding, “As a career and technical education department, we also have an employability course on resumes, workplace etiquette, how to prepare for a job interview, financial responsibility, how to balance a checkbook, all good life lessons.”
Despite the daunting demands of a modern high school agriculture teacher, McIntosh believes he’s well prepared. He credits his own teachers, mentors, classes, schools, and the wide range of experiences they offered.
“When it come to teaching and education, a lot goes into it,” he noted. “Philosophies behind methods for teaching (are among) the things that you just don’t get unless you go to a four-year institution to study education. Also, the opportunities presented to me at Murray State from the agriculture side were above and beyond what I actually expected.”
For example, he said he never expected to take a swine class that would find him awake at 2 a.m. at the South Farm farrowing baby pigs. Going into Murray State, he considered himself to have a strong agricultural background, but now believes he hadn’t even broken the surface about swine and other aspects.
That’s because agriculture education is different from math, science, or other career and technical education, he explained. Add to that the FFA leadership component and supervised agriculture experiences and it’s virtually another entire education in its own right.
“Another difference between agriculture education and other content areas is that you get to know people from all over the state,” said McIntosh. “I had the opportunity to work at the Kentucky FFA Leadership Training Center, or FFA camp. So, I got to meet a lot of great high school ag teachers from one end of the state to the other.”
In fact, McIntosh found his first experience at the front of the classroom to be very enlightening. “I did my student teaching under Mr. Ben Prevette of Hopkins County Central High School,” he said. “He really helped me, looking at that from the teacher’s side of things, how to manage students. He actually was my student teacher when I was a student at Caldwell County High School. Then six years later, I get to be his student teacher.”
Even with the local, regional, and state connections he’s made through agriculture education on both the high school and college levels, he realizes agriculture careers and those who seek them are far more varied than ever before.
Today, FFA has more than 700,000 members and girls actually hold the majority of leadership positions, whereas it once was an all-male club. Additionally, five of the top 10 most populous cities in the United States have FFA chapters. That was the reason for the name change to FFA, because most students aren’t going to be farmers, but many will work in the agriculture industry.
“Agribusiness, as a sector, employs up to 40% of the United States workforce,” said McIntosh. “Besides food, it involves, fiber, clothing, fuel, biodiesel, and more. Vocational education is on the rise.”
That all means his students and others like them probably won’t work directly on farms as much as in the past. Yet, they are likely to find far more job opportunities, often located in more diversified settings, even in urban areas, more than ever before.
So, the first-year teacher believes the traditional values of FFA that range from the farm to leadership and character-building skills to public speaking competitions will continue to be valuable. Still, those skills are more likely to serve as a springboard to agriculture-related careers in the corporate setting and even in international business.
“I have had the opportunity to meet several Lyon County students,” the new teacher said of the task at hand. “They all have great ideas and they’re really ready to take charge. They already are above and beyond any expectations I had. “
McIntosh concluded, “Lyon County, so far, has been an amazing community. It’s offered me more support than I could ask for and we haven’t even really gotten rolling yet. So, I’m really excited for what the future holds.”