Without FFA, my life would be completely different.
It was through FFA that I learned how to be a part of something bigger than myself, to stick up for agriculture and make life long friendships.
I even met my fiance through FFA!
I’ve never written about the fact that I almost didn’t join FFA.
As an eighth grader, my older friends had told me stories about the freshman ag teacher, Mr. Wes York.
They said he picked on students and when it came time for tests he didn’t cut anyone any slack.
They said that he expected his FFA members to take their contests seriously and practice constantly.
To further confuse my 14 year-old self, Mr. York was the teacher version of Larry the Cable Guy.
His office was decorated with Nascar and hunting decor. He wore camouflage button-up shirts with a hunter orange ties.
I admit it, I was intimidated.
Luckily, my mom was a former FFA member and made me take the freshman agriculture class. She insisted that I give FFA and Mr. York a chance and if I hated it I was welcome to quit.
On the first day of school, I nervously entered the classroom.
Mr. York came inside, handed us a syllabus and said to get out a blank piece of paper and write out every word to our favorite song.
Everyone looked around, confused but too scared to question the assignment.
When we had all finished, Mr. York took our stack of song lyrics to the front of them room.
In his right hand, he held up someone’s assignment. In his left hand, he held up the FFA manual, opened to the page that shows the FFA Creed.
“If you can memorize these lyrics, you can memorize the FFA Creed,” he said.
“Don’t tell me you can’t because you’ve just proven you can. And trust me…you will.”
This unorthodox teaching style was unlike anything I had ever experienced before but it worked.
We all said the FFA Creed.
For the rest of the semester, we knew that this was one class where we couldn’t make excuses and we actually had to give it our all.
The assignments were designed to actually make us learn and think critically instead of repeat facts like my other classes.
He made cheerleaders learn to weld and the most redneck boys give speeches.
Every class assignment made us step out of our comfort zone and grow not only as a student but as a person.
That intimidating ag teacher did pick on his students but not because he was a bully.
Mr. York knew that as high school kids we would work harder if we knew that a half-finished assignment would make us the subject of his jokes for the rest of the day. And it worked!
He was a stickler for punctuality and professionalism among FFA members.
He constantly reminded us that when we wore our FFA jacket we were not just representing ourselves but our FFA chapter and the entire agriculture industry.
Right before I retired from state office, my team had an “Adviser Thank You” banquet.
We honored our ag teachers, shared stories from our chapters and thanked them for supporting us throughout our FFA career.
As the years have gone by, however, I’ve realized that I now appreciate everything Mr. York did so much more.
Ag teachers make an impact every day in the classroom.
What makes them even more special is that they continue to make an impact long after their students have graduated.
This National Teach Ag Day, I’m so thankful that Mr. York embraced the challenges of being an ag teacher.
Even after three years hanging up my blue jacket, I still look to my ag teacher as a friend and a mentor.