Feeding the World

I need to preface this by saying that I did not grow up on a farm. I liked animals, but cows were scary and tractors were too big.  In fact, at one point in my life, I promised myself that I would never marry a farmer. Fast forward to me living the farm life with my husband, three sons, many cows, two dogs, and various cats with no names. I’ve had some time this summer to reflect on my life, and it’s occurred to me that a lot of the lessons I’ve learned on the farm also apply to teaching. Here are a few examples.

  1. Things will never go as planned. On the farm, seeds are planted, fertilized, sprayed, and eventually harvested. In the classroom, seeds of learning are planted. Teachers try to nurture growth and weed out misconceptions. Just like bad weather may damage crops, circumstances may arise that interfere with learning. Did you know that farmers don’t use the same tools to plant corn and beans? They also use different combine heads to harvest different crops. To me that’s like differentiated instruction in the field. Literally. And farmers are forced to “pivot” daily, just as teachers pivot in the middle of a lesson when student conversations take an unexpected turn. A lesson plan is just a plan of where you want to go; the road you take will probably change.
  2. Check on the status of things around you. I used to think that driving around and looking at crops was just a waste of time. All corn plants and beans looked the same to me. However, I have learned to take a closer look. Are the crops maturing as they should? Are there gaps? Can you see places where erosion has taken place? This lesson could apply to the culture of the classroom. Take some time to “drive by” and look closely at what’s going on . For example, is Johnny tired and “wilted” today because he’s had the same outfit on for three days in a row?
  3. Good fences make good neighbors.To me this is about boundaries. What are the boundaries in your classroom?  Do you leave your “gate” open or closed? My gate is open most of the time; however, I try to remember to close it when my students are particularly noisy. I’m sure my neighbors appreciate the effort.
  4. Watch where you step! It’s no fun to step in a cow pie--especially if it is fresh. As a teacher, I’ve stepped in some metaphorical “cow pies”. Those can also be pretty messy and no fun to clean. For example, early on in my career I felt emboldened to speak up about a situation in which I did not have all of the information. I had to backtrack my words and actions and learn to not overstep.
  5. Mothers will come at you to protect their babies. Unfortunately, I can’t reason with the cow and tell her that I’m just trying to help. However, I can have that conversation with parents and guardians. If teachers come at a problem from a place of “I’m here to help,” it can change the whole tone of the conversation.
  6. Work hard; however, the job is over when you come into the house. My husband has literally slept in his vehicle on a cold night because he was waiting on a cow to give birth. However, when he comes into the house, his work day is done. I’m always amazed (and envious... and sometimes bitter) by his ability to “turn it off”. Learning to “turn it off”  is a lesson we all need. Turn off email reminders and message alerts. They will still be there tomorrow .
  7. Do your research. Another lesson I learned from being married to a farmer is the amount of research spent on something as trivial (to me) as buying a bull. I thought a farmer would just go pick one out that looked good. Nope. Bulls come with paperwork that has in depth data that farmers analyze. I would say that my husband spends as much time doing research on a bull as I spend analyzing test scores every year. We both look for strengths and weaknesses, and we try to improve our products .
  8. Be there to help your neighbor, because one day you may be the one who needs help. I never realized how many activities farmers do together. They help each other work on equipment and take care of livestock. As teachers, we help our neighbors with curriculum and student issues.
  9. Don’t take things at face value. That stick on the ground may actually be a snake. That pretty plant with lots of flowers is actually a poisonous weed. On the flip side, that big, scary cow will follow you anywhere if you are carrying a bucket. That student who is screaming at you probably really isn’t screaming at you. She is more than likely frustrated and upset about a situation that has very little to do with you and your classroom.
  10. You get to start over again every year. For farmers, the new year begins in the spring with the planting season and the birth of new livestock. It’s a time of hope and reflecting on the lessons from the past year. For teachers the new year begins in the fall. It’s also a time of hope and reflecting on the lessons from the past.

These are just a few of the lessons I have learned from living on a farm.Teaching and farming are both professions that many people don’t understand. However, in my opinion, they are two of the most important professions in the world. Farmers feed the body, and teachers feed the mind. Teachers need to take rest in the “field” before the season of planting knowledge in the classroom starts again in the fall.

Denise Henggeler has been teaching 4th grade at Northeast Nodaway for 22 years; however, she has never taught the same lesson twice. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood/Elementary Education (1997) and her Master’s of Science in Middle School Education (2007) from Northwest Missouri State University. Denise co-wrote a grant for her school to become a NASA Explorer School. She loves being part of a district so small that the preschool through twelfth grade is housed in one building. Denise was named a 2020 Missouri Teacher of the Year Finalist, and she encourages students and colleagues alike to “Dare Mighty.”




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