The life FFA inspired for one student turned teacher and advisor

With the upcoming celebration that is FFA Week, it is an opportunity for present and past generations of FFA members to reflect on what impact FFA has marked upon their life. It’s times like these that nostalgia sets in, as we fondly remember friends, teams, teachers and contests that shaped our FFA experience.

Yet, as I am now an agricultural education teacher and FFA advisor myself, I find that I look deeper at my experience. I compare my experience to that of my students. Though we are separated by nearly 15 years, many aspects remain the same. Students still recite the creed and motto, while engaging in the meaningful authentic learning that characterizes agricultural education and FFA.

But, what strikes me the most is that two things still ring true to me. First the relationships forged in this organization are some of the strongest I have ever encountered. One may call them life shaping. Second, all of the great learning, accomplishments and experiences our members and students encounter can be traced back to two simple words, “I believe.”

Corcoran FFA Advisor Jonathan Spreng shares some tricks of showing hogs with students during the 2017 Tulare County Fair. Photo courtesy of Corcoran FFA

When I am asked about my experience in FFA I always respond with the same opening line, “every good thing in my life has happened because of FFA.” This is a strong statement, especially since I wasn’t a troubled kid searching for a place to belong. I wasn’t a leader looking for a group to lead. Moreover, I never even planned to be an agricultural education teacher. Still, FFA has impacted me beyond compare. So, I have to ask myself, “Why?” What was the meaningful impact? The simple answer is relationships.

FFA has fostered more meaningful relationships in my life than any other organization or experience I have encountered. These relationships are forged through learning, hard work, and a passion for the agricultural industry. My friends from FFA, who were fellow officers, judging team members, and partners in crime, remain close to this day. They have supported me emotionally; they have encouraged me professionally, and will even stand next to me when I get married next year.

These are truly lifelong friendships, however they are not limited to just high school friends. I still count my high school FFA advisor as one of my closest friends. I have a deep respect for him forged from the years working with him to start and grow a program. This cooperation and respect only deepened while teaching with him in Colorado. Once again, FFA fostered a lifelong relationship that has helped me achieve professionally, and supported me emotionally when needed.

Moreover, these relationships put learning in context. Being a teacher, I have to wear that hat from time to time. The most memorable lesson learned through FFA are the ones I experienced with my friends, judging teams, or other officers. I now strive to incorporate these elements of relationships in my own teaching.

As a result, my students refer to each other as a family. They work harder to support each other, just as I did for my fellow members when I was in FFA. My students also devote themselves to the chapter and an idea of something greater than themselves.  This is evident in the hard work they have exhibited farming our school farm, building flight pens for our pheasant project, or just putting in extra effort at the farm to support the teachers or fellow students. This element is something unique to FFA.

The other great experience of my time in FFA can be summed up by the words “I believe.” The belief in oneself that FFA instills is monumental. I have persevered through personal tragedies and hard times because of this belief instilled through FFA. It has given me the confidence to pursue opportunities, and seek something more.

FFA opened up an opportunity for me to attend college in Texas on a judging scholarship. Without the confidence and belief fostered from FFA, I may not have pursued this chance. Fast forward to 2014, the same belief brought me to California and eventually the Corcoran FFA Chapter. I am excited to see where the next opportunity and belief in myself takes me.

I can see this same belief being instilled in my FFA members. I have witnessed quiet students rise to leadership roles. I have seen students become great advocates for themselves and others. I have experienced our students become champions of agriculture, our heritage in the program, and for the traditions of the FFA. In a community like Corcoran that is easily characterized as a community with limited opportunities, I am heartened to see students gain skills that will take them beyond their situations and circumstances.

Moreover, the belief in something greater than oneself is also critical. There is no coincidence that each paragraph of the creed begins with “I believe.” This belief in something bigger, whether it is “the future of agriculture…” or “leadership from ourselves and respect from others…” creates a sense of grit and perseverance in my students. It’s a trait I recognize in myself from my time in FFA, and one I am pleased to pass on to those who look up to me.

This organization has shaped my life and not in a clichéd aspect, but rather in the very fiber of my being. It has shaped me the way that a farmer shapes a field, seeding a belief and moral fiber within me; a seed that was nurtured and watered through experiences and relationships, something that way harvested years after I left its membership.

FFA has profoundly impacted me. It has been the greatest experience of my life opening the same opportunity to others.

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