By: Michael Jaquez, Teacher, Mira Monte High School
As agricultural educators, we are tasked with creating engaging learning environments, providing mentorship and encouragement for our students, offering opportunity for premier leadership, and supporting students in their future endeavors so that they can achieve success. We must provide quality education to all of our students. These expectations of agriculture teachers are carried out in controlled settings like the classroom, in the shop, or at the school farm. We provide our students with the time and resources that are required to complete the learning task being asked of them. If lab equipment is needed, we provide it. If technology is required, we provide it. If basic needs are not met at home, we provide it. With the reality of a mandated stay-at-home quarantine, our students are no longer in controlled academic learning environments. Our expectations of educators and students must be modified to reflect the reality of the COVID-19 crisis.
My school site serves a population of students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged, so oftentimes students cannot afford to buy additional supplies for their classes, require free or reduced lunch, and primarily take the bus as their main form of transportation to and from school. At my school site, students are provided with a safe place, basic needs, and quality education. Virtually all students receive breakfast, lunch, and an after-school snack. If students need to stay after school for any reason such as a chapter meeting, sports practice or tutoring, there is a late bus that students can take so that they can get home. It is difficult for school staff members to begin to know what type of homelife students have. Once students leave school, will students be provided with the basic needs they require? Educators may never know the full extent of a student’s life outside of the classroom.
Once students leave school, they are no longer in a controlled environment; they may not have their basic needs met at home. Schools are no longer open for students, and even though meals are still provided, and sometimes technology and the internet, the environment students are in may not be equivalent to that of their school. They might not feel safe, their parents may not have jobs anymore, and they might have lost someone important to them. Our expectations for our students must reflect the uncertainty of each students’ home situation. We cannot simply take our curriculum and convert it into a distance-accessible format, without considering the setting our students may be in. Educators must think of the wellbeing of their students first, and how to best present course content second. There should be more encouragement and support for students, and less pressure placed on them to academically perform as they did in a school setting. Grading should reflect what is currently going on in our country, because all students respond to hardship in various degrees. Good things that are happening should be shared, because it may be the only positive thing our students hear. Making the necessary changes to our curriculum delivery can be what makes this difficult time less difficult for students.
As agricultural educators, we are asked to do a lot, but we do it because we understand the wealth of knowledge and experiences that come from this type of education, and the life-long learning that leads our students toward success. The expectation of an agriculture teacher is currently much different than it has ever been before, but we must embrace the challenge and continue to provide our students with the resources they need, a space to learn, opportunity for leadership and the encouragement required to propel them toward success.
For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit http://calagteachers.org/