Lessons from the RAT Pack

By: Matt Patton, CATA Executive Director

I recently crashed a, self named, RAT (Retired Ag Teachers) Pack breakfast. In October, the group met for breakfast in an out-of-the-way diner in central California.  Mid-morning at a large table in the back of the restaurant sat nine stalwarts of our profession, all legendary figures of CATA. The group meets every month or so to reconnect. As far as anyone knows, there is no official membership list and no formal invitations. They are simply a group of retirees with a shared passion for ag education summoned by word of mouth. They carpool Highway 99 and Interstate 5 in the dark to some predetermined diner, picking up members at each town along the way.

If anyone was to calculate the number of silver bowls represented by the group, the number would be in the triple digits. The State Degree count accumulated by the table would be in the thousands. The miles traveled to fairs, field days, and project visits would reach a million. But their conversations were not of past glory or the good old days.

Intertwined amid complaining about politics (the 2021 recall came up frequently), discussing California’s current state of affairs (outlawing gas-powered lawnmowers was a hot topic), and the lack of rain emerged three main themes.

The first theme was that each member of the group was still connected to their former ag program in some way. Some were still teaching a class or two, others were subbing, and many continued volunteering at FFA and community events. They stayed connected by judging career development and leadership development events, barbecuing for fundraisers, serving on boards, and “consulting” the next generation of ag teachers.   

The next theme revolved around family and friends and the importance of community. Stories were told about holiday gatherings and local events, and they all showed pictures of children and grandchildren.

The final commonality was that all the members of the group had hobbies. Activities like woodworking, hunting, pottery, biking, running, fishing, fantasy football, and camping were common. They shared anecdotes of completed projects, competitions, and shared passions. Some RAT Packers commented about the importance of developing interests outside of the profession.

Prior to the event, I expected to hear a how-to on ag teaching, but instead learned a more powerful lesson. As a result, I left breakfast pondering the following questions: 

As ag teachers, what are we doing right now to build connections to our programs and community that will outlive our careers?

What are we doing to cultivate lifelong hobbies that bring us joy and keep us mentally and physically active?

What are we doing to strengthen our relationships with family and friends to help us stay connected after leaving the classroom?

State Championships, American Degrees, and champion banners are important and reflect the hard work and dedication of the students and teachers that achieve them, but reminders of those accomplishments sit on a shelf or hang on a wall and collect dust years later. However, the community connections made, the relationships built and maintained, and the interests outside of work will be around long after the job.

A special thanks to Dave Segna, Warren Weaver, Joe DiGrazia, Carl Wright, Darol Fishman, Larry Tosta, Mark Feuerbach, Dale Pollard, and Richard Regalo for allowing me to sit and talk. It is not something I will soon forget. Please know you are forever and always a part of the CATA family and welcome at any event. 

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