Not all of us have the calling to be a teacher, given the profession’s worthy regard and great dedication. Fewer still have the natural ability for what is actually applied and practical as opposed to the theoretical. It is believed by many that the study of agriculture is the most practical of all. Even the great American founding father Benjamin Franklin was credited to have said that if a man is educated enough to feed himself, he is very well-educated.
Postcards Magazine has always taken great pride in finding jewels from a variety of communities. Educator Lynita Foster of Madisonville High School’s Agriculture Science education program is no exception. She brings 20 years of experience, with a consistent eye towards virtues in the practical education of life.
I’m part of a team of four here at Madisonville High School, and one of only a few hundred agriculture teachers around the state. But I feel very blessed and fortunate to be in a position to do this. I am absolutely aware every day that I stand on very tall shoulders. MHS has a long history of wonderful Ag teachers. My oldest brother is even named after a man who taught Ag here in the 50’s and 60’s, Mr. E.N. Trant, who had a significant impact on my father and many others. Colvin Walker, Neil Overstreet, Bill Trichel, Dennis McWhorter, Craig Bailey, Renita Schroeder – all of these people deserve credit for building a tradition of excellence and honest effort that my teaching partners and I are trying to carry forward.
Current Ag teachers include myself, Misty Long, Kenny Barrett, and Danny Foster. I appreciate the terrific support we receive from our administration, school board, and community. It is very common for parents, business leaders, and our school leaders to come work side by side with our kids, volunteer to drive to events, listen to presentations, buy projects, or donate awards. Our kids truly do know our town is invested in their success.
I actually am a product of Madisonville High School. There was an opening right after I finished college at Sam Houston State University. I was not totally sure what I wanted to do as a career. But, step by step, I moved to get a teaching certification. I’m a Bearkat. Sam Houston State University was good to me and for me. All three of my brothers went to Texas A&M, and I love them and have nothing against any school, but Sam Houston was a great fit for me.
It’s hard to describe things like that sometimes. My mother was working on her master’s degree when I was just a kid. In those days, I would just tag along with her to her classes. I’m sure it must have looked a little out of sorts to have a junior high-aged little kid in a college class. But my mother had some classes at night. I remember just sitting in the back of the class doing homework. When I got older and came back to visit, it was like coming home. I knew that this was the place I would attend college. It turned out to be a great decision for me.
As a freshman in high school I was so shy. The first thing my Ag teacher did was put me in on a team with FFA. It opened doors for me. I know it may seem odd that one event can change a life. I learned that if I apply myself, I can have success. Later, I was asked by our church to do a mission trip. I found out that you don’t get to pick the place that you’ll go.
Japan. I had a good Ag experience in high school and went on to major in it in college. But, I think it was through the exercise of my faith that somehow led me to teaching. It was on that mission trip to Japan that teaching sparked within me. We had to teach English as part of our service. I discovered there is a certain magic in teaching when you see your students not only learned the subject matter, but were able to grow beyond and grasp what is valuable. That led me to come back, and I was able to find an opening just as I was graduating college.
I learned that an Ag education is very diverse. Take speaking in public, for example. Because I was so shy in Ag, I had to work and research and apply practical things and see the results. After that, you are better equipped to stand with a certain degree of confidence. I try to pass that on to all my students. You never know how that will have a positive influence in a young person’s life. Because the field is so diverse, different people are going to find different answers, but many of those answers can be found in Ag.
What we teach is not just theory. We don’t just say this is what is in the book. We go out and practice it and apply it; we do it. I think that is a rewarding aspect of Ag.
The Ag industry is and should be driven by consumer choice. If two people were vehicle shopping, one might be looking for a sports car with lots of speed while the other might be looking for a truck to pull and do work. Neither consumer is wrong, they are looking for different things. Ag products are the same way. The consumer decides if they want organic or cage fee or the lowest cost alternative. Our job as an Ag industry is to make sure there are lots of healthy and safe options available on the shelf then let the consumer decide.
I think back to that first class, and I think about all my classes. I love them all. But, it was something about that first class. We were all learning together. I like to think we all grew together, as well. By the time that first class graduated, I just could not hold back my tears.
As time goes by, you learn more and become better at what you do. With 20 years of experience, I think I’m a better teacher now. I wish I could have been that for them back then. I see I made so many mistakes just learning as a young teacher. But, they loved me through all of that. If I could only go back and be a better teacher for them. But, I know one thing, and that is I could never love them anymore now than I did back then. They were very special.
I think the hardest challenge is when you, after your very best efforts, fail to make the impact needed in a child’s life. Over time, I think you just learn to make the best difference you can. We all want so much for these kids. I believe, in many ways, we are like a parent in the fact that we want the very best for our children. We have to understand our children are learning, and there are times when they don’t meet a certain standard, but there are more times when they come through in ways greater than we could ever imagine. If you roll all that up, that’s the true reward of being a teacher.
In many respects, a good Ag program is molded to reflect the positive aspects of the community. All education is responsible to the community, but in Ag, we take part in one of the biggest events in this county that makes us who we are at the county fair each year. All of us are just working hard, in the mud, pulling up our bootstraps and doing what we believe in for the children of our community. This is positive for all our kids. And hopefully, this is something that can be passed on.
We were able to take a group of FFA kids from our high school to talk with the younger children at the elementary. I love that in Ag we get our students involved with reflecting the values of the community in the classroom. I wish everyone could see the faces of our freshmen as they put on the FFA jacket for the first time. They have no idea what it will mean to them four years later, when they take it off for the last time, how rewarding those four years were as a result of being in FFA. I know a lot of them are going to have tears in their eyes. Many of them will have experiences they could not have gotten anyplace else. Many will go on to receive scholarships through Ag Education. This becomes a part of them. To all the kids that put in the work, they will experience a tremendous amount of growth. They make so many sacrifices but, at the same time, gain so many skills that will serve them well later on in life.
I wish I could take credit for doing it all, but I love just being a cheerleader for our kids. We teach, “Never give up. Keep working. You may not get the ribbon you wanted this time, but keep on working and doing your best, and good things will work out for you.” In Ag, we get to connect the classroom to real life. Whenever our kids make that connection between the class and life, that makes being a teacher the greatest job in the world.