Happy Teachers Appreciation Week! - Elsa Schmidt
Editor’s note: It is National Teacher Appreciation Week. As part of the celebration, we profiled teachers throughout the state. Here’s one:
Elsa Schmidt, Mid-Prairie Community School District
- Grade level taught: I teach ninth through 12th grade.
- Subjects taught: I teach agriculture education courses, including classes in AFNR (Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources), Animal Science, Plant Science, Agricultural Business, Landscaping, Natural Resources and Precision Farming.
- How many years have you been teaching: I have been teaching for 26 years.
Why are you passionate about teaching?
I love seeing how students grow and change throughout their high school years. As an agricultural educator/FFA advisor, I see a majority of my students all four years of high school. It is very exciting to see the timid freshmen become an outstanding leader by the time their senior year is complete or to see the career path they select. The lightbulb moments are great to see, when you know the student understands a concept they have been working to achieve. Additionally, because of the connections made through FFA activities, I am able to get to know students in a way that leads us to stay in touch more after they leave high school. This allows me to utilize these former students to assist my current students. I am now having the children of students that I taught show up in my class, and I am enjoying the chance to reconnect with their parents and see their path through life.
What have you learned during the past year teaching during the pandemic?
One thing that I learned during the pandemic is that we tend to underestimate the power of being together in the classroom. The synergy that takes place when students are together is invaluable. Students (and teachers) felt very isolated during our time learning from home. Additionally, it reminded me that not all students see home as a safe environment that they want to spend time in. Also, the value for students completing hands-on projects that do not require screen time is very important. The pandemic allowed many educators to step back and determine what is most important and to not cling to ideas because they had always been done that way. It also allowed me time to remember that I need to spend time doing things that I enjoy instead of putting myself at the bottom of the list.
What do you think are keys to a student’s success and how do you help foster that?
Students need to have a relationship with those they are learning from and with. This does not happen just in the classroom setting. Seeing students at other high school events they are participating in or at their after-school job reinforces the connection between teachers and students. Taking time to get to know students and talk with them is invaluable. If they feel comfortable talking about the small things in their lives, they are more likely to talk when the big things come up in their lives.
Recognizing the differences in personalities and learning styles of students will help to determine the ways that they learn best. Students need to be pushed out of their comfort zones to try new opportunities from time to time. Students should be allowed to fail when trying new concepts so that they learn resilience and how to solve problems on their own. I have been utilizing CASE (Curriculum for Agricultural Education) for the past several years which encourages problem and project-based learning. Additionally, finding hands-on activities will allow students to find their best way of learning and to try things they might not otherwise have had the opportunity to try.
Over the years, how have you grown as an educator?
In the beginning of my teaching career, I was a hot mess more often than not. I constantly worried if I had selected the right curriculum to teach or if we were doing the right activities. I had not learned to roll with the punches as well as I can now. I have learned that experiments will fail, the power will go off, the schedule will change and students may not behave the way I would prefer. What I have also learned is that students are more likely to remember the feeling of having a home in the ag room, of having someone in their corner and sometimes to tell them the hard truth when they need it. I have gained the ability to find quality curriculum and adjust and change my curriculum as needed, but the personal connection piece will always pay back greater dividends for both me and my students.
What opportunities do you see in the next few years in education?
There is such a need for students to select agricultural education as a future career. I look at other CTE (Career and Technical Education) areas and how they are struggling to keep programs due to lack of quality teachers being available. Early in my teaching career, I was told that we needed to produce our own replacements so that agricultural education could remain strong. I have taken that to heart and had several former students become outstanding agricultural education instructors. I hope that students will see the benefits of what they received in their education and have the desire to pass this knowledge and skill along to others.
We also need to do a better job of retaining teachers. Being an ag teacher is a demanding area of instruction requiring a wide skill set. Also, being an FFA advisor is like being a coach that never has an off-season. Educators need to support each other and be there to assist others as much as we can because teaching on an island is no way to teach. I am extremely thankful for the teacher network that is available to me in agricultural education. If I have a question or a problem, I can quickly find a solution by utilizing this group.
Who was your favorite teacher and why?
I was fortunate to have many outstanding teachers while I was in school, but my ag teacher, Jack Cook, was very instrumental in giving me the push to become an ag teacher. He encouraged me to look at agricultural education as a possible career option. He also allowed me to see the backside to FFA activities and classroom management. This probably helped him at the time, but these experiences laid a foundation of knowledge that I would need when I got out of college and had my own program. He continued to be a role model for me by showing me how I needed to give back to my fellow ag teachers and to FFA.
I was also fortunate to have veteran teachers who took me under their wings and helped me get my feet wet when I first started teaching. This included the teachers in my building who understood what it was like to be a 22-year-old living in a new community, ag teachers who took my frantic phone calls when I didn’t understand something I was expected to complete and the families of my students who invited me to become an active member of the community.