Agriculture + Lifestyle
Jobs in Ag: Education
Posted on May 6, 2018 8:00 PM
Meet Matthew Darby, Agriculture Education Teacher at Northside High School in Houston County.
Where are you from originally?
I'm from Calhoun, Georgia which is Gordon County in Northwest Georgia.
What's your experience with agriculture?
My family has been in Northwest Georgia for as long as anybody can remember and I'm 5th or 6th generation farmer. My father had chicken houses and actually had sheep for a while. We're in the cattle business, my dad, my uncle, the family. My dad also owns a sawmill. So, we're very diverse in the aspects of what we do, being animal and timber based.
Where did you go to college and how did you decide what you would study?
I participated in livestock showing growing up ever since I was in 4-H and FFA and then all through high school. I ended up getting a scholarship to go to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College to do livestock judging, so I spent two years there and got an associate's degree and then transferred to the University of Georgia because I wanted to get a 4-year degree be able to use my Hope Scholarship. I’d always wanted to go to UGA so when I got there I was really involved. I was a part of Block and Bridle [an Animal Science club], Cattlemen's Association, and Collegiate FFA. I was an Ag Education major, so I took courses that I felt suited me, but also what I would want my future students to learn about.
So, did you always know you wanted to be a teacher?
I kind of figured out by the time I graduated high school that that's what I wanted to do. My ag teacher was a big influence on me and then I had two uncles that were extension agents so I was kind of getting it from both sides. I wanted to be able to educate people, whether it's kids or adults, about where food comes from and how agriculture impacts everyday life. If they don’t have that knowledge, they’re really missing out. I want to help educate future generations.
How are students placed in your class? Is it an elective?
It's an elective class that students choose to take. In Houston County, every middle and high school have an ag program, and more specifically for us, we have two feeder middle schools for Northside High School. Middle school teachers try to get students involved at that level so that way when they get to 9th grade they’re already familiarized with the program and are therefore more inclined to sign up for these classes. Basic ag science is where high schoolers start, they learn a bit of everything. From there is their interest in piqued, they can become involved in Future Farmers of America (FFA) or study anything from animal science, plant science, ag mechanics, to forestry and wildlife.
Is there a growing interest in students taking these classes?
Numbers are steadily increasing because the middle schools are very big help in exposing students earlier. Before we had middle school programs, it was harder to get the interest of students in 9th or 10th grade, but now we have a steady flow of kids who are interested.
What is a student's base-knowledge of Agriculture when they take your class for the first time?
A lot of kids that come into an ag class don't know a whole lot about it, especially in this area since there isn't a lot of farming on this end of Houston County. It's a whole new experience for them, totally different from anything they’ve ever been exposed to.
Are you able to see a growth in the students of their understanding of Agriculture from the beginning of the course to the end?
Absolutely, especially since this is my second year here I’m starting to see it. I had a student last year that was in my basic ag class and he hardly ever talked but he did his work. This year he's decided he wants to try showing an animal and he's a part of several of our Career Development teams. He got incredibly involved and really realized that this is what he's interested in. It's a really neat thing to see a student advance from a basic level of understanding and then continue to dive in and figure out that this is what they want to do with their life.
What's the biggest misconception that students have coming into a class like this?
The biggest misconception I think kids have is that it's not all “sows, plows and cows” as we say sometimes, it's not what they consider as “old timey ag”. It's much more advanced than what they realize, students have no idea that there's so much technology that’s a part of this industry; that if you’re a farmer, you’re also a marketer, banker, accountant, advertiser, and veterinarian just to name a few. You have to have a little knowledge of everything. They also don't know that there are so many different career paths they can take that don't entail them being an actual farmer. They don't really grasp that agriculture and farming touches everything not only in the state of Georgia but across the country.
What's your favorite thing about teaching agriculture?
I enjoy making an impact on students and they don't even realize it. [To me] it's a big deal because a lot of these kids, especially FFA kids, you become very close with them, and they don't realize you're helping to guide them through life and high school. You try to help them get ready for life outside of this. I like being able to advise them and guide them and be able to show them something that they otherwise wouldn't see if they weren't involved in this program.
What’s something you learned growing up on a farm?
That hard work can take you anywhere. No matter how tough life gets, if you work hard and have a goal in mind, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.