A lifelong passion for agricultural education and diversity inclusion led Dr. Chastity Warren English to her chosen occupation as an assistant professor at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, one of the state’s land-grant schools. She began her career as a high school agriculture teacher, but her pursuit of a master’s degree uncovered her interest in researching agricultural education at a higher level.
Read on as Dr. English shares the similarities and differences between teaching high school versus university, as well as her hopes for growing more agricultural educators at all levels.
Q: What motivated you to pursue a career in agricultural education? When did you know it was the right path for you?
My parents instilled in me, from a very young age, the value of education and the importance of farming. Probably as early as fifth grade I knew I wanted to be at teacher. In high school, I met Mr. Armstrong, my agricultural teacher, who introduced me to the world of agriculture! With my parents and Mr. Armstrong working together, I knew during my high school sophomore year that I would attend North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and major in agricultural education. I was destined to become an agricultural teacher.
Q: Since you have taught on both the secondary (high school) and post-secondary (university) level, what are the similarities?
Regardless of where I teach, I’ve learned that my students still need someone who cares first about them and their goals. Being the subject matter expert comes second. It is true at both levels that “students usually do not care what you know until they know how much you care.” I usually have great working relationships with my students and work with them to ensure their success. This is one of the attributes of teaching, being able to help others who want to help themselves. When my students graduate, I still keep in touch with them to see how they are progressing in their professional and personal lives.
Q: What are the differences?
I love the post-secondary level because of the adult student, and I have a little more freedom when working with adults than I normally would when I was working with my middle school students. My adult students are more focused and understand the value of a dollar, so they help create the learning environment they need to matriculate through the program successfully.
Q: We often hear about a shortage of qualified teachers for agricultural education. Do you believe this is a problem for our industry?
Unfortunately, I do. Even in my case, I felt guilty when I was trying to decide if I should pursue my doctoral degree or stay in the high-school classroom. It was after many discussions with Mr. Armstrong that I decided to take a chance. However, I knew once I left my program that it would take someone who understood the importance of an agriculture teacher to continue the program. It is difficult leaving a program that was built by sacrifice, love and dedication. It hurts even more to see a stellar program begin to dwindle due to a highly-qualified teacher not being hired.
Q: What are the problems associated with this shortage?
With my collegiate students a problem I see is competitive offers from other professions, i.e. industry or government. Sometimes, it can be a challenge trying to compare apples to oranges; therefore, I am honest with my students regarding the expectations and realities of public education today. If there are no agriculture teachers, then agricultural programs will begin to disappear. When my students decide to teach, I make sure they understand the challenges they will endure. However, I also inform them of the difference they will make in the lives of their students and there is no salary that can compare to this truth. I often remind my students that, “teaching is the one profession that creates all other professions.”
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
When I reflect upon my career and upbringing, I am blessed that I had parents who loved me enough to teach me the value of education and hard work. I am also thankful for my agricultural teacher, he is like a second father. The leadership and guidance that was provided to me in high via agricultural education, and my FFA chapter is why I am the agricultural professional I am today!