New ag teacher feels at home in Elgin
- The Observer
- Mardi Ford
The relationship between an ag teacher/FFA adviser and his, or her, students is a unique high school experience. It compares, perhaps, to that of the athletic coach or music instructor who not only teaches, but devotes hours of personal time to train and mentor, as well.
These teachers have the opportunity to spend more than an hour or two each day with their students. Beyond the classroom there are evenings and weekends spent together on projects or field trips. Ag teachers and their students work as a team training, competing, planning and sharing in special events like spring break trips, FFA conventions, county fairs and livestock shows.
Sometimes, the bond students form with an especially popular teacher can be quite strong. And for the one who replaces that teacher, it can be tough.
That could have been the case at Elgin High School, where Brent Carroll has been hired to head the ag program for a departing Eric Johnson. Johnson, who has been at Elgin for six years, is young and energetic, and the kids just love him.
"Yeah, I was pretty stubborn about (the change) at first," says Courtney Kennedy, a soon-to-be junior who admits to shedding more than a few tears over Johnson's departure.
But it appears the Elgin School Board picked just the right man in hiring a seasoned veteran former dairy farmer/ FFA adviser/ag teacher Brent Carroll.
With his own special blend of patience and confidence, Carroll has already begun building a relationship with the students via a couple of visits this spring.
"Change is tough on them especially when it's a teacher they really love. I didn't want to wait until the first day of school (this fall) and have a stranger walk in," Carroll says.
That concern has not gone unnoticed by the kids.
The very same girl who almost chose to bow out of FFA and ag next year, has since changed her mind.
"Actually, we're getting kind of excited. Mr. Carroll seems to care about building a rapport with us," Kennedy says.
"Yeah, he seems really nice," echoes fellow junior-to-be and FFAer, Aspen Risseeuw.
Johnson says Carroll visited the school about three weeks ago. Last week, he came for a second visit interacting with kids when and where possible during a crazy day, which included the eighth-grade orientation and the typical flurry of year-end activity.
While touring the metal shop, Carroll's chance meeting with next year's FFA Chapter president, Jessika McClune, was an opportunity to ask the senior what she thought about changing FFA advisers for her final year.
"Actually, I'm excited to see what we can do that's new. Of course, our officer team is going to miss Mr. Johnson, but we're looking ahead to what's in store," she says.
Johnson says he is confident that both the students and the ag program are in capable hands.
"The school board had an excellent pool of qualified candidates, but I think they really got the best pick out of all the ag teachers in the state," Johnson says.
While Elgin may have picked the cream from the crop, the new ag teacher says the satisfaction is mutual. Once the decision was made to get back into teaching at the high school level, Carroll, 56, sent out dozens of resumes.
"But this program was my first pick," he says.
He and his wife, Yvonne, who works as a registered nurse at the Umatilla County Health Department, have their house on the market. As soon as it sells, they will be moving to Elgin permanently.
Carroll's resume is a testimony to his love of teaching and agriculture. From 1968 to 1986 he was a dairy farmer, then sold the farm to go back to school for an ag education degree. After graduation in 1990, he was hired as the ag teacher for Weston-McEwen High School at Athena. While there, the program saw an average of 120 kids with about 50 of them actively involved in FFA. It was during that time Carroll became acquainted with local ag teachers including Dennis Clark, who is still at Union, and Toby Koehn, then at Imbler and now at Cove. Although J.D. Cant was not Imbler's ag teacher, Carroll knew him through FFA activities.
"I know all these guys. It's just like coming home," Carroll says.
While teaching in Athena, his sons expressed an interest in getting back into dairy farming, so once again with the help of his wife and two sons, Carroll did just that. Starting with a bare bones farm and 100 head of dairy cows, the Carroll family built a second dairy farm. It's not easy to build an agriculture operation from the ground and make it successful. Carroll's done it twice.
In 1998, one of the Carrolls' sons went to college and the other enlisted in the U.S. Army. Carroll began to farm full-time, but he always missed the teaching. By 2005, Carroll had partnered with one son and they were now milking 500 head. That year, he was offered a job at the University of Idaho as the dairy center's manager and inspector. He thought it was a chance to teach again, this time at the college level, so the farm was divided and half sold to his son, the other to a man from Denmark.
But after two years in Moscow, Carroll is not shy about saying he prefers high school teaching to the politics of a university job.
"I told them that when I resigned I didn't like the bureaucracy and they just
didn't let me teach enough," he says.
For his first year at Elgin, Carroll doesn't plan to make a lot of changes.
"The only time you'd do that is if a program's broken and needs fixed. But I'm a different guy, so I'll infuse my own personality into the program. At first, though, I want to get a feel for what the kids need, what the community needs," he says.
Is he worried about filling such a popular teacher's position?
"Well, if this was my first job, maybe. At this stage of my life, I'm pretty comfortable with who I am and I know I can teach. And I love being in the classroom. So I just have to be myself," he says. "And listen to the kids. Listening is very important."