Queens of the classroom: For first time in WHS history, ag program led solely by womenWORTHINGTON — For the first time in the history of the Worthington High School agriculture program, the department is being led by three women.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — For the first time in the history of the Worthington High School agriculture program, the department is being led by three women.
Veteran ag teacher Deb Martin was joined at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year by full-time instructor Linnay Yarger and part-time teacher Colleen Duba. Between the three of them, they teach everything from Introduction to Agriculture, Ag 9-12, ag economics, power technology (small engines), welding, natural resources, horticulture, floriculture, landscape design, home repair, wildlife and small animals.
The three are providing daily proof that agriculture education isn’t just a man’s world. In fact, two of the three — Yarger and Duba — had female agriculture instructors while they were enrolled in high school ag programs and the FFA.
“I think we’re still stereotyped that these classes should be taught by males,” said Yarger, who graduated from the University of Minnesota, St. Paul campus, in the spring of 2009. “For the longest time there weren’t any female teachers. It’s kind of a hard stereotype to break.”
Yarger said with more females entering the field of agriculture education, the stereotype is slowly becoming a thing of the past.
“It’s probably more of a stereotype of the adult public than it is the kids, I think,” added Martin. “There’s three women in the foreign language department (at WHS) and nobody bats an eye. People just have ag stereotyped as male — it’s just not that way anymore.”
According to Joel Larsen, Minnesota FFA Advisor, 32 of the 185 high school ag education programs in the state are led by multiple advisors. Worthington, however, is the only one that has an all-female staff.
The first female agriculture instructor in Minnesota began her teaching career in 1972 at Spring Grove High School, Larsen said. An Illinois native, Jo Ellen Seamann was both ag teacher and FFA advisor for the school.
Seamann helped pave the way for women in the agriculture classroom in Minnesota. Today, Larsen said 66 of the 228 high school agriculture teachers, nearly 29 percent, are female.
WHS Principal Paul Karelis, a former ag teacher at the school, had no qualms last summer about filling both the full-time and part-time vacancies in the ag department with women.
“They’ve basically been trained like any other teacher,” he said. “They can meet the needs of kids in all technical educational fields that a program can offer.”
That includes power tech, welding and even home survival class, where students learn how to install sheetrock and do wiring.
“They have the capabilities of anyone,” Karelis said. “These women have attended workshops to bring their skills to the levels that we need.”
As a past FFA Advisor, Karelis said he’s both happy and enthused with the leadership of the trio of women who now lead the school’s agricultural program.
“They are true leaders that can build programs to a higher level,” he said. “They’ve opened the doors to other areas that we probably haven’t in the past. They’ve given kids more opportunities to explore and expand in several different program areas.”
Experienced in agriculture
Martin has taught agriculture classes in the school district since 1999, beginning as a part-time teacher. She became full-time in the fall of 2005, after Karelis moved into high school administration.
A native of Waseca, Martin hadn’t planned to go into ag education. She earned degrees in communications and marketing and, not ready to leave college after three years, she enrolled in the post-master’s program in ag education.
She married Tom Martin, whom she met in the program, and then sold feed for a couple of years before becoming a stay-at-home mom. It wasn’t until a temporary, full-time teaching position opened at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington that she put that ag education degree to work.
After one year at Minnesota West, the part-time position opened in District 518. Martin worked mornings teaching ag classes and spent her afternoons at home with her two kids, Jackie and John.
Yarger was a senior in high school, intent on attending the University of Minnesota but undecided about her major. While discussing her options with her female FFA Advisor, Yarger was coaxed into agriculture education.
“I started taking classes and decided I really enjoyed it,” she said. She anticipated she would — she had taken ag classes and was in the FFA during her entire high school career in New Ulm. For three of those years, she had a female ag instructor.
“It was nice having a female instructor — probably because it was a little less intimidating,” said Yarger. “I was very involved with FFA through all four years of high school. I tried many different CDE contests, got a couple of proficiency awards and my State FFA degree.”
Yarger, who served as chapter president her senior year, also earned her American FFA Degree — the highest degree a member can attain.
Duba graduated from WHS in the spring of 2005, and from South Dakota State University in the spring of 2009 with a degree in agriculture education, communication and leadership. She was a student of Martin’s ag classes in high school.
“I always knew I wanted to go into teaching,” said Duba, adding that it wasn’t until she became involved in the FFA that she decided to be an ag teacher.
Though she grew up in town, Duba had ties to the farm and agriculture. She said those connections, as well as the influence of her own ag instructors, led her down the path of ag education.
Duba teaches two classes per day at the high school, including the metals (welding) classes.
Finding their niche
When Martin moved into the full-time ag teaching position at the high school, she essentially took over the courses taught by the instructor who left. The same happened when Yarger joined the district last fall.
As the three have settled into their roles, they have discussed teaching courses that best suit their strengths.
For instance, Duba grew up working alongside her dad at Duba Sheet Metal and has worked with metals and welding for years. It only seemed natural that she would lead the high school classes in that area.
What do the students think about having a female teaching them how to weld?
“I don’t think at first they really knew how to take it with a female in that position, but after we actually got out into the shop, they had a whole different outlook,” Duba said. “Once we did get into the shop, they could see that, ‘Hey, she does know how to weld.’ They really respected that fact and took it seriously, which made it fun for both them and myself.”
It has been the same in the small engines class that Yarger teaches.
She fielded a lot of questions from students in her class — mostly challenging her in her knowledge.
“They just kept asking, ‘How do you know?’” she said. “It’s because I learned it.”
Yarger said the students probably do question her more than they would a male, but she’s shown that she knows what she’s talking about.
“The guys would be surprised if I told them something and it turned out to be correct, like if an engine didn’t start, I’d say, ‘Try this.’
“For first year teachers, they’re going to challenge us anyway on our knowledge, but especially in the shop,” Yarger said.
“I think they really wanted to see if you knew what you were talking about,” Martin added. “That’s probably not fair, but that’s the real world. You have to prove more than if a guy walked in there.”
Times have changed
Back when Martin was taking high school agriculture classes, she was the only female in the class.
“I loved my ag instructor,” she said. “He would give me a crew of boys and say, ‘You do what she says!’ I sat there and they built the stuff for me.”
Yarger encountered the same thing in a high school welding class.
“I didn’t weld very much because my teacher just said, do whatever. I was the only girl in a class of 20 guys. They wouldn’t give up their machines for me anyway, so I went and sat in the office,” she said. “If I had a female instructor, I probably wouldn’t have gotten away with as much as I did.”
“With us teaching it, now girls don’t get away with that,” said Martin. “Because a girl is teaching it, they can get out there and saw or do whatever.”
She hopes that may lead more females to enroll in the shop classes offered at the high school. Trio of role models
Being both ag teacher and FFA advisor to students gives instructors like Martin, Yarger and Duba more time to get to know their pupils.
Martin said her hope is that students learn not just about agriculture, but about life.
“I hope that I can be a positive role model for them and how they should live their life — how they should treat each other, the world and the environment,” she said.
Duba hopes she can be a good leader and an example to others.
“We’re in a department where you’ve got hands-on (learning). There’s more than one way to learn something. There’s more than one way to approach things,” she said. “So many kids get hooked on the idea that there’s only one answer. We all know in ag that there’s more than one way to solve something.”
Yarger’s goal is simply to increase awareness for agriculture among her students.
“There are so many kids that think milk comes from the back of the grocery store,” she said. “There’s so much lack of knowledge on where our food comes from. (Students are) just unaware of how much agriculture affects their lives on a daily basis.”
“As (the students) grow into adults and become part of the voting process, they’re going to be making decisions on the environment and agriculture,” said Martin. “They should have an idea of what they’re voting on.”
Helping students to understand and appreciate agriculture is the basis behind agriculture education, and for the trio of ag instructors at WHS, it doesn’t matter if there is a woman or a man standing at the head of the class — the goal is the same.