Teachers may never know what impact their classes have on students, but for northwest Ohio agricultural educator John Poulson, he has actively witnessed students following in his footsteps in the state and abroad.
The winner of the inaugural Golden Owl Award for outstanding agricultural teaching, Poulson has taught in Pettisville Local Schools for 29 of his 36 years. Poulson also received the 2018 Ohio Association of Agricultural Educators Teacher Mentor Award because a former student nominated him.
Of the many awards he’s received, the Golden Owl Award is most pleasing.
“I appreciate the acknowledgment of the community and the people who nominated me. That makes it special,” Poulson said. Plus the award brings recognition by Nationwide to agricultural education. The mentor award, he adds, is highly valued because it comes from his teacher peers.
While Poulson, a Henry County Farm Bureau member, toots his own horn softly, some former students, including Whitney Short, who nominated him for the mentoring award, bang drums of praise.
“I firmly believe I would not be in this career without him,” said Short, a Pettisville graduate, ag teacher for 10 years and mentor. “He has continued to mentor me through high school, college and my career to be a teacher of excellence that includes all students and makes learning fun.” She is the new OAAE president, but wasn’t involved in his selection.
Short also credits him for getting her out of her comfort zone. That’s something Poulson loves to do with his students. To succeed, students can’t just memorize facts, he said. They have to think and analyze.
“He certainly taught me that if you really wanted to accomplish something, you had to put hard work into achieving your goals,” said John Torres, a Franklin County Farm Bureau member and former organization director for Ohio Farm Bureau. Torres was director of government and industry affairs for Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association and currently serves as executive director for Maryland Farm Bureau. “There were many early mornings and late nights in the ag room working on projects, practicing for contests and filling out award applications.”
Passion for FFA
Poulson finds pleasure working with FFA because it gives him a chance to know students far beyond the classroom basics of animal science, agronomy and other industry-related topics. Torres, former leadership development director for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C., noted Poulson showed him “how to tie a necktie for the first time, while in McDonald’s before heading into my first state FFA Convention.”
What keeps him coming to school every morning after all these years? Poulson said, “I think it’s just the fact I really enjoy the teaching and interaction to get kids to see what’s there.”
Ironically, Poulson had no intention of being an ag teacher, even though it was his favorite class. “My dad was one of my ag teachers, therefore, I was never going to teach ag.”
However, he was inspired by one of his Ohio State University teachers, Dr. Jerry Peters, to pursue a dual major of agriculture education and animal science. In addition to a bachelor’s degree in science, he has a master’s degree from Ohio State.
Learning about agriculture “has been a hobby within my job,” he said. It’s a good thing because change is constant in the industry. He said since he started teaching, ag classes have become more science based. He tries to “tie that to production, processing, distribution, sales and services” and other facets of the industry.
Some of the issues challenging agriculture, such as global competition and the farm-to-table trend, may be explored in independent study, FFA or supervised ag experience projects. The latter can also help students select interest areas and learn transferable job skills.
Ag industry job openings will grow along with rising demand for food. To fill them, students without ag backgrounds are needed. Poulson said they can succeed with an agriculture career if they understand how to learn. Other pluses are ag-ed classes, FFA and 4-H experience. Depending on the school district, ag classes can start in seventh grade. It’s eighth grade in Pettisville.
With his years of experience and wide ranging-interests and contacts, mentoring was almost inevitable.
While working with other teachers and presenting professional development sessions, “Conversations would start, the informal mentoring would occur,” he said.
Poulson’s influence extends beyond the school ground.
He and his wife, Lexi, who is a substitute teacher with an ag-ed teaching certificate, “modeled the way for how to pay it forward to the community,” Torres said. They have been volunteers both in the ag community and in their local community, he added.
The Poulsons, married for 37 years, have two married children, daughter, Jessie, and son, Shane. They are involved in the ag industry and live near their parents in Henry County.
Students aren’t the only ones following his footsteps.
“Lately, I have enjoyed helping our grandson (age 5) learn to use tools and do projects, and look forward to helping our granddaughter (22 months) do the same,” he said.
GOLDEN OWL AWARD BASICS
Nominations being accepted for 2020 award
The inaugural Golden Owl Award program, in partnership with the Ohio FFA, Ohio Farm Bureau and the Iowa FFA Foundation, honored exceptional teachers in Ohio and Iowa with the aim of drawing more attention to agricultural education to meet the growing needs of the industry.
Poulson, was one of 10 finalists. He received a Golden Owl Award trophy, designation of Ag Educator of the Year, and a $3,000 Nationwide-funded cash award designed to help support continued education efforts. Each finalist received a $500 cash prize. They were: Stephanie Conway, Bowling Green High School; Randy Eisenhauer, Shelby High School; Shelby Faulkner, Ridgemont High School; Tom Holton, East Knox Junior-Senior High School; Holly Jennings, Felicity-Franklin High School; Michael Spahr, Greene County Career Center; Dave Stiles, Indian Valley High School; Katrina Swinehart, Central State University; and Erin Wollett, Cardington-Lincoln High School.
“We’re proud to recognize outstanding teachers for their dedication to agriculture education and their communities,” said Brad Liggett, president of agribusiness for Nationwide. “These talented individuals have dedicated their careers to helping the next generation of agricultural leaders. The nominations highlight the tremendous efforts these teachers provide to agricultural education and the inspiration they give to their students.”
The second-annual Golden Owl Award kicked off July 1 in Ohio and Iowa, and in two new states: Illinois and Pennsylvania. Nominations can be submitted online through Nov. 16 at goldenowlaward.com.
Photos courtesy of Ohio FFA