Path Home Shows 2015 Show Archive October 2015 Show 1542 Heart of an Ag Teacher

Heart of an Ag Teacher

Ag teachers dedicate their lives to the education of their students both inside and outside the classroom.
Heart of an Ag Teacher

Heart of an Ag Teacher

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Oklahoma FFA Association

National FFA Organization


Show Details

Show 1542: Heart of an Ag Teacher
Air Date: October 18, 2015



Rob McClendon: Hello everyone. Thanks for joining us here on Horizon. Well if you’re lucky you’ve had one – a teacher that impacted your life. It may have been as simple as showing an interest in you when others hadn’t or as complex as opening doors to new worlds of thought and discovery you never knew existed. Today, we’re going to meet some individuals who have dedicated their lives to the education of others and we begin be heading to the far reaches of western Oklahoma. Here’s our Austin Moore.

Austin Moore: If you were to mistake Tanner Thompson for one of his agricultural education students, you would be forgiven, not only because he looks and, in fact is young, but because this 6th year teacher is usually working beside his students rather than lecturing them from the front.

Tanner Thompson: Agricultural education excels because it is hands-on. We’re teaching a lot of the principals that are being taught in the core classes. Reinforcing what those science and math teachers are teaching, but we are doing so in a way that the students can grasp what is going on. They can get their hands dirty and understand those same principals but in a very realistic manner.

Austin: Lessons learned in this manner tend to stick. They stuck so well to former Cheyenne FFA student and current congressmen Frank Lucas that he still calls on them today.

Frank Lucas: The skills that I had an opportunity to develop in this particular program – yes there was public speaking and yes we spend a lot of time discussing livestock breeds and health issues and we discussed how you manage your business as a young farmer or rancher starting out. But all of those skills serve a purpose. The techniques you learn here, maybe not everyone is going to go to a four-year comprehensive university. If you are then everything that you have had in the program will have help you. Maybe you are going to go to a community college or a junior college a two-year program and then use the skills that you enhance there to move forward, or Oklahoma has an outstanding CareerTech system.

Austin: For Lucas and his classmates, that foundation was laid by ag teacher Gary Kirk.

Gary Kirk: So I only had one rule – Don't make Kirk mad. And it’s up to you to figure out what makes me mad. So, therefore, I didn't have any problems.

Austin: For 35 years, Kirk used sows, cows and especially tractors to nourish western Oklahoma's most important crop.

Kirk: I always had kids that loved the mechanics part, so I had that to work on. We'd over-haul ‘em, whatever. I had kids just liked to clean. I had the kids want to do the body work. I had kids that just want to do the painting. So I had a little somethin’ for everybody.

Austin: Those tractors are still around and make occasional public appearance. Marvelous machines, but also a testament to the work Kirk and his students did side-by-side.

Austin: So one of the things we always hear when we talk to Ag teachers is that that one-on-one time with students that they use in working on projects is also a really good time to relate life lessons. Can you relate any that you learned from Mr Kirk?

Lucas: A lot of good advice about everything from the opposite sex to taking care of one's reputation and image in the community to studying hard and having a plan to focusing, yeah, a whole bunch of topics. Ironically, as I think back about it now, he wasn't really that much older than me – 14 year old freshman. This was his second teaching post. He couldn't have been 26 or 27. But he seemed like an awfully mature, worldly guy to me in 1974.

Austin: I visited with Mr Kirk at Baptist Integris Hospital in Oklahoma City where today he is battling both Leukemia and Melanoma.

Kirk: Had an old ag teacher tell me one time, he said, "Here’s my philosophy of teaching." He said, he said, "I teach ‘em about life and if there’s any time left I teach ‘em about agriculture." So I kind of followed that philosophy all through the years.

Austin: I found another of Kirk's kids just a few miles away. On the 45th floor of Devon Tower, I spoke with Vice President of Public and Government Affairs Allen Wright, who says the lessons he learned in Kirk's classroom echo throughout his work today.

Allen Wright: Problem solving, I mean, nothing on a farm happens like it does in a textbook. And nothing in that environment is linear and just easily solved. And so you’ve got to think through and adapt and adjust and also deal with reality. And so my experiences in vocational agriculture and being exposed to those experiences have helped me a great deal. And then, you know, the leadership experiences in FFA, it was great leadership training.

Austin: But for Wright, it was the life lessons that rooted most deeply.

Wright: Well I think that’s where Gary was special. And, you know, the best teachers always are, you know, those are the people that open your mind and really kind of go beyond the subject matter. You know, we had as an organization of FFA, we had officers and organized meetings but Gary would spend a lot of time with us teaching us about life. And he took those opportunities to do it and just spent a lot of time trying to help us grow and think beyond just what was happening right now which is a typical young person's point of view.

Austin: Back in Cheyenne, the community has rallied around Gary Kirk. Blood drives in his honor are working to fill the bank. And every day volunteers drive him the two and a half hours to Oklahoma City and back again for his on-going treatment schedule. The love this town feels for its ag teacher is amazing, but it is hardly unexpected. In fact, that bond between teacher and now community is what led Tanner Thompson to Kirk's old classroom.

Thompson: That’s really the driving force behind why I'm here in the classroom on a daily basis – is to connect with those kids and to be a lasting part of their life. I don't want it to end when they graduate high school. I want to continue to see that through and make sure that they’re exceling at whatever they want to do.

Austin: That is why Gary Kirk may be in a fight for his life, but he isn’t fighting alone.

Kirk: You don't know who you reach when you’re teaching these kids. And it kinda showed me that I done more good than I thought I did.


Rob McClendon: Well joining me now is studio is our Austin Moore. Well Austin, I was struck when watching your piece that many of the lessons Mr Kirk was teaching, they weren’t lessons taught in the classroom, they were lessons taught outside the classroom.

Austin: Absolutely. Mr Kirk has never shied away from teaching his students something he thought they needed to know whether it was in the textbook or not. One of my favorite stories that he related to me is that when he graduated high school, the first time he was told he had to go pay taxes, well he was floored – he didn’t know where to go, what to do. So every year, he took the seniors down to the courthouse, walked them through every office in that courthouse, told them what they needed to know there, who they needed to talk to and what they were going to accomplish at that time.

Rob: Wow. How is his health?

Austin: Well it’s a challenge. Obviously fighting two forms of cancer simultaneously is not ideal. I guess one way to look at it is he is getting to fight them at the same time, they didn’t have to extend this fight out, they’re kind of taking care of it all together hopefully. But, you know, he’s got the right support team behind him, he’s got the community all behind him and hopefully with the right attitude it’s all gonna turn out okay.

Rob: Yeah, we wish him well in his battles and I know there are literally generations of people that wish him well in that community.

Austin: Absolutely.

Rob:  All right. Thank you so much Austin.

Rob: Now when we return, I sit down with some young people who know first-hand the impact an ag teacher can have on their life.