Even though Taylor Cooper spent her childhood following her agricultural educator of a father around she was determined that she was meant to go down a different career path. She didn’t want to live in her father’s shadow. However, after her first year of college, she called her dad crying and told him she was switching her major to agricultural education. His response? “Took you long enough.”
Thinking back now, Taylor agrees that she was always supposed to be an ag teacher. Following her dad around to student-supervised agricultural experience visits or 6 AM land judging practices were some of her favorite activities as a kid. Taylor explains she wasn’t totally off-base when she felt that she was meant to go down a different path. “I feel like I’ve figured out my own route to be a teacher where I am teaching agriculture education in a way that is vastly different from my father.”
Taylor teaches agricultural education at Omaha Bryan Public Schools, one of the most urban-located FFA chapters in the state. When asked what it was like teaching in this environment Taylor said, “I teach agriculture differently from many other schools around us. Because all of my students have little to no experience with agriculture and we do not directly have rural agriculture around us. We do have a lot of urban agriculture within Omaha and thanks to the many partners we have with our program, we can teach agriculture in a fun and different way. It can be seen as part of the challenge of teaching in an urban school because many students can lack that prior knowledge on our ag subjects, but I believe that is the best part of teaching in Omaha because we get to go on this journey of discovery with the students. And that alone builds this connection with the students that is incomparable.”
Although she enjoys it, Cooper says planning out lessons for this “journey of discovery” can be very time-consuming because she often has to come up with her own, original material to introduce a multi-faceted topic that may be foreign to her students. One tool that has helped her on this journey is Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE) workshops. These workshops provide professional development and easy to implement curriculum for agricultural education teachers. The Nebraska FFA Foundation helps to support the cost of attending to ag-ed teachers in Nebraska. Cooper has completed two CASE workshops, one in the area of Plant Science and one in Food Science, with support from the foundation.
Cooper explains that CASE helped introduce the benefits of implementing labs and inquiry learning into her classroom. “It was something that I hadn’t thought too much about before then. It’s what got me interested in inquiry to begin with, and has since carried that science focus of my agriculture classes forward into my classroom today. One of my biggest obstacles before CASE was that I have so many ideas that are difficult to narrow down; then I tend to worry if they will make sense to the students. CASE is awesome because it has an introduction and sometimes an activity that you can do to introduce the lesson to the students, and I don’t have to worry about what I’m doing to introduce the topic. I like that about CASE. Everything is there for you, and you don’t have to spend extra time trying to come up with your own, original material for a lesson. It is quite the time and brainpower saver!” said Cooper.