Agriculture Teachers Have a □□□□□ (8/12/2022)

Last week’s Friday Footnote used a Wordle like approach to establish the idea that agriculture teachers in the past were RESILIENT and still are today. As we embrace a new school year, we must continue to be resilient, but we also must have a □□□□□. So what is the word we are looking for to complete the Wordle this week?

A Look Back at The Green Hand

Figure 1. The Green Hand

In 1932 Paul Chapman wrote The Green Hand (four years after the founding of the Future Farmers of America and during the great depression). The novel starts with the story of a local FFA Banquet being disrupted by some backwoods rowdies.

This event actually happened. Two University of Georgia professors were attending a FFA banquet at Cedar Grove High School in Dekalb County when some local boys threw firecrackers into the banquet hall. Upon their return to campus the two professors told Paul Chapman who was the state supervisor of agricultural education as well as a teacher at the University about the experience. Mr. Chapman took this event and turned it into a novel.

In the novel Fred Dale, one of the rowdies who was caught on the night of the banquet, threatened the agriculture teacher with these words, “I’ll get even with you for this?” The following day the agriculture teacher and a visiting official went deer hunting. Fred Dale, who was a school dropout, had previously agreed to be the guide for the hunt because of his knowledge of the area. Fred did show up and placed the hunters on their stands.

The agriculture teacher, Walter Langford, shot at a big buck but wounded it. Mr. Langford then started chasing after the buck when he was shot and blacked out. The next day Langford woke up in the hospital. The authorities were sure Fred Dale had deliberately shot the teacher and arrested him.

However, before the arrest Mr. Langford had requested to see Fred and had a long talk with him and convinced him to return to school, take agriculture classes and join the FFA. Fred’s father was dead, and Fred did all he could to help his mother. To make a long story short, a trial was held, and it was determined the shooting was accidental and Fred was free. Fred kept his word and returned to school.

Mr. Langford helped Fred get established in farming on his homeplace, encouraged him to participate in public speaking, and inspired Fred to turn his life around. The story ends with Fred winning the national FFA public speaking and using the prize money to pay off the mortgage on the farm held by the conniving local judge.

The moral of the story is that an agriculture teacher can make a difference in the lives of his or her students. But The Green Hand is just a work of fiction – or is it?

Agriculture Teachers Make a Difference in the Lives of Their Students

The reality is that agriculture teachers do make a difference in the lives of their students. One of the reasons The Green Hand resonates with me is because of the similarities between me and Fred Dale. I didn’t disrupt a FFA banquet or shoot the agriculture teacher but did grow up poor and spent a good bit of time hunting and fishing. My single mother (via a divorce) had four boys to raise that ranged in age from 12 years to 9 weeks. I was 20 months old when my father left. To make ends meet my mother carried bolts of cloth in the trunk of the car and sold fabric to other rural families in our community. It was 21 miles to town.

I made respectable grades in school, but I was not a part of the “in-crowd”. The children of the well-to-do prominent families received the most attention. I didn’t act out or cause problems. I guess you could call me an invisible student.

However, when I enrolled in Vocational Agriculture I in high school, my life started to change for the better. Jack Lacy, the agriculture teacher, saw something in me. He encouraged me to learn the FFA Creed so I could get the Greenhand degree pin (I had never won anything in my life). The Star Greenhand received the chapter sheep flock of 20 ewes and a ram to keep for a year, so I worked hard to earn the right to get the sheep flock. At the end of the year the flock was rotated to the next Star Greenhand, but I kept all of the lambs except for two ewe lambs.

Mr. Lacy took me on field trips, and I participated in leadership and judging activities that exposed me to college campuses. Our chapter had a FFA exchange program with a chapter in Missouri, so I got to travel to Unionville, Missouri.

Mr. Lacy encouraged me to obtain a loan from the Production Credit Association so I could add cattle to my farming program. I did.

To make a long story short I obtained all four FFA degrees, was chapter president, won the Dekalb Award, received a FFA scholarship to college, and even won public speaking contests (but not the national like Fred Dale). Jack Lacy made an impact on my life. That is why I decided to become an agriculture teacher.

Figure 2. Jack Lacy from the Lampasas (TX) High School yearbook.

My story is not unique or unusual. Many of the readers of this Footnote could tell similar stories about their high school agriculture teacher.

A Sampling of Teachers who Make a Difference

Recently I had the privilege of speaking to the agriculture teachers in Texas. In preparing my speech I found online copies of Growing Our Future magazine, the Texas Agricultural Science Education magazine. Here are some excerpts from various issues of Growing Our Future.

Dr. Christie Whitbeck, Fort Bend ISD administrator on naming the agriculture center for agriculture teacher Bonnie Beard said “We received multiple nominations for Bonnie, all describing the difference that she has made in the lives of students and fellow teachers.” (underline mine)

Figure 3. Bonnie Beard.

Rod Vincent, the agriculture teacher at Bellville was asked “Why do you teach ag?” His response was “To hopefully encourage one student to do a little ‘extra’ in life.”

Jim Harris, agriculture teacher at Tilden High School said, “I hope that my former students feel that their time with me was beneficial because my time with them has been so rewarding.” So what did his students have to say?

Reagan Moon – “He really paid attention to every single student…”

Kayle Measels – “Mr. Harris saw something in me…he believed in me.”

Sue Witt, agriculture teacher at Gilmer High School said, “My Philosophy is to build positive relationships with my students and parents.” Apparently, she has accomplished this. Jake Traylor, Texas State FFA President in 2016-17 said “My advisors Sue Witt, Russel Thomas, and Paulette Aguilar saw something in me, before I saw it in myself. They created an environment where everyone was welcome”

When asked why they teach agriculture, here is what some of the Texas agriculture teachers said:

“Mr. Jose “Joe” Correa is why I am an ag teacher” – Benny Garza, Mission High School (Mr. Correa was Benny’s ag teacher)

“My own ag teacher, Mrs. Rumfield taught me so many things…I wanted to make a difference in the lives of students, just as she did for me.” – Kayla Brock, Blanco High School

“My high school ag teacher, Martin Mueck, played a large role in my decision to become an ag teacher.” – Amy Hartman, Schulenburg High School

“I teach ag because my high school ag teachers made such a huge impact on my life…if I can impact the life of one student the way my ag teachers influenced mine, I would be happy.” – Beth Zuilhof, Waco-Midway High School

Henry Brooks Adams (an American Historian) stated, “A teacher affects eternity; they can never tell where their influence stops.”  This is certainly true of agriculture teachers.

The Invisible Student

Earlier I mentioned that I was an invisible student. In our classes we have FFA superstars and also the troublemakers. These students typically get our attention. How about the in between students who tend to be invisible. These students tend to be quiet but do good work. The first step is to recognize and acknowledge that you have invisible students in your classes. I am glad that Mr. Lacy recognized me as one of those invisible students. For suggestions on how to how to reach the invisible students you might want to check out these videos:

Do You Have Invisible Students in Your Class? (8 minutes, 20 seconds, addresses high school teachers)

The Invisible Student (An undergraduate college student gives tips to college faculty on reaching the invisible students, 29 minutes, 21 seconds)

Figure 4. The Invisible Student

In the movie The Wizard of Oz the Tinman is sad because he doesn’t have a heart. Fortunately we have hearts and can use them. There is an adage (attributed to both Teddy Roosevelt and John Maxwell) “Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!” It really doesn’t matter who first said this as long as we embrace the concept. Teachers need a heart.

Kenneth Parker, an agriculture teacher in the Fort Bend Independent School District in Texas stated in Growing Our Future (Spring, 2021 p. 19):

The advice I would give a first-year teacher is to have respect for your students. Do not look at his or her hair, clothing, or outfits…Please learn about how some of them have to survive…All students need to know they are accepted into a program that really cares about them.”

This advice is good for all teachers, not just first year teachers.

Figure 5. Kenneth Parker, photo from Growing Our Future.

Concluding Remarks

In The Green Hand novel, Walter Langford, the agriculture teacher, introduced the guest speaker for the FFA banquet. The guest speaker was Walter’s former teacher. Here is what Langford said (Chapman, 1932, p. 9):

It is impossible to estimate what one man can do for a boy. He can change his whole outlook on life, he can fire him with determination, he can help him develop what talent and ability God has given him. Throughout the pages of history instances abound where one man has inspired the work of another. I mention this tonight in order that I may pay a well-deserved tribute to our guest of honor. While it may be of little interest to you, I owe to him any progress that I may make in life. I was without money and without ambition. He created in me the desire to go to college and helped me to make the necessary money. He has done the same thing for dozens of other boys. I want you to know him.

Then Langford introduced the speaker. If we were to modify the gender references, these same words could be used today to describe agriculture teachers. We do make a difference in the lives of students.

That is because Agriculture Teachers Have a 🄷🄴🄰🅁🅃

As the new school year approaches don’t forget the words of Walter Langford. And remember, unlike the Tinman, you have a heart. Search for those invisible students in your classes and make them become visible. Dr. Suess said “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.”

 Figure 6. Quote from Dr. Suess


Print copies of The Green Hand book are rare but one can download a pdf version of the book from

In 1939 a movie version of the book was made by the Sears Roebuck Agriculture Foundation. The film was shown in movie theaters across the south. A copy of The Green Hand movie can be downloaded or viewed at

The Green Hand was the subject of a past Footnote in 2018.

Preview – Next week we will examine The 1920 Era Three Circle Model of Agricultural Education