For Brian Long, teaching agriculture to high school students is about doing and having fun. As students enter his classroom, they are guaranteed to laugh at least once during the hour while simultaneously learning skills that prepare them for the real world.
The 2003 Washington State University alum and current Colfax High School teacher grew up in Pomeroy, Wash., a town in the heart of Washington wheat country.
Following high school, Long took a year off and worked as a state officer for FFA-formerly Future Farmers of America. During that nine-month term, he drove 50,000 miles and put on 1,000 workshops intended to promote agricultural education and FFA.
The next year Long enrolled at WSU, choosing the school over University of Washington because “it was most familiar and I received lots of scholarship money.”
Long continued to be involved in clubs at WSU, eventually serving as a student ambassador for the College of Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. As ambassador, he criss-crossed the state, recruiting future Cougars.
Long credits Professor Kim Kidwell as a role model who inspired him with her excellent teaching abilities. “She not only cared about getting us the information, but also made sure we learned it. She expected perfection from her students,” he said.
Just like Kidwell, Long holds high expectations for his students. “The standard in my classes is to complete work good enough for professionals to use,” he said.
His students—many of whom pursue careers outside of the agricultural industry—understand the real-world skills they can gain from ag classes.
“I tell them, ‘We are doing these activities to teach you to think. You may not need this lab ever again, but you will need the ability to think critically in anything you do.’”
Since Long’s arrival in Colfax, enrollment in ag ed classes has doubled and FFA membership tripled. He expects those numbers to remain steady after reaching his classroom’s capacity.
Although he typically leads the classroom, Long is once again enrolled at WSU working to obtain his master’s degree.
He warns future teachers that teaching young adults is rewarding, but also very challenging. “During my first few years, I just tried to make it through the day, but it becomes easier after awhile. For me, the key is understanding each student individually and making the information as engaging as possible for everyone.”