'The best career there’s ever been'; Ag education in action

Sarah Martin (‘00 agricultural and life sciences education, agricultural business) spent some of her visit talking with Iowa State students about her Ag Ed journey.

By Madelyn Ostendorf

Sarah Martin didn’t have it in her plan to teach agriculture education, but a chance placement during her student teaching rotation changed her course. 

Martin (‘00 agricultural and life sciences education, agricultural business) was on Iowa State University’s campus November 7-8 to share her journey into agricultural education with students in the Department of Agricultural Education and Studies. Her visit was part of the department’s Teacher in Residence Program, made possible by a gift from Jane and Richard (’76 PhD agricultural and life sciences education) Carter. The program, in its third year, aims to connect Iowa agricultural education instructors with current students, faculty and staff in the department.

While a student at Iowa State, Martin had gained experience in ag business and sales through internships and thought that might be where she would end up. However, during her last year of student teaching, she discovered a love for working with youth.  

“I appreciate the experience those internships provided me because it gave me this foundation to build upon when I teach,” Martin said. “But when I got into a classroom and I could share or transfer some idea or concept that would click with the kids, I knew I was hooked.”

Martin has been teaching for 22 years, starting at Shenandoah Community High School in 2000 and returning to the school in 2014. She has become a mentor for new teachers, hoping to make their first years of teaching easier. 

Martin came to campus as part of the Department of Agricultural Education and Studies Teacher in Residence Program.

When Martin first arrived in Shenandoah, she had no acquaintances in the southwest Iowa town. To try and get to know her future students and their families, she got a job at the local Casey’s. People stopped in multiple times a week, and gradually she got to know their faces and names, and they knew hers. 

“Some of the people I met for the first time in the gas station are still as kind and generous to me and the ag program today as they were 22 years ago,” Martin said. “That sort of camaraderie in the family is still there.”

As the agriculture, multi-occupation careers and mentor teacher at Shenandoah’s high school, Martin teaches students from all backgrounds. Eighty percent of her students don’t come from a farming family.

“I don't ever take for granted that kids, even kids from a farm background, know stuff about agriculture,” Martin said. “I've learned over the years that parents and guardians can kind of push kids one way or another occupationally by the exposure.”

Martin and another teacher work together to offer students at Shenandoah Community High School everything from eighth grade ag exploratory courses to ag certification courses. 

Martin encourages young educators to form relationships with their teachers and each other and let the students guide how they teach. 

“This is the best career that's ever been there,” Martin said. “You're going to teach something different every hour, every minute and every day. You will never teach the same lesson twice.”