Having a mentor at any stage in one’s career is an invaluable asset to help them on their journey to honing their craft and being the best CTE educator possible; I feel that this is especially true for anyone considered a “new professional” like myself (I am in my 6th year teaching and 4th year teaching agricultural education). Unfortunately, my first five years of teaching were spent mentor less, which meant that I had to figure out a lot of things on my own.
One of the most attractive components of the National Leadership Fellowship program was that I would finally have a mentor of my very own to get to know personally, help guide me in my journey as an agricultural education teacher/CTE professional, and to bounce ideas off of. I certainly got that and more with my mentor, Joni Simpson. Joni is the CTE Director at Fairbanks North Star Borough School District in Fairbanks, AK. Her professional CTE journey started in her undergraduate coursework, where she originally wanted to be a veterinarian and decided on an Animal Science degree. In the process of trying to figure out what to do with that degree, she realized how much she loved cooking and sewing, among other things, and ended up becoming a Family & Consumer Science teacher. Eventually, she went back to school and obtained her school counselor certification and did that for a while before becoming a CTE director for her district.
Her career path is very similar to my own: I was an agribusiness/pre-law major for a whole half of a semester before I changed my major to agricultural education. I graduated a semester early and couldn’t find a job teaching agriculture, so I taught physical science, botany, and zoology for two years before I ended up starting the program here at Little Axe High School in Norman, OK. Sometimes, it takes a lot of late exploration and effort to get to where you want to be. Joni currently has my dream job, so I will definitely be picking her brain about that in the days to
One of the major complaints Joni had about her high school career, as well as the high school in Alaska that she ended up being a school counselor at, was that there was no career exploration or CTE courses. Unfortunately, this is the reality at many schools around the country. There is a very large lack of understanding about what CTE is, and what the benefits of these types of courses are. For this reason, Joni made it her mission to develop career and technical education in her district into its full potential. This is the kind of drive and passion that I have about my work, and I hope to one day be as accomplished as she is. The best piece of advice I have gotten from Joni so far is that you’re never truly “ready”, so just do it! Whether that “it” is changing careers, trying to move up the ladder in your career, or trying a new leadership opportunity, her advice is to just go for it because you never know what you’re truly capable of until you try. This is, of course, just one of the many pearls of wisdom I have received in my short time of knowing Joni. I can’t wait to continue to learn from her and grow our relationship as mentor and mentee!
Agricultural Education Division New Professional Fellow