Give CTE a chance

Give CTE a chance

April 08, 2024 | by Contributor

In Classroom Connection, FEATURES

It was a hot and sticky summer day, as is often the case in eastern North Carolina in August. The year was 1992. And as I walked into my high school, I realized I was in the building on my own for the first time. My older sister had just graduated, and I was starting tenth grade soon.

Now, I think it’s important to understand that I was a bit of an academic snob. I enjoyed being the student that teachers picked to run errands, and I loved having people know that I was smart. It didn’t necessarily help in the popularity department, but it was an identity. It was my identity. I was going places. And by that I thought I meant law school, business school, or somewhere else I could make lots of money. Not agriculture education.


My classmates and I crowded around the bulletin board to find our homeroom assignments. Listed next to my name was Mr. Jesse Smith. “How in the world did I get Mr. Smith as my homeroom teacher again? Last year he assigned me a bottom locker!” Jesse Smith was the agriculture education teacher and FFA advisor. My sister had been a member and was one of its biggest cheerleaders. She stood out in her blue corduroy jacket.

But I wanted to break out of her shadow. This was my school now.

Multicolored grphic with open doors reads, Give CTE a chance. Kaye Harris learned to love agriculture education

Nevertheless, I took a deep breath and walked toward the agriculture education building with its familiar smells of grease and dirt filling the air. Growing up on a farm, I knew this smell all too well. It smelled like my Papa’s workbench in the barn and the sandy soil I had played in all my life. But I had decided long ago that farm work was not for me. My future was in an office with a comfortable chair and air conditioning. Agriculture, while a noble profession, was not in the cards.

As I entered the classroom, I greeted Mr. Smith and picked up my schedule. Then my stomach dropped. My third period class was Agricultural Production 1. It couldn’t be possible. I had worked so hard to avoid this. I remember sulking for most of the afternoon. Mama tried to convince me that I might actually like the agriculture course. But I highly doubted it.

The first day of school

I walked into the first day of class, and it was just as I had suspected. I was the only girl in a class full of boys. They were loud, and I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect.

Mr. Smith began by taking attendance and proceeded to explain the scope of the coursework and how we could get involved with FFA. Competitions sounded fun. And leadership camp? I knew my sister had gone to camp, but I didn’t know what it was all about. There were also a couple of vacant officer positions. Never one to turn down an opportunity to serve (and build my resume, even back then), I thought, “Maybe this isn’t so bad after all.”

On day two, to my surprise, another girl enrolled in the class! Her name was Taylor, and she was a year younger than me. She would become a great friend and the person that I was most likely to be caught hanging out with for the rest of high school.

Soon, that sense of dread I felt vanished. Once I got into class, began to learn more, and found a kindred spirit in Taylor, I suspected that I had found an alternative identity, one that involved blue corduroy.

Striding forward into agriculture education

It wasn’t long before FFA became a driving force in my life. Leading activities at my school was fun, and I loved interacting with other schools and making friends from across the state. To everyone at my school, I was the same person I had been since kindergarten. I was still “the smart one.” But FFA opened up a new realm of possibilities.

Years later, as I was packing to move into my residence hall at North Carolina State University, I realized that life would never be the same as it was right then. I mourned the loss of my childhood and the daily interactions with classmates. But mostly, I mourned the end of FFA. I had to find a way to make it last.

The friends that I made through FFA continue to be some of the people that I love and respect most in my life. We developed a bond that continues to this day. We shared laughter and our hopes and fears.

The longer I felt the tugging at my very soul, the more I knew that being an agriculture education teacher was my destiny. After making this decision with confidence, I found myself enveloped into a community that helped to mold me into a person I never knew I could be. My professors became friends and mentors, and my classmates became like loving siblings. They helped to protect and support me throughout my agriculture education journey.

I would eventually marry one of my classmates, Matt, who is one of those loud agriculture boys. And he and I would work together to build an agriculture program that sparked the careers of hundreds of students, including our own two children. More than 30 years have passed since that hot day in 1992, but that one simple scheduling conflict completely changed my life. I only had to give career and technical education a chance.

Kaye Harris is a career development coordinator at Kings Mountain High school in Cleveland County, North Carolina. Prior to this position, she served as an agriculture teacher and FFA adviser at Crest High School alongside her husband, Matt. Their two children, Faith and Andrew, are carrying on their proud parents’ tradition as CTE students.

Read more in Techniques: Tell Me a Story of CTE.

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