Association names Jackson named teacher of the year

Joshua Baethge,
The Van Alstyne Leader
Award-winning ag teacher Jennifer Jackson is preparing for her first year teaching at Van Alstyne High School.

Van Alstyne High School’s Jennifer Jackson was recently named Ag Teacher of the Year by the Texas Agriculture Teacher's Association of Texas.

The award was presented to three teachers, each with a different level of experience. Jackson took top honors in the mid-career category for those who have 6-15 years of teaching experience.

“There are 2,500 ag teachers in Texas, so just receiving that award is a huge honor,” she said. “I’m surrounded by a lot of great individuals who do exactly what I do.”

This will be Jackson’s first year in Van Alstyne. For the past two years, she has worked in Wylie ISD. Before that, she spent 12 years in Frisco.

“Frisco and Wylie have been great places to work, but the FFA chapters and courses look different in bigger school districts,” she said. “I liked the idea of coming to a smaller district where some of the students go on to pursue agriculture.”

She said the thing that makes being an ag teacher so much fun is the opportunity to essentially do two different jobs.

As an FFA advisor, she gets to train kids to be competitive in public speaking, job interviews and various public relations activities in the fall. Come spring, the attention turns to livestock judging, leadership training and career development activities.

“All of the things we teach our students are also super beneficial to those who don’t go out and pursue a career in agriculture,” she says. “It’s really neat to talk to students who used to be in the program and attribute some of their success to opportunities they had in FFA.”

In the classroom, she teaches principles of agriculture, which gives an overview of the agriculture industry. Students learn about leadership, animal science, horticulture, environmental and natural resources as well as ag mechanics.

Jackson also teaches livestock production, advanced animal science and veterinary medicine. Those courses delve deep into systems of the body and breeds, as well as the history of how animals came to the United States and changed over the course of time.

Jackson said all of the courses are fun to teach. Usually during the summer, although she tells herself not to reinvent the wheel, she considers new ideas about how to better teach her classes.

This year has been especially challenging.

Many of her projects involve hand-on activities like practicing giving immunizations on oranges or putting sutures on a banana. There are also lots of dissections.

COVID-19 has obviously thrown a whole new set of challenges her way. One that she did not anticipate was how difficult it would be to adjust to masks. Not being able to read lips or make out expressions can make communicating more difficult.

She credits Van Alstyne ISD for having a sound plan in place that has been seamless for Jackson and her colleagues to follow. She’s thankful the district took the time to enact a strategy based on the latest information rather than releasing something early that had to be changed multiple times.

“To be honest, it really hasn’t been as stressful as it might have been in other districts,” she said. “I think Van Alstyne has done a wonderful job of planning.”