Unconventional Lessons Prepare Slater FFA Students for the Future
February 27, 2023
Written By Neal Fandek
Becoming an agricultural education instructor and FFA advisor at Slater (Mo.) High School was a no-brainer for Zach Crews.
His father, Paul Crews, was a Slater schools agricultural education instructor and FFA advisor for more than 20 years and a Slater high school principal for seven. His father even had a Missouri House of Representatives proclamation issued honoring his lifelong service.
“Watching my father and other agricultural instructors over the years, seeing how they taught, and being in FFA myself, it was easy to follow in those footsteps,” Crews said.
Slater is about 13 miles northeast of Marshall. With a population of less than 2,000, it is small even by rural Missouri standards. Growing up there, Crews knew he wanted to stay in the area, and he knew he wanted a career in ag. He has taught agricultural education for nearly 20 years.
“To be in ag communications as long as I have, you have to have broad shoulders, be able to go with the flow and always realize the students come first,” he said
This philosophy has served him well. He was one of only six ag educators who received the National Association of Agricultural Educators Ideas Unlimited Award a few years back for his hands-on, innovative techniques. These include a mock castration, still one of the most basic and essential livestock procedures. His teaching technique involves two Styrofoam balls, water balloons and gelatin. Crews demonstrates the procedure in class, then turns his students loose. He says most get it, and giggles and embarrassment are rare.
The logistics of attempting to do a live castration in class are too difficult, Crews said, making the mock version much more efficient.
“From finding the animals and a producer willing to let you show students this process to teaching students the proper safety techniques and procedures of this common practice, it could be a nightmare for a teacher actually to do a live castration in class,” Crews said.
The Slater FFA team also placed second in farm management career development at the 2022 Missouri FFA Convention. To win, students had to analyze real-life business problems and then pass an exam proving their understanding of basic math and economic principles. Among other things, this allows young adults to see the purpose of math in their daily lives, Crews said.
He is cognizant that most of his students don’t live on a farm and will never make a living in production agriculture.
“Ag is far from just farming,” he said. “Anything you eat, the house you live in, the clothes on your back all come from or involve ag in some way. I teach and prepare young adults for the world’s greatest and most vital industry.”
But what he’s really doing is preparing them for the future.
“I want them to be problem-solvers and equip them for a society that doesn’t exist yet,” he said. “When I was in high school, then (at) MU, data processing, the internet and social media were brand new.” Social media, once dismissed as a platform for gossip, is now an essential component of ag communications. The internet is mandatory for almost everything. It is anyone’s guess what the future will look like, but Crews is teaching students to think, adapt and ready themselves for a changing world.
And that’s how he defines success.
“I always keep student success in mind,” he said. “For me, ultimate success is doing something every day to ensure their success in life.”