Teaching can get in the bloodstream and teachers form strong bonds with students. Year after year, it keeps them motivated to keep coming back in spite of all the challenges, demands and obstacles.
But in reality, many teachers are no different than those in other career fields. Eventually the timing is right to retire or try something else.
When Randy Warren stepped into his vehicle to drive home for the day Friday, he must have had mixed emotions. It was the last day of school before Christmas break, but also literally the last day for him to teach agriculture classes at Wawasee High School.
Warren, who has also served as an FFA advisor, decided in July to retire permanently from teaching. For the last four years he had been teaching animal science and plant and soil science classes part-time. It will bring an end to a long teaching career at WHS stretching back to the fall of 1975, or a total of 38 years. When agriculture students return to classes from the Christmas break in January, clearly there will be a noticeable void.
Agriculture has long been a major part of Warren’s life and will continue to be even after retirement as he will work part-time with his sons Brian and Adam for Pro Tech Partners, a soil sampling company. Warren will also continue to work with a soils judging team for FFA that qualified for the national contest to be held in the spring.
His exposure to agriculture began by growing up on a grain and livestock farm in northern Wabash County. “While in junior high I also had the opportunity to work for a horse trainer and in high school for a neighboring swine and grain farmer,” he said. “I am convinced that my interest in agriculture came about from these experiences early in life.”
A high school agriculture teacher did have a major influence in his life, but it wasn’t until a sophomore at Purdue University he decided to look into agriculture education as a possible major. There was still wavering, though, because he had a desire to farm. By the time he graduated from Purdue he had made up his mind to be an educator. “I haven’t looked back since,” he commented.
After college, Warren served in the military two years, another year back at Purdue to earn a master’s degree and then two years of teaching agriculture at Huntington North High School. In 1975 a position opened to teach agriculture at Wawasee. It particularly appealed to him because he could have his own department, so he applied and was accepted.
Wawasee’s agriculture program was struggling in 1975. There were 47 students total in the program and 24 in FFA. “I was told by our principal that if our numbers didn’t improve the ag program at Wawasee would be shut down,” he said.
Improve it did and within a few years more than 100 students were enrolled in ag classes and more than 40 in FFA.
Mariah Roberts, who has taken the reins from Warren to lead Wawasee’s agriculture program, said she had learned he was the fifth ag teacher hired at WHS, a school only seven years old at the time. The previous four did not succeed in moving things in the right direction enough, but Warren worked with his advisory board and the program began to grow.
Since 1975, numerous changes have occurred. Wawasee has a strong and positive reputation statewide for FFA and its agriculture program. Several students have gone on to various careers within agriculture. Warren coached several judging teams that competed at the national level including soils, horse, dairy, livestock and two national winning horticulture judging teams. “He consistently coaches the top soils judging team in our county and is known statewide for his mastery in this area,” Roberts said.
Thirty-seven years ago, Warren taught in a small classroom above the shop in the bus garage. As the program grew more space was needed and four years ago, the decision was made to relocate the bus garage to its own facility and to remodel what is now known as the career and technical building. There are now two full-time agriculture teachers, two classrooms, a lab, computer lab, more shop space and a greenhouse. Roberts noted he was “instrumental in this process.”
Farming and agriculture have changed tremendously. Classes then focused on agricultural production, but now the focus is more on the business and science components.
“Fewer kids live on farms,” Warren noted. “Farms are bigger and there are not as many of them.” Many years ago, the number of students he taught who lived on farms was far greater and formed the overwhelming majority. Today, it’s nearly the exact opposite.
In 1975, Wawasee, and other high schools, offered a basic ag class for freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors respectively. Now classes offered include animal science, plant and soil science, horticulture and landscaping, natural resources and agricultural mechanics. Some classes now qualify for dual credit with Purdue and Ivy Tech. And nearly 300 students are enrolled in classes.
Warren chose to stay at Wawasee more than 35 years for various reasons. He cited strong support from the agriculture community, support from the school board and administrators and support from faculty and staff. “Many teachers have helped our students prepare for contests or have served as judges when we have hosted our district FFA Leadership Contest,” he said.
Thoughtfully and humbly, he said working with students who have an interest in agriculture “has been very rewarding.” Former students pursuing careers or degrees in agriculture has been a source of motivation for him. “It’s very gratifying to realize in some small way I may have made an impact or had an influence in their decision to work in the field of agriculture,” he said.
Watching students develop leadership skills, set goals and be successful in FFA competitions has also brought satisfaction, he said.
He plans to travel with his wife, Eldonna, spend free time camping, hiking, canoeing and fishing and, more importantly to him, spend time with a grandson and another one expected in January.
Behind The Scenes
Soft spoken and not one to forcibly draw attention to himself, Warren earned the respect of many former students and current teachers, Roberts noted. She cited his involvement in developing the Food For America program educating second-graders in the school corporation about where their food actually comes from.
Warren has also served on numerous boards and committees related to agriculture, including helping to select scholarship recipients through the Kosciusko County Community Foundation. He has led sessions and workshops for master gardeners and the list of boards and committees he has served on is too numerous to list entirely.
Roberts also said the common phrase “actions speak louder than words” is appropriate for Warren. “Throughout mentoring me, as his student teacher, one of the most valuable lessons I learned from Randy was to keep priorities in line (faith, family, then work) while doing your job well,” she said. “Not only did he verbally tell me this, but he continues to model that to me and others around him by taking the time he needs to do his job well without over-committing himself to other obligations.”