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‘It is okay to change career plans, even after you have gone to college’

Ag Science teacher 

In this article, That’s Farming speaks to Roisin Coyle, a secondary-school ag science teacher in Donegal. We discuss studying agricultural science at the secondary school level, the topics of choice, life in the classroom as an agricultural science teacher, student dynamics, and much more.

Roisin, aged 35, is an experienced agricultural science teacher who has spent the last 13 years teaching the secondary-school subject.

She had been teaching for seven years and has spent the last number of years in a Donegal school.

Leaving Certificate Agricultural Science involves the study of science and technology underlying the principles and practices that promote the sustainability of agricultural resources and places emphasis on the managed use of these resources.

Students study plants and animal types associated with agriculture, and investigations are undertaken into such aspects as soil, ecology, plant and animal physiology, farm crops, farming practices, genetics and microbiology.

Life in the classroom

Teaching life varies for school teacher, Roisin, with juggling different topics and levels of students each day.

“There are very few regular days in the classroom. With four junior classes and three senior classes, I am constantly teaching slightly different topics, practical or assessing my students,” she tells That’s Farming.

“Coupled with the fact that, as agricultural science teachers, we share lab space. I could be in five different classrooms during school.”

Maths, biology, and junior-cycle science are the subjects that Roisin teaches.

“Lesson planning involves thinking about the students that will be in front of you and adapting the information needing to be shared to suit.”

“Suitable activities then need to be incorporated to assess the learning taking place.”

Teaching plans

Roisin, who is also a part-time suckler and sheep farmer, has also had an interest in a science-related career.

“I have always had an interest in all things science, but it was not until I was in my third year of university that I discovered my love of teaching.”

Seeing students progress and develop an understanding of topics is what Roisin enjoys most about the subject.

“I always share this fact with students as they find it difficult to make decisions about college courses etc.”

“It is okay to change career plans, even after you have gone to college,” Roisin tells That’s Farming.

Approximately 8 out of 24 of Roisin’s current leaving certificate students are planning to continue to study agricultural science at third-level in September 2023.

Students

Roisin explains that with the introduction of a new curriculum of agricultural science, the subject overall saw a decline in student enrolment.

The Department of Education introduced the new agricultural science curriculum in 2019.

However, since this change in a downward trend, the number of students studying agricultural science at secondary-level education has now begun to increase.

“We are noticing a steady increase again for September 2023,” she explains.

At present, Mrs Coyle’s agricultural science class comprises 60% boys and 40% girls. However, the dynamics of this ratio change year on year.

“Most of my students will have some sort of an agricultural background, but that does not necessarily mean that they will be excellent at the subject.”

Strand 2: soils can be a challenge

The topic of soils is known as stand two of the Leaving Certificate agricultural science curriculum.

The study of Leaving Certificate Agricultural Science enables students to develop an understanding of the role and function of soils and to appreciate their importance in providing for the growth of grass and other crops.

In terms of soils, students learn about:

  • Formation and classification;
  • Properties;
  • Chemical;
  • Physical;
  • Biological;
  • Management.

According to Roisin, soils appear to be a difficult topic for students to visualise. With a “massive” amount of new key terminology, they struggle to perform well in examinations.

“I do not have a passion for teaching soil as I know how much the students dislike it. I tend to dip in and out of it throughout the year to give them and myself a break from it.”

Strand 4: Animals

In Leaving Certificate agricultural science, the study of animals includes traditional farm animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs but also allows for the inclusion of other animals of agricultural importance and interest. For example, horses and poultry.

Students show the most interest in the topic of animals in Roisin’s class.

“Most of my students will have animals at home and so understand the basic principles and management of them.”

This stand allows students to learn about:

  • Animal physiology;
  • Classification;
  • Identification;
  • Production;
  • System/enterprise;
  • Management;
  • Animal husbandry and health.
Adaptations and changes to agricultural science

In recent years, there have been some “significant” differences in the subject, such as a change in curriculum.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic imposed other plans on students who were studying the subject.

“The first cohort to sit the new course was last year’s Leaving Certificate students. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, not all students sat the exam; some opted for predicted grades.”

During Covid-19, Roisin, alongside her teacher colleagues, had to transform their teaching skills.

“We had to move to online methods of teaching, which students failed to engage with fully. They found it difficult to focus for an entire day online and to motivate themselves to work independently.”

“I like that it has become quite topical. News can be brought into the classroom daily and related to one of the learning outcomes quite easily. I think this makes it a much more relevant and modern subject going forward.”

Agricultural science career opportunities

It is not a requirement to have studied agricultural science at a secondary level to gain an agricultural degree.

An agriculture degree will provide you with the skills and knowledge required to obtain an agri career or to work in the fields of agricultural sales, farming, food production, ecology and many more sectors.

Related jobs include:

  • Agricultural consultant/advisor;
  • Classification;
  • Veterinary surgeon/nurse;
  • Clinical research officer;
  • Farm manager;
  • Field trials officer;
  • Forestry manager;
  • Animal breeder;
  • Horticultural consultant;
  • Landscape consultant;
  • Gardener.

Roisin concludes, “teaching is a very fast-paced career. You are constantly trying to get material covered and assessed in a short period whilst having to be flexible for activities and events that can disrupt your contact time with students.”

You can read our Career Focus and Student Focus series.

To share your story like this ag science teacher, email – [email protected]

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