“My passion for teaching comes from seeing the potential in each of my students and helping them develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the workforce. I believe that hands-on learning is the best way to develop technical skills and prepare students for careers in the skilled trades. My goal as a teacher is to help my students develop a strong work ethic, a commitment to safety, and a love for the trades.”

Rylyn Small teaches agriculture at East Prairie High School in East Prairie, Missouri. Small’s love of agriculture began in his youth working on a farm and raising livestock, and he was inspired to teach by seeing the power of a skilled trades education to change lives, particularly in rural communities like his own. Small obtained a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Agricultural Education at the University of Missouri, and supplemented his education with real-life experience in the trades working with his father in a variety of fields. Small has been teaching for over seven years. He is currently President Elect for the Missouri Vocational Agricultural Teachers Association, and has won numerous awards, including Teacher of the Year from his school district and Agriculture Leader of the Year from his local Chamber of Commerce.

Small’s classroom is a collaborative environment that challenges students to solve real-world problems with a range of tools that encompasses the current agricultural mechanics landscape. Projects include building livestock feeders, repairing lawnmowers, and constructing trailers – a project that led to the shop’s conversion into a community trailer repair station due to a student’s enthusiasm. Small aligns his curriculum with relevant career pathways by offering courses and certifications that industry professionals recognize, such as the Certified Agricultural Mechanics credential, recognized by local and state employers, which can lead to career opportunities in fields such as agricultural machinery and power. Many of his students participate in the Future Farmers of America, and must complete a Supervised Agricultural Experience that is connected to a summer job.

Small constantly seeks ways to keep his classroom and curriculum on the cutting-edge of innovation. He incorporates technology such as virtual reality welding and online simulators to teach complex concepts and create a safe environment to practice new skills. He regularly networks with industry professionals to learn new techniques and developments that he can incorporate into his class. His relationship with industry professionals has even led to internships for some of his students, including training as agricultural technicians with John Deere.

Through these classroom elements, Small prepares his students for life-changing careers. Many of his students say that they feel confident and prepared for their future after completing his program and cite Small’s lessons on the importance of hard work as one of their most valuable lessons.

“As an agricultural teacher, I am proud to say that our program has a significant impact on the lives of our students. Our program is designed to teach valuable agricultural concepts and skills and instill important values such as responsibility, hard work, and teamwork. My goal is that all 152 students that walk through my classroom, no matter their socioeconomic status, have the opportunity to find a career bringing them out of poverty.”