In celebration of Career and Technical Education Month, we recently talked with Karen Roudabush, the agriculture teacher at Bridgewater-Emery High School.
one year she was the only girl in her school’s FFA chapter because most of her
female classmates assumed the program wouldn’t interest them. Now she strives to
make sure all students know there’s a place for them in career and technical
When did you decide to become a teacher?
always loved the idea of being a teacher. My dad was an ag teacher and I saw how
much he loved teaching and engaging with students. I don’t remember a time when
I wanted to be something else.
What do you like most about
I like that no day is ever the same. I like the energy kids
bring. They’re so inquisitive and excited.
Why is career and
technical education important?
CTE is important because so often I’m able
to help students make those connections from what they’re doing in other classes
to what they might do in their future careers or just later today on the farm.
It solidifies what they’re learning in other classes. I could say, here’s
something you learned about in science, and now here’s an immediate application
I love that CTE is real-life, hands-on and applicable to
students’ lives now and in the future.
How has CTE changed since you
were in high school?
I feel like CTE has a more positive connotation
now. People see it as a way to gain valuable skills. I don’t know if that was
always the case. I was the only girl in my FFA chapter one year, because
everyone thought it was the shop class where you “just build stuff.”
What classes do you teach?
I teach a wide variety of classes:
intro to ag; animal science; food and natural resources; wildlife and fisheries;
ag sales and marketing; and plant science. I’ve also taught a companion animals
class. With that one, I reached a whole different demographic. The students in
that class were perhaps going to get a pet dog or cat or just wanted to learn
more about animals. They didn’t necessarily want to learn about large animals
like those that would be covered in my animal science class.
you get kids excited about the content?
One of the most important things
is just getting to know students. As freshmen, students can take intro to ag. At
the conclusion of that class, I like to sit down with them individually and talk
about what they liked, what they didn’t like, so I can offer them guidance on
classes to consider in the future.
Introducing students to the subject
early is also valuable. I teach a six-week exploratory class for 7th and 8th
grade students. The class covers a variety of ag topics. I lead mini labs and
other fun activities to get them into the content.
Things can change
quickly in CTE. How do you stay current?
I think it’s vital to network
with other CTE teachers. I use the CTE teacher listserv, I attend the South
Dakota Association of Career and Technical Education Summer Conference.
Right here at Bridgewater-Emery, I have a great relationship with Jean
Clarke, our family and consumer sciences teacher. She and I have found, for
example, that the ways we approach nutrition topics dovetail nicely. We also
team up for classes to discuss the work of Temple Grandin from both the ag and
human development perspectives.
How do you keep learning?
blessed to work for a school that values professional development. Our
administrators take advantage of a lot of the opportunities provided to
us—workshops, trainings, just checking out what other schools are doing.
There’s so much I don’t know, I’ve got to keep exploring.