When people think of teachers they might see computers and iPads, pens and pencils, or building blocks and drawing pads. If that teacher is Dr. Gordon Patterson, Assistant Professor of Agriscience Education in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching, you’re more likely to see muzzle loaders, small engine exhaust, or sparks from a high-amp flux wire welder.
A fixture of Auburn’s outreach to high school agricultural education teachers across the state since 1971, Patterson teaches or coordinates eight diverse workshops that cover everything from greenhouse management to hunter safety.
“This summer we will put on eight workshops that involve 347 agriscience teachers from high schools and junior high schools in every corner of the state,” Patterson said. “There are only 315 agriscience teachers in Alabama, so that means some of these teachers are coming to more than one workshop.”
Patterson, who serves the entire state in this capacity, explained that these school partners must take a certain number of hours of professional development each year in the form of technical updates. Some of these unique programs, such as archery or hunter safety, involve live firearms. Not surprisingly, these courses are not offered at every school. In the case of teaching the hunter safety course, the teachers must spend time on the firing range in Lee County using a variety of firearms and perform at a high level of competence to gain certification.
“The range of courses we offer is broad,” Patterson stated. “I’ve been doing this a long time and I know pretty much every agricultural education teacher in the state. In fact, before I went to Maryland to earn my Ph.D, I was an ag-ed teacher in Alabama myself.”
Patterson’s familiarity with his “students” and their needs pays big dividends. Last year, for example, the welding and electrical workshop that is traditionally taught at Southern Union in Opelika was expanded to a site in Calhoun County.
“I had a guy walk up to me and ask if we could add a section of that course up there for the people in North Alabama,” Patterson said. “Well, I knew someone who had taught with me before so we set up a shop near Decatur. We have 18 people signed up for that. So it’s good that we know people and can be flexible.”
As for the welding workshop at Southern Union? The Dean of its Technical Division is one of Patterson’s former students.
“It’s a rewarding profession and our teachers do a great job of sharing their knowledge and experience with students at schools all across Alabama,” Patterson concluded. “We are able to offer a great variety of high-quality workshops every year, and I think our school partners are better teachers as a result of these great outreach opportunities.”