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School’s out for good for teacher Don

MOTIVATING CAREER: Bordertown High School agriculture teacher Don Walter says educating students about where their food comes from has been a highly rewarding career. He has spent his entire 37 years in the workforce teaching at the school.THE look of enlightenment on the faces of students when they grasp a new concept has kept Bordertown High School teacher Don Walter motivated at the front of the classroom and out in the ag plots for the past 37 years.

And through his influence, the upper South East school’s agriculture curriculum has broadened from just a few chooks, sheep and cows to include olives, apples and wine grapes, vegetable production, rearing meat birds and replacement pullets, pigs and growing out turkeys.

Many of the thousands of students he has taught have forged successful careers in farming or agribusiness, but equally as important he says all of his former students have a greater understanding of how their food is produced and the role of farmers in a rapidly expanding global population.

“People have got to be fed somehow and the community needs to know what is happening on the land,” he said.

“If they need assistance at least there is some empathy for farmers, but if people have no background they will not be as willing to help.”

Don was born and raised on a mixed cropping and dairy farm at Melrose and Monteith before graduating from Roseworthy College and completing a year at Teacher’s College in Adelaide.

He admits he never dreamed of spending his entire career at the same school but the strong support of the local community, particularly stud sheep and cattle breeders, has seen many projects he wanted to complete come to fruition.

A number of stud breeders have continually donated steers for the Royal Adelaide Show led steer competition which the school has been involved with since 1982, and the school has received strong support in the 25 years it has entered the annual Mundulla Hogget Competition.

“We could never do what we have done without that much parental support, not only in ag but other areas of the school as well,” he said.

Bordertown High School comprises a three hectare farm, with numerous livestock paddocks, shiraz grape vines, a small olive grove, and vegetable plots for the Year 9 students to grow vegetables to sell to their family and friends, gaining small business experience.

For the past 15 years the school has also leased 80 hectares from the Tatiara District Council on the edge of the town where they run 100 Merino ewes, 40 first-cross ewes and undertake a small amount of cropping.

Don believes students have largely remained the same over the years, although fewer now come from a farming background.

Technological advances have altered teaching methods and textbooks have largely been replaced by the internet as learning resources, and students are now able to receive more industry focused practical training by completing the Certificate III in Ag through TAFE while at school.

Don – who has been involved in the Ag Teachers Association of SA for the past couple of decades – says the shortage of ag teachers is not new, but of even greater importance now with a number of his fellow teachers also nearing retirement.

He says more university graduates need to be encouraged to enter the profession, but passion and enthusiasm for agriculture are the grounding needed for being a good educator.

“You have to love the topic and if you love the topic it is infectious to the students and you become a good teacher.”

Don says it is highly rewarding watching students starting with bare ground and ending up with a full crop of vegetables, or increasing their confidence working with livestock.

“One of the times I really enjoy is early spring, when we have had lesson after lesson inside but I can finally take the students out to check the sheep or show them something.”

Among the highlights of his career are the numerous champion and reserve champion carcase awards from the led steer competitions at Adelaide and Mount Gambier, and wins by the school’s led goat teams with wethers in 2002 and 2004.

Don is also thrilled over the years two former Year 12 students have received full marks for agriculture.

Being a ‘frustrated farmer’, Don says his teaching career, along with owning a 4ha hobby farm, have substituted well for a life on the land.

“We have been there for 15 years and it is treated as another school paddock – we put ewes and lambs there to keep the weeds down,” he said.

Don has just commenced long service leave until the middle of next year after which he intends to retire and start the next chapter of his life, but with his wife Sue the assistant principal, he will still have a close involvement with Bordertown High School.

*Full story in Stock Journal, January 27 issue, 2011.

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