Caledonia ー After 24 years of teaching, Caledonia High School teacher John Schut believes incorporating fun and service into education is more engaging for students than taking notes in a classroom.
It’s a solid bet his students and colleagues think his methods work.
Schut found out over the summer that he was one of 20 teachers from across the U.S. to be nominated for an award given by the national Future Farmers of America organization (FFA). In honor of his years of service to students, local communities and Michigan’s agricultural community, Schut received an honorary American FFA degree.
“I’ve felt very excited since I found out at the end of August,” Schut said. “It’s an honor to receive this award.”
The honorary degree is awarded to those who advance agricultural education by going above and beyond daily contributions to making an impact on the lives of students, according to the National FFA Organization. Recipients inspire knowledge and confidence in a new generation of agriculturists.
Schut has taught in Caledonia since 2004. He also spent three years teaching in Montague Area Public Schools, and four years in Lowell.
After getting involved in an agriculture program while attending Hopkins High School, he discovered his passion for learning and teaching the agricultural sciences.
“I’ve served as an agriscience teacher my whole career,” Schut said. “I became very interested in becoming an agriscience teacher in high school, and then pursued four years at Michigan State University with a four-year scholarship I received through the MSU College of Agriculture’s Alumni Association.”
Schut earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agriculture from MSU and later earned a doctorate in agriculture and extensive education online at Purdue University, while maintaining his teaching job.
He previously served as president of the Michigan Association of Agriscience Educators, and has been named the Michigan Outstanding Agriscience Teacher four times.
Creating Responsible, Accountable Citizens
Schut said he strives to teach his 9-12th grade students three important things: “You’re responsible for yourself, try to be fair with people and if you want to make a difference, you have to get involved.”
At Caledonia High School, agriscience is a career tech education program that is part of the 9-12th grade curriculum. He said learning agriscience is important because the agricultural industry influences the environment, and the community and individuals influence all of the above.
“I would say at least 25% of my students and their families are involved in the agriculture industry, especially when you tie in food industries, supplies like fertilizer, recreational businesses, fishing, hunting and backyard chickens and horses,” he explained.
Outside the classroom, Schut finds local opportunities for his students to contribute their time and skills through service. His science students have volunteered their time and hands to Caledonia’s downtown beautification project and helped with gardening and landscaping around the high school.
“My biggest experience is if you create the opportunity and have fun with service, it beats taking notes in a classroom,” he said. “After the seniors leave toward the end of the year, I take the students out to work on some landscaping projects and we show our appreciation by giving back to our school.”
A Funny and Caring Teacher
Class of 2020 graduate Zoey Zupin describes Schut as the “funniest guy” in and out of the classroom. She still works with Schut while serving as a state officer for FFA.
“Mr. Schut has this knack for connecting with high-schoolers and getting them to laugh,” Zoey said. “He doesn’t pick favorites, but instead interacts and jokes with every single kid and makes them feel like he genuinely cares about them.”
Schut and his students also show livestock at the Kent County Youth Fair.
“Some of my favorite memories of Mr. Schut are from the Kent County Youth Fair,” Zoey said. “One time, a steer got loose and he ran after it down the midway and told us he hadn’t run that fast since high-school wrestling. Last year my younger sister wanted to see his family’s lambs, so he taught her how to care for and bathe the lambs. He really has a passion for it.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Schut has needed to adjust his instruction methods to teach in-person and online students.
His agriscience students coordinate with one another via Google Meet group discussions, which Schut also uses to incorporate guest speakers including farmers and local consumers. By the spring semester, Schut hopes to get his students back outdoors for community service events.
“Overall I believe face-to-face learning is best, but this semester my students have been able to adapt,” he said.
Schut said his main goal is to continue contributing to the future of the agricultural industry. After spending years developing the agriscience class at Caledonia High School, he wants to keep the program moving forward.
“This job is a commitment and does take a lot of my time away from my family, but I am blessed to have a supportive family,” he said. “I’d like to give a huge thanks to my family and especially my wife for allowing me to do what I love.”