The ripple effects of an ag instructor

Polk County Farm Bureau names the Ag Teacher of the Year: Kyle Carlton

THERE ARE SOME CAREERS out there that have a large impact on many people. Agriculture is definitely one of those vocations, as farmers and ranchers feed and clothe the world’s population. Teaching is also another occupation that affects the lives of many, with teachers offering pebbles of knowledge that, when dropped into the pond of humanity, ripple in all directions. Combine the two, and you’ve got quite an influential position on your hands. It’s a dual role that Kathleen High School Ag program teacher Kyle Carlton (at right in the photo) has enjoyed for the last 15 years. This year, his efforts are being honored with the Polk County Farm Bureau Outstanding Ag Teacher of the Year award.

In a county at boasts 20,000 more acres of citrus than any other county in Florida, and where agriculture is valued at around $400 million annually, such an award is a big deal. Many of the area’s students will go into agriculture and related fields. “I hope that all of the students who come through our program learn valuable skills and develop a work ethic that will ensure they are sought out by employers,” Carlton asserts.

Valuable skills and a good work ethic are traits Carlton, a Lakeland native, learned early. “We kept a small herd of cattle, and I showed steers through 4-H at the Polk County Youth Fair,” he shares. He stayed connected to agriculture all through his education. “I worked under Lemuel Bath for his custom hay-baling business from my youth until I began teaching. Also, on Saturdays, while in high school, I worked at the Cow Palace assisting with the auction of cattle and goats.”

He decided to become a teacher while in college and has been shaping young minds ever since. “I began teaching science at the juvenile detention center and then transferred to Lakeland Highlands Middle School where I taught science and social studies,” he recalls. In August of 1995, I transferred to Kathleen to coach football and teach American History.” In 2000, Carlton got the opportunity to return to agriculture. “I began teaching agriculture when Kathleen first offered an ag mechanics class,” he says.

Carlton currently teaches as one of three ag program teachers at Kathleen High School; last year, Kathleen’s ag program won the Polk County Farm Bureau’s Outstanding Ag Program of the Year award. “My roles include assisting the students with their swine projects and coaching several CDE (Career Development Event) teams — forestry, ag mechanics, nursery and landscape, tractor operations and assisting in a few others — as well as teaching ag mechanics, forestry, horticulture, On-the-Job-Training, and a UAS (drone) class.”

Teaching is a rewarding endeavor in its own right, but Carlton maintains that teaching agriculture offers many unique opportunities. “Teaching ag classes allows me to be with some of the same students for several years and observe their progress and maturation,” he explains. “Furthermore, I am able to work with them outside of the classroom setting and really get to know them.”

Like most hard-working folks — agriculture and teaching alike — Kyle Carlton shares the credit all around with both his pupils and his fellow teachers. “The favorite parts of my job are the students and co-workers that I have the opportunity to work with,” he states. “They are some of the most talented and dedicated folks I have ever had the privilege to be associated with.”

It’s an attitude that is just as valuable as developing skills of the trade and a solid work ethic, and it’s one that will help to ensure that the future of Polk County’s agriculture industry is a bright one.


article by ERIKA ALDRICH

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