ZAPOTOSKY / BLADE Enlarge
Overshadowed by a wall alive with wildlife taxidermy, Charlie Schneider stands atop black animal footprints painted on a red, concrete floor ready to teach young minds about agriculture - if only they'd pay attention.
"Hey, that was the bell, so if you're not in your seat, what does that mean?" he shouted in the classroom at the Agriculture Education Center at Clay High School.
"We're tardy," the class of nine said in unison as they scrambled to find their desks, aware that they are permitted to be distracted from learning only before class starts.
"Today, you're going to worry about agronomy, right?" he asked students in the Agriculture Science 2 class full of sophomores he fondly describes as being "squirrley" exploring different careers relating to agriculture.
It's no secret that the 43-year-old from Wapakoneta, Ohio, loves teaching environmental and agricultural technologies - a job he's held for 10 years at Clay High School - and is proud to talk about his students' accomplishments and the projects they're working to complete.
One project allows the students to feed and raise 80 yellow perch all year as a part of the fish unit he teaches. Since Mr. Schneider said no one will be around to feed the fish in the summertime, "we'll have a fish fry at the end of the year where they'll eat what they raised."
Willis Ansell, 16, a sophomore and chairman of the school's aquaculture committee, doesn't mind that he'll be eating the fish he feeds twice a day. "I'm raising them to eat them," he said matter-of-factly.
Raising the fish teaches the students about aquarium management, which gives them hands-on training for state competitions. Mr. Schneider has coached at least one team of students that has won first place in Ohio competitions since 1995 in areas including agronomy; nature interpretation; and aquarium, wildlife, and nursery and landscape management.
The school's greenhouse is proof students know their landscape management - it holds a water garden, a grass bed, and a garden students have to weed if they get in trouble. "If I'm gonna give a detention, I might as well get something out of it," Mr. Schneider said.
And Mr. Schneider has a lot of which to be proud. He recently won the Outstanding Agricultural Teacher in Ohio Award by the Ohio Association of Agricultural Educators, and the Pacesetter Award by the Ohio Association of Career and Technical Educators.
He said he was drawn to become a teacher because he came from a large family and liked being around people, and because "I'm totally insane, I suppose, but I'm lucky because I teach students who want to be in my program. Everything's my favorite part. I really never get bored with my job."
Mr. Schneider said he got his first taste of farming and agriculture at his family's dairy farm in Wapakoneta before moving to Oregon in 1985. He studied agriculture at Ohio State University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1982 and a master's degree in 1990.
"My tough decision was to teach agriculture or teach math," he said. "I'm sure glad I chose ag."