Not Your Typical Ag Teacher

High school teacher receives two Teacher of the Year awards

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When someone thinks of what an agriculture teacher might look like, the image of a farmer in blue denim overalls with a red handkerchief in the back pocket, a straw hat and a sprig of wheat in his teeth comes to mind.

Someone looking a lot like a typical "Farmer Joe" tending fields in the growing season.

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Wendell Stevens began teaching at Payson High School on July 4, 1980 and has been teaching here for 24 years now, and said he has no plans to leave.

Wendell Stevens, agriculture teacher at Payson High School certainly does not look like Farmer Joe.

Stevens was the recipient of not one, but two agriculture awards, at the annual Arizona Teacher of the Year awards at a banquet held in Tucson on July 18.

Stevens received the Agriculture Teacher of the Year Award for Payson High School, and the Teacher of the Year Award for Northern District Payson Agriscience.

Clad in a dress shirt, tie and slacks, Stevens looks like the stereotypical professor at a metropolitan university.

But here he is in Payson nonetheless, teaching to future farmers and agriculture students.

While he said is proud of his own achievements, he said he is even more proud of his son, Eric.

Stevens' son was named Agriculture Teacher of the Year for the Estrella School District.

"As far as I know, this was the first time in Arizona history that a father and son won Teacher of the Year awards at the same time and in the same place," Stevens said.

Stevens' son, Eric, has taught agriculture for the last three years at Millennium High School in Goodyear.

Stevens was nominated for the awards by fellow teachers from the Northern Gila County District. Only teachers from a teacher's own district may submit nominations for Teacher of the Year Awards.

He said he knew beforehand that he would receive the award for Payson High School, but that the agriculture Teacher of the Year award for all of Arizona was a surprise.

"I had resigned a leadership position earlier in the year with the Arizona Agriculture Teachers Association because they had scheduled a function at the Northern Gila County Fair." Stevens said.

"And I wasn't going to be able to attend (association meetings) and felt that somebody needed to be there, so having resigned that position, I didn't think I was going to be considered at all."

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Wendell Stevens was named agriculture teacher of the year in Arizona for 2007.

Stevens had been with the association in various leadership positions for 28 years when he resigned to make himself available to help Payson prepare for this year's Northern Gila County Fair.

His wife, Kathy Stevens, said, "It came as quite a surprise to us all, it was kind of like being at the Academy Awards for me."

"I am really tickled that he got the awards, he is a really good teacher and once in a while, they deserve a little pat on the back."

Stevens said he began his career with agriculture sciences when he was in high school in his hometown of Onarga, Ill., where he was born in 1950.

"When I was a senior, my agriculture teacher told me I could go to the University of Ill., and major in agriculture education and I could get a teaching certificate." Stevens said.

"I really thought a lot of him and he's probably the reason I went into agriculture."

Stevens completed the teaching program at the University of Illinois and began teaching at the middle school in Onarga in the late 1970s, but became discouraged and worked in the fields of industry and research for a short time.

While still in Onarga, he met and married his wife Kathy, an Arizona native, and she convinced him to move to Arizona after they married in 1977.

"Kathy talked me into moving out here and I took a position with Sears Roebuck in their credit department," he said. "I felt like a fish out of water, so Kathy convinced me to go back to school and be a teacher in Payson and the rest is history."

Stevens began studying for his degree at the University of Arizona in 1978 and completed it in 1980.

Stevens began teaching at Payson High School on July 4, 1980 and has been teaching here for 24 years now, and said he has no plans to leave.

One of his greatest pleasures, Stevens said, is to see former students succeed.

"It was a real thrill for me to have four of my former students, who are now also teaching agriculture, sitting at my table when I was given the awards," Stevens said.

He often wonders how his former students have fared in the real world since leaving Payson High School.

He said "I remember this one student I had who was living out of a camper at one of the campsites near town, and was having trouble meeting class requirements.

"I told her to just gather and identify different foliage and other specimens in the forest and enter them into her log."

Stevens said the girl passed the course, and he often wonders where she is and how she is doing now.

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