Nyssa High School agriculture teacher Chad Cruickshank talks about his teaching style earlier this month in his classroom. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

NYSSA – The plaques and banners certifying excellence crowd the lower wall of Chad Cruickshank’s classroom at Nyssa High School.

The plaques stretch from one end of the wall and stop next to his desk, a space of 10 or more feet. The plaques all showcase different achievements related to teaching agriculture.

Each one stands as an example of the values he tries to instill in his students, that commitment and hard work lead to excellence.

Cruickshank’s success as a teacher was recognized recently when he was named outstanding agriculture education teacher for an 11-state region by the National Association of Agricultural Educators.

“I am midway through my career and what an honor. I don’t know if it has totally set in yet,” said Cruickshank.

Cruickshank is in his 16th year as a teacher and said the award, while important personally, also boosts his wider goal of exposing the benefits of an education in agriculture.

“It is important for the agriculture education world to be recognized at this level and bring it back to communities so we can continue to advocate for ag education in the classroom,” said Cruickshank.

Along with teaching agriculture at Nyssa High School, Cruickshank is also the school’s FFA adviser.

“I teach intro to ag to advanced ag to greenhouse management to ag leadership and a couple of shop skills and an advanced welding class,” said Cruickshank.

Cruickshank’s success teaching agriculture came after he started college at the University of Idaho with a different plan. He sort of fell into the agriculture major, he said.

“I studied wildlife management. It was a pretty steep curriculum because it was very popular and they wanted me to take a bunch of calculus and upper level courses,” said Cruickshank.

He said by the time his third semester rolled around, he decided to see what else the university could offer.

Cruickshank decided to walk over to the university’s agriculture building.

“They asked what my story was. I said, ‘Well I need to look at a different major.’ They said, how about you be a farmer? Then you can substitute teach in the winter with your ag degree,” said Cruickshank.

Cruickshank – who was raised on a Malheur County farm – agreed.

He graduated 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and later acquired a master’s in education leadership from Northwest Nazarene University.

College was “how I ended up being an ag teacher,” he said.

Cruickshank said his teaching style is geared toward allowing students to learn through trial and error.

“As hard as it is to watch students make mistakes, that is how we learn, by making mistakes. I want students to learn from their mistakes and then come out of here with skill sets,” he said.

The post-high school emphasis for students has evolved somewhat since he began teaching, he said.

“For some its changed from pursuing college. Now there are a lot of jobs available with the trades and we are certifying welders, Hyster drivers and private pesticide license applicators,” said Cruickshank.

Cruickshank said he enjoys learning from his former students that a subject he taught proved useful after they graduated.

“When you have a student accomplish things they absolutely, 100 percent said they will never use in their lifetime and they say, ‘why are you making us do this?’ Then they graduate and thank you for having follow through on what you were trying to teach them because that is what they are doing for a job,” said Cruickshank.

Cruickshank said he wants his students to find a rewarding career path.

“That’s really my No. 1 goal. I want them to explore a skill area, go to college, get certifications and then wherever they end up, they want to come back here,” he said.

In addition to being a teacher, Cruickshank is father to two girls and a husband who juggles an array of tasks before he even reaches school grounds each weekday.

“I am usually the first one up on the morning. Breakfast is on the table and then its vitamins for my kids as mom gets ready. Then we transition into brushing teeth and doing hair,” he said.

Cruickshank’s wife, Tiffany, works for Snake River Produce in Nyssa.

Cruickshank said one of the highlights of his career was acquiring grant funding to “revamp the welding shop to make it more accessible.”

That allowed for more students, he said.

The Covid pandemic, he said, has been a challenge.

“It’s like retraining the brain of the students, the discussion in how you present yourself, trying to get back into the swing of school. It has been like year one of my career,” he said.

While he loves teaching, farming remains Cruickshank’s first love.

He said when he was a kid, his main goal was become a farmer. Now, Cruickshank, lives on a small farm outside of Adrian where he raises cattle.

“I was the type of kid who played with tractors and trucks on the side of the ditch bank. When I got old enough to drive, I was driving tractors then, as I got older, I ran the harvester or the combine,” he said.

Cruickshank said his grandfather, Robert Cruickshank, was his biggest role model when he was a child.

“I really looked up to my grandfather. He was almost like a dad to me,” said Cruickshank.

Despite the awards and the success of his students, he remains focused on his family.

“The most important things now are my kids and wife. I want to make memories with my kids so a lot of our hobbies are days chasing our girls around, doing summer activities,” he said.

He credits his wife’s support for helping him achieve success.

“She is an incredible person,” he said.

Cruickshank’s plan now is to “finish raising my two daughters, have zero debt and to be able, maybe, to see something along the lines of farming or wildlife, outdoor recreation type of experience in the next 14 years,” he said.

Cruickshank said the national honor is as much about his students and the community as it is about him.

“It takes students and communities,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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