Spotlight Teacher of the Month

This fall, Licking R-VIII School District continues recognizing teachers who have a powerful positive influence on students and staff. This month, Mr. Van Kirkwood, Agriculture Teacher and FFA Director, has been nominated by both teachers and administrators.

Mr. Kirkwood was born and raised on a family farm in Houston, Missouri, where he graduated high school in 1981. The first in his family to attend college and graduate, Mr. Kirkwood traveled to Columbia, MO, to attend University of Missouri where he dual-majored in agricultural education and agricultural mechanics, earning both an undergraduate and master’s degree.

After student teaching in Seneca, Mr. Kirkwood accepted his first teaching job in Putnam County, a farming community and home to one high school covering the entire county. While working in Putnam County, Mr. Kirkwood met his future wife, a Licking girl, now 31 years as Mrs. Rebecca Kirkwood. After five years of service, Mr. Kirkwood spent two years as an agricultural teacher in Cabool before owning and operating a dairy farm. Enduring challenging times with price manipulation, Mr. Kirkwood, returned to teaching at Houston High School. While fifteen years at Houston High, Mr. Kirkwood had consistently between 80-100 agricultural students annually, growing a program about which he was passionate.

In August, 2016, Licking R-VIII School District had the great fortune to hire Mr. Kirkwood as our own agriculture teacher. As FFA Director and Ag Teacher, Mr. Kirkwood has escorted 28 students to FFA Nationals, and he continues to guide students to become agricultural educators, farm operators, and employees in countless other ag-related positions.

When asked how he knew he wanted to be an Ag Teacher, Mr. Kirkwood responded, “I was a freshman in high school when I knew this is what I wanted to do. I was in Ag and FFA and I fell in love with it. Agriculture education combines science, mechanics, nature, farming, technology and economics…all things I have always enjoyed. I am able to stay connected with local farmers and give back to my community through partnerships with Licking Chamber of Commerce, FFA producers, and community breakfasts. When I think about retiring, I say to myself, ‘I’ll stay until these students graduate,’ but there are always more students who I enjoy mentoring – watching them grow and change, achieve their goals, and in many cases, celebrate national recognition. It makes me teary-eyed thinking back on kids I consider partially my own.”

While Missouri continues to add programs for future farmers, Mr. Kirkwood continues to encourage high school students to become involved in agriculture education noting that this past year there were more teaching jobs open than there were graduates to fill them. Sharing his passion for agriculture, Mr. Kirkwood beams with pride when he speaks of his two daughters, Rae Ann (born 1997) and Vanessa (born 2000), both planning to spend their careers in agriculture education.

Although many people may think farmers avoid technology, Mr. Kirkwood is a shining example of the opposite. Mr. Kirkwood was recently recognized by his peers for his willingness to teach others to implement virtual instruction through Microsoft Teams. A technology-leader among teachers, Mr. Kirkwood says he watches our technology team carefully when they are doing upgrades, sharing ideas, or repairing hardwiring issues related to the district server. Mr. Kirkwood reflected on this saying, “I believe as a teacher, we always have to be learners ourselves. I am constantly learning and searching for ways to reach students and help them tap into new career opportunities”.

Father, part-time pastor, teacher, mentor, bus driver and friend, Mr. Kirkwood represents to best of our profession. We are thankful Mr. Kirkwood found his way to Licking R-VIII School District and continues to celebrate and prolong our wonderful rural lifestyle.