Rick Ahrens has devoted more than four decades to the teaching and leadership of the Future Farmers of America; serving most of that time as the Brooksville Sr. FFA Chapter Advisor and Agriscience/Veterinary Assistant Teacher at Hernando High School (where the chapter is based). He has earned distinctions such as Florida FFA’s FFA Advisor of the Year for 2020, Florida Agriscience Teacher of the Year, Florida FFA Administrator of the Year, and Hernando County Teacher of the Year.
Yet as Ahrens, poised to retire this year, closes the ‘chapter’ on his auspicious career, he is not thinking of the hundreds of honors that he and his students have won over the years at state and district FFA celebrations. He is thinking instead of the approximately 5,000 students that he has taught over the years.
“I think of my students. They make me look good. I just facilitate them,” he said. “My job is about the people I teach.”
This edict has carried this Spring Hill resident through his long and distinguished career.
“Back in college, a teacher drew my attention to Philippians 2:4, which teaches that you can only make your life more important if you live for others,” he said.
This concept motivated him to earn a Master of Science Degree in Vocational Education/Agriculture and Bachelor of Science Degree in Agriculture Sciences/Horticulture from Morehead State University, and to complete additional course work in Agricultural Education at the University of Florida in Gainesville. And aside from his extensive work as teacher and adviser at Hernando High, he was the founder and head coach of Hernando High School Girls’ Soccer and coach of the BUSA Youth Soccer Coach (U-8, U-10, U-12).
“I’ve been offered jobs with higher pay,” he said. “But I’ve never regretted staying with teaching.”
Ahrens loves both the animal/farm and shop-related projects involved in FFA and agriscience–more than that, he loves what these programs do toward the furthering of his students’ education.
“Agriscience makes my students think, and teaches them all about problem solving,” he said. “I always challenge them to answer one simple question: Why?”
These lessons have proven highly effective over the years.
“I run into former students in public, who tell me that they now understand why I was so hard on them,” he said with a chuckle. “I had expectations for them–now, in their adult lives, everyone has expectations.”
From working with his favorite animal, the pig, to guiding his two daughters through the FFA program, to serving as Florida FFA State National Chapter Program Chairman and as the National FFA Summer Judge for National Chapter Program, to FFA school projects that benefitted Angelus House and Operation Pride, Ahrens says that he “so many memories” of his time as a teacher and adviser. And he has been a witness to academic history, seeing agriscience become more high tech and scientifically advanced in nature.
“It’s about much more than cows, plows and sows,” he said.
As Ahrens wraps up his final year at Hernando High, he admits it’s going to be difficult to “hit the brakes” on his long and distinguished career.
“But it’s time to go,” he said.
Yet even as he closes the chapter on the professional portion of his FFA and 4-H activities, he plans to forge on as a volunteer adviser and mentor to new generations of future farmers–and, really, to anyone who wants to learn some valuable life lessons from a master at the art.
“I’ve laughed with my students, I’ve cried with my students,” he said. “Teaching is a career. Teaching agriculture is a lifestyle.”