Some professions are determined early in life, while other choices can ultimately lead to the right calling. For Perry, Georgia, native Jeffrey Wilson, working eight years for his family’s local cabinet business was only the beginning.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Georgia College and State University in 2003, Wilson assumed that his family expected him to follow their lead. Although he found success in the cabinet industry as vice president of sales, it wasn’t his passion.
“I didn’t like getting up and going to work every day,” he said.
When the economy declined, Wilson used his free time to think more about his career goals.
“When things got slow, I figured that I would go do something that I enjoy doing rather than something that I felt like I had to do,” he said. “I have always wanted to be an agricultural teacher. Even though I didn’t pursue it initially, it was always in the back of my mind.”
When Wilson had the opportunity to go back to school in 2010, he decided to study agricultural education at Fort Valley State University because of its proximity. He worked during the day and took afternoon and evening classes. “Dr. (Curtis) Borne (FVSU agricultural education professor) was so helpful in working with me and giving me a plan from the very beginning on what I needed to get done,” he said.
While attending classes, Wilson said he became more knowledgeable of the profession. “I knew the content of agriculture pretty well, but I didn’t know what it took to be a teacher,” he said.
In 2012, Wilson earned a post-baccalaureate certificate and began teaching at Mitchell County Middle School. After a year, he taught at Rutland High School in Bibb County for two years before joining the faculty at Veterans High School in Houston County.
This is Wilson’s fifth year at Veterans High. Through the Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) pathway, he directs the plant science and agricultural mechanics programs for grades 9-12.
I’m proud to tell my daughters what I do for a living. When they see me interacting with students, they are proud, too.
In addition to teaching, he serves as a Future Farmers of America (FFA) adviser, with more than 200 student members. The Perry High School graduate said FFA set a strong foundation for him at that age. “I got into agricultural education by mistake in high school. A weight training class that I wanted to sign up for was full my ninth grade year, so I ended up in an agriculture class and stayed,” he said, noting he became state vice president for the Georgia FFA Association his senior year in high school.
Now that he is serving as a FFA mentor, Wilson said that role is different from his teacher’s hat. “It’s two different jobs. From 7:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., I’m an agricultural teacher. When my workday is over at 2:45 p.m., my other job begins,” he said.
To prepare his students for the next step after high school, Wilson said he sets high standards. “When they start from day one, the state championship should be their end goal. Since I’ve been here, five teams won state and three of those teams went on to compete nationally to represent Georgia,” he said.
Wilson said he appreciates teaching his students how to compete. They also operate the agricultural mechanics shop, greenhouse and two livestock barns on campus.
“I want to show them that they can be great outside the walls of Veterans High School,” Wilson said. “Being involved in a program gives them that sense of empowerment in their own education, which is going to lead them to better things in the future.”
The FVSU alumnus is proud to see seven of his former students currently pursuing agricultural degrees in education, engineering, communications and forestry at FVSU, the University of Georgia and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. “In an industry where we need the best and brightest, I’m proud that I get to send some that way,” he said.
Married to Jennifer Wilson and the father of two daughters, Laney Grace and Libby, Wilson said to finally be doing what he loves has made him a happier person. “I’m proud to tell my daughters what I do for a living. When they see me interacting with students, they are proud, too,” he said.
Although it took him pursuing a different career to realize his true passion, Wilson learned through that experience that it’s more important to enjoy a job instead of just working at it.
“Agriculture made a big difference in my life,” he said. “I wake up and want to go to work every morning. Being able to do that in lieu of just money, I feel like I’m doing something that really makes a difference.”