Tueting runs grass-fed farm, uses time for planning


Photo Courtesy of Mark Tueting

Social studies teacher Mark Tueting relaxes with one of his cows back at his farm. Tueting runs his own farm in Batesville, Virginia, where he lives a different lifestyle when he isn’t creating tests or grading worksheets in a classroom setting.

The daily workload of a teacher- grading worksheets, creating tests and lecturing- can be a hard row to hoe, but they have to do what they can to bring home the bacon. On top of the seven hours a day spent in school, many teachers spend additional hours making lesson plans and getting their ducks in a row. When social studies teacher Mark Tueting comes home from school, he can’t just hit the hay; he has an organic grass-fed farm to run.

“During warm weather, I am managing pastures everyday: checking fences, checking water, and moving [the animals] from pasture to pasture… Some days in the summer I might have half an hour’s worth of work, I just go out and check [that] everything’s good. Some days, if I’m moving to a far away field and I have to load everybody, it might be six hours of work,” Tueting said. “In the winter I have to feed hay, and there are a lot more tasks you have to do to keep the animals okay when they don’t have access to being outside… Also if I’m making hay, that is tremendously time consuming and really physically exhausting. I haven’t made hay for two years, but I’m going to go back to it. When I’m making hay there are 16-hour days [of] balls to the wall working.”

As a child, Tueting worked on his uncle’s dairy farm in Wisconsin. Seventeen years ago, he decided to buy his own farm in Batesville, Virginia.

“Back in the day I’d bring my animals in just to do the morning announcements with a chicken sitting on my head or what have you, or just for the kids to see,” Tueting said.

Though Tueting doesn’t bring animals into the classroom anymore, there have been instances where his two worlds have overlapped.

“Earlier this year when I lost a calf and I wanted to get a new calf at the auction, I got someone to cover the last 10 minutes of my shift so I could run to the auction and get this calf,” Tueting said. “During my planning period I was trying to figure out, ‘How do I get this calf and get there?’ and, ‘Where am I going to get a tarp to put in the back of my Prius to carry a calf home in?’ So it [overlaps] sometimes, not a whole lot.”

Tueting believes a common misconception about farmers relates to intelligence, but the world of farming involves much more thought than one might expect.

“I think a lot of people think that farmers aren’t particularly bright. If you’re farming, traditionally you have to acquire information about how to do it effectively, and if you’re a big farmer you have to understand basic accounting stuff. Particularly for smaller farms or organic farming, there’s a lot of intellectual activity about managing pastures and understanding animal health, that I find interesting. I use my brain for something different than teaching,” Tueting said. “In teaching there’s the content knowledge, which I think is kind of similar to the farming knowledge, but all day long you’re looking at kids faces [and thinking], ‘Oh is [she] having a bad day? Maybe she needs me to tease her a little bit to cheer her up,’ or, ‘What’s the best way to approach this kid not doing their homework?’ You’re constantly thinking about how to interact with people, but on the farm I don’t have to worry about how people are thinking, animals are much simpler in their behaviors. You still need to be aware of how this animal is acting, but it’s not the emotionally draining thing as an introvert. I love my job, but this job is emotionally draining to me because I have to constantly pay attention to human beings. I think the biggest misconception is that farmers don’t think, but it’s just a different type of thinking.”

In fact, Tueting wheels are always turning. Even riding on a tractor, his mind always wanders back to his classes.

“Teaching is not something that you can necessarily put a time on, because even when I’m out riding on my tractor or rolling hay bales, I’m thinking about what I’m going to do in class. As I [make an] activity, I’m thinking, ‘Here [are] all the different ways we could go with it.’ It might take me 20 minutes to type it up, but there [are] probably three or four hours of thought [going into] it,” Tueting said. “If I’m commuting to school I’m thinking, ‘Here’s a test question I could ask’ or, ‘What’s the best way to get this kid to be motivated?’ If you’re teaching, you’re never really off. That’s kind of the weird thing about our job is that you’re always thinking about it, even when you’re farming, which I kind of like, that I can use my brain and my hands.”