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Duncan High grad now at the head of the class

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Agriculture teacher Kayla Presley with some incubated eggs.

Duncan High School junior Conlan Jensen has no intention of farming or ranching. He wants to go into the fire service, but he found himself taking another one of Kayla Presley's agriculture classes again this year, the third one.

"There's something about her class and the way she teaches that you just don't get with any other teacher," Jensen said. "She makes everything interesting and intriguing even if you don't plan to make it your career."

More importantly, Jensen said, he has learned important life lessons from Presley.

"She has always emphasized that you need to go into all aspects of your life with a positive attitude and if you do you're going to get a lesson that you otherwise might not have gotten," Jensen said.

Duncan Unified Schools Superintendent Eldon Merrell hired Presley five years ago knowing exactly what he was getting. The 29-year-old graduated from Duncan High School in 2010.

"She was always a hard worker and she's that way as a teacher, she works hard," Merrell said. "She pushes the kids, she pushes herself and she doesn't accept second rate effort. She only accepts your best effort and the kids respond to that." 

 Presley attended Central Arizona College before transferring to the University of Arizona and then, ultimately Western New Mexico University. She had planned to go into the U.S. Forest Service, but ended up pushing her career off a bit when she had her son, Cooper. When he was six months old, her aunt called to let her know the ag teacher position was open at Duncan High School and asked her if she'd be interested.

"When I graduated high school, I had a lot of people telling me like 'You should do this, you should be an ag teacher' and it was never something that I really put a lot of thought into. I always said, 'Oh, maybe down the road' that's something I'd look at," Presley said. "So when they asked me, I was kind of excited, but I was really scared. I don't know that I'm qualified for that. I didn't go to school to be a teacher. And they're like, 'Oh, we can get you certified.'"

Now five years later and Presley can't imagine doing anything else. 

"Agriculture education is really special and you get to do so much to help the kids. It's not like English or math, where the kids have to be there," Presley said. "My kids really want to be in ag class so you get this really unique perspective. You get to see the best in the kids. They are so into it; they just are so excited to be in class."

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It also helps that she's a hometown girl.

"My favorite part of the job is helping the kids and interacting with the kids. At first it was kind of weird. There's really an interesting kind of dynamic that happens when you are like the hometown girl teacher," Presley said. "You know the kids, the parents, their cousins and brothers and sisters, and you have something that you can relate yourself to them. So it makes the kids more comfortable being in your class and more comfortable to be able to share things, more comfortable to be able to work with you. It's a really neat type of perspective that you get."

Being able to relate on that level gives her the ability to challenge her students, too, Presley said. She often finds herself helping kids write their resume, fill out scholarship applications and college applications.

"I was the first one to get a bachelor's degree in my family and nobody knew what direction to point us in. I remember feeling so overwhelmed, so part of my job is to help them, but a lot of it is me just making sure these kids aren't feeling overwhelmed so that if they go to a semester of college they don't feel so overwhelmed that they're just going to give up because they don't feel comfortable and they don't know what they're doing," Presley said.

Like with any job, Presley said some days are harder than others, but for her, the good days far outweigh the bad.

She remembers helping one special needs child make a sprinkler using PVC pipe, glue and copper wires.

"He was putting the last piece on and he stopped and I said, 'What's wrong?' and he said, 'Hold on just a minute." He's just sitting there and I was kind of confused. And he says, 'I just want to take this in. This is the best thing I've done in high school,'" Presley said. "I just wanted to cry because you know, those successes, like it seems so small to me just to put that last piece on and let's go. But he just wanted to sit there for a minute because that was the the most awesome thing that he felt he had done in high school. And those are the days that are like, 'Oh, my gosh, I love what I do.'" 

There are only a couple of teachers left at Duncan High that were there when she graduated, Presley said. That makes her sad because she'd like to apologize to a couple of her former teachers.

"You think they just come to class and they grade papers and they make copies, but there's so much more about being a teacher that as a student I didn't realize," Presley said. "I never realized how much work it was to be a teacher, but I can't imagine another life for myself now. I never would have imagined where I would be today. It's just been a wild ride."

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