When Amanda (A.J.) Deal of Justin began her first teaching job earlier this school year at Northwest High School, it was in familiar surroundings.
Not only was it at the school where she graduated four years ago, but it was in a place that held significance to her family as well.
As a new ag teacher at NHS, Amanda you might say is following in the bootsteps of her father, Kevin Deal, who spent 25 years as an ag teacher at NHS before moving to Byron Nelson when the high school opened in August of 2009.
“I’m in his old classroom, in his old office and at his old desk, with the same phone number,” Amanda said. “I already knew my office phone number because it was his.”
Although she always wanted to be a teacher, it wasn’t until her senior year in high school that she decided to move in the direction of agriculture.
“About my senior year, halfway through the year, I realized it was one of my last ag functions I would ever be at, and I wasn’t OK with that,” she said. “And so I decided I wanted to go into the field. Teaching was just a natural thing to me.”
After she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in agriculture from West Texas A&M in Canyon, she looked for jobs in this area. It just so happened that Northwest High School had an opening.
Only four years removed from being a student at NHS, it has been a different experience as a teacher.
“It was a little awkward at first,” she said. “It’s just the transition from being at the school (as a student) to being at the school as a teacher. It’s totally different on the other side. And I’ve seen almost all of the teachers that I had in high school. They’re still there, and they say, ‘Oh my goodness, there’s no way you are already out (of college),’ ‘Yeah, I am.’”
Kevin, who also lives in Justin, began teaching at Northwest High School in 1985. He’s a big part of why NHS has been ranked as one of the top FFA programs in the country since 1986. But he’s also quick to give credit, and responsibilities, to his students.
“When you take a 14- 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kid and load them up with responsibilities and they can tote the note, then when they graduate and they’re off to college and on to life you don’t worry about them because you know they can handle it,” he said. “And that’s the whole goal is to have kids that are ready for the rest of their life. That’s always been my goal.
“I had an old ag teacher once, he taught for 43 years, he said ‘If you always do what is in the best interest of your kids and treat them all like your own, it will work.’ And he’s been right.”
With such a successful ag program already in place, did it put extra pressure on Amanda to continue what her dad started?
“There are definitely high expectations, but I hold myself to very high expectations so I don’t think I would call it pressure, but the expectation is high,” she said.
And then there’s the matter of the competition between sister schools. Byron Nelson High School’s ag program has quickly become one of the best in the area. In local competitions, Byron Nelson and Northwest usually finish first and second.
“The students definitely don’t like to lose to their sister school, I can tell you that,” Amanda said. “But you know what? As ag teachers in the same district, yes, of course you want to win, I’m a very competitive person, but you have to look at it as if Northwest ISD, whether it’s Northwest High School or Byron Nelson High School, if they’re one and two, then you have no issues with that. I think one and two may change. We may flip flop at different contests.”
“Good luck with that,” her dad slipped in.
While their schools might be rivals, pride doesn’t get in the way of Amanda seeking out advice from her dad.
“I have been his shadow since I was 4,” she said. “So I have learned tremendous things from him, and I continue to learn daily.”
For years, Northwest has been one of the fastest-growing school districts in the state. Once-rural areas are now being filled with housing developments or businesses. But the interest in the agriculture programs has not diminished, the two teachers say.
“We just keep getting bigger, just like the whole school,” Kevin said. “Kids gravitate to a good program where they know they can learn, they know they’re going to be challenged, where they know they are going to have success. Since probably the early 90s, we’ve always been full.”
With the Deal family involved in the ag programs at both high schools, this is one family tradition that looks like it will continue well into the future.