Richard Ledford, who most recently served as an agriscience teacher at Bradley Central High School, took a permanent vacation from teaching when students began their summer vacation.
“I think I’ve had a successful career,” Ledford said. “I’m excited for this next chapter of my life.”
A native of Cleveland, he graduated from Bradley Central in 1969 after studying the same subject he would later teach.
Ledford said it was his sixth-grade teacher at Black Fox Elementary School who inspired him to study agriscience in the first place. Herbert Lackey, who Ledford described as being his favorite teacher at the time, left Black Fox to teach agriscience at Bradley Central.
When he reached high school, Ledford decided to take agriscience classes simply because he liked the teacher.
Originally setting out to become a pharmacist, Ledford began his post-high school career at the University of Tennessee. However, he said he “got a call from Uncle Sam” and went to serve in the Army National Guard.
In 1971, while on leave from military service, he learned of the possible retirement of agriscience teacher Charles Arnold, who was teaching alongside Lackey at Bradley Central.
Ledford said he re-evaluated his decision to study pharmaceuticals and determined that agriculture was what he loved. He changed his college major to agricultural education.
After college and four years teaching in the Georgia towns of Jackson and Valdosta, he eventually ended up back at Bradley Central in 1978, and he stayed until his retirement about 36 years later.
Over the years, Ledford taught students a variety of skills as “diverse” as the area’s agricultural community.
There are more than 7,500 agricultural programs in American public high schools, he said, and each program generally tailors what it teaches to what the community’s agricultural climate dictates.
“In East Tennessee, we have a diverse agricultural economy,” he said, noting that agriscience careers can range from traditional animal raising and crop growing to working with environmental concerns.
Students in the agriscience program at Bradley Central have three different concentrations from which they can choose, Ledford said. In addition, all three incorporate hands-on activities.
Studying horticulture science, students do things like work in a greenhouse on school property. Veterinary and animal science teaches students about things like the biology of animals. In power structures and technical system,s students learn skills like how to maintain and repair machinery.
School curriculums have continued to evolve over the years. Ledford said he and Lackey once worked together to change how class credits for agriscience could be used on students’ transcripts.
The teachers were both in the habit of giving students quizzes at the beginning of the year to see what they already knew.
Ledford said he found that many students already knew about the plant and animal life about which he would be teaching, because they had already taken biology classes.
After Ledford and Lackey began to look into what Bradley Central’s science classes taught, they found there was “a lot of overlap” in what was being taught.
Ledford said they championed the cause of the state board of education allowing students who take agriscience classes to receive regular science class credit for them.
Today, students can take agriscience classes to meet their science requirements for high school.
Ledford said he considers that to be part of his legacy as a teacher, and he plans to donate a plaque to the school denoting that milestone.
It reads “National Birth Place of AgriScience for Science Credit” and bears the date July 1986 and the two teachers’ names.
However, one of the most important things he said he has taught students has nothing to do with agriculture or science. It has to do with teaching students to treat others the way they would want to be treated themselves.
“I always try to live and teach by ‘The Golden Rule,’” Ledford said. “That’s been the cornerstone of my career.”
While students often competed against each other in situations like Future Farmers of America competitions, he said he tried to teach them the importance of showing respect toward and helping one another.
When describing his career, Ledford also lists many of the accomplishments his students have had.
Students who have been in the Bradley Central FFA chapter over the years have helped it earn 47 consecutive National Gold Emblems with the organization.
“I’ve had six students who also decided to become agriscience teachers,” Ledford said.
One of his former students actually became one of his fellow teachers at Bradley Central. LuAnn Carey began teaching agriscience at the school in 2004.
Toward the end of his career, Ledford said he had one funny experience that reminded him of just how long he had been teaching.
On one of the first days of class, a boy asked Ledford if he knew a certain person. After Ledford responded that he not only knew the man but had been his teacher as well, the boy told Ledford the man was his grandfather.
“Then, it started to dawn on me how long I’d been at Bradley,” Ledford said.
Now that he has retired, he said he is looking forward to things like being able to spend more time with his four grandchildren.
However, he readily admits that his career held so many stories that he “could talk about it all day.”