After a decorated 38 years of teaching middle and high school Vo-Ag and leading 98 teams to the top five in the state at the South Dakota FFA Convention, Craig Shryock recently earned an accolade he hasn’t yet put in the trophy case: Wessington Springs School District Teacher of the Year.

With 36 of his 38 years in the Vo-Ag classroom in Wessington Springs, Shryock said that regardless of a student’s background, after taking his classes, students will leave with skills that will serve them for a lifetime. 

“My goal is to help kids learn how to set goals and learn how to achieve them,” he explained. “That’s the biggest thing students will take away from here — with that, kids will succeed in anything they do.”

The goal of the Teacher of the Year Program is to recognize and honor the tremendous contributions of outstanding classroom teachers. At the district level, fellow teachers and school colleagues make the Teacher of the Year nominations.

“Wessington Springs School has been very fortunate to have Craig Shryock as an educator over the years.   Obviously Mr. Shryock has done an outstanding job with the FFA program and influenced many students in a positive way through that program, but he also is more than willing to do whatever is best for all students,” said Jason Kolousek, Principal at Wessington Springs Middle / High School. “Mr. Shryock is a very valuable asset to our school and we are very thankful for all his efforts.” 

Shryock said that one of the biggest rewards he takes away from teaching is being able to encourage students, regardless of agriculture background or ability, to find something in his classroom that interests them and to stick with it. 

He calls the Vo-Ag shop the “neutralizer” because kids across the whole gamut of book smarts and handiness  begin on a level playing field when working on shop projects. 

“When I get to work with kids all four years of high school and see unmotivated students turn around and get excited about achieving the goals they set, they get a lot out of it and so do I,” Shryock said. “I teach them to work hard and play hard.”

Having taught for nearly four decades, Shryock is now teaching generations of students —  with a significant second generation milestone marking the Vo-Ag legacy in Wessington Springs just this year —  achieved when current WSHS senior Isaac Kolousek earned the same major FFA award at the state convention that his father Scott won 25 years ago as a senior under the guidance of Shryock.

“Craig Shryock has been involved with instructing and leading students, grades 7-12 at Wessington Springs School District as an Agriculture Educator and FFA Advisor for 36 years. Daily, he works with students to meet their career goals and learning opportunities to become productive citizens,” said Wessington Springs School Superintendent Dr. Pandi Pittman. “His involvement with land and range judging, and the youth land and range judging program has impacted many students and instructors on a state and national level.  His influence has provided a gateway to many career opportunities for students, as well as, preparation for post-secondary education.”

In addition to the “work hard play hard” values Shryock instills in students, he also teaches them that giving back should be a way of life. 

“If you’re going to be in ag, you don’t want anyone going hungry,” he states matter-of-factly to all of his students about the extensive outreach he and his students do for the local food pantry. “The food pantry is my charity of choice — and charity starts at home.” 

Each District Teacher of the Year becomes a nominee for the Regional Teacher of the Year award. From there, the teacher becomes a nominee for the South Dakota Teacher of the Year.