BROOKSVILLE — Rick Ahrens likes pigs. He said so. He teaches students how to raise them. He also teaches steer care, welding and basic veterinary and business skills.
The 49-year-old Hernando High School agri-science teacher is apparently good at it. He was selected as the 2008-09 Hernando County Teacher of the Year, an honor announced Saturday night.
On Monday, Ahrens described his reaction as a "deer in the headlight look." He said he saw the other 20 teacher nominees being recognized and couldn't figure out why he was singled out.
"Maybe because I'm crazy and the hours I put in," he speculated.
His principal, Ken Pritz, had a better reason.
"He has just proven to run a great program. It's a nationally recognized program," Pritz said. "He multitasks. He knows what he's doing really well, and it's proven year in and year out."
Ahrens' students had some thoughts about why their teacher was selected, too.
"He's cool," said junior Caitlin Flood, 17. "He's a good teacher. He knows when to joke and when to be serious."
Her classmate, Crislin Girdler, 16, agreed about the "cool" part. She said a lot of people learn about different animals from Ahrens and she mentioned a personal highlight for her: "I learned how to weld."
Senior Jacob Elkins, 18, offered his theory about Ahrens' selection. "I think (it's) because he gives everybody a fair chance. He expects everybody to learn by their mistakes."
He said Ahrens lets students try to figure out stuff on their own, but gives pointers when needed.
Ahrens is in his 18th year as Hernando High's agri-science teacher. He says the agriculturalist has to be everything: a veterinarian, a businessman, a mechanic, a weatherman, a welder. "They have to be a jack-of-all-trades," he said about his students.
He teaches grades 9 through 12 and sees about 170 students a day during seven class periods. He also coaches girls soccer.
He advises the Brooksville chapter of the Future Farmers of America and said it's the best part of the job. There are about 35 members, and they raise animals and do community-service projects. A favorite of the group is raising money for the Angelus House, a center for the developmentally disabled in Hudson.
Ahrens said he became a teacher to "pay back a debt that was put upon me. And I say that in a very loving way." He wants to help his students believe in themselves, the way he was encouraged when he was a youth.
Ahrens lives in Spring Hill with his wife, Brooks, and their daughter, Delaney, 14, who attends Parrott Middle School. He has one other daughter, Karly Howland, who lives in Brooksville. He has one grandchild, Evan.
Ahrens has an interesting classroom. A variety of stickers cover a classroom door. Among them: "Have you hugged you hog today?" and "Vets take a licking."
Perhaps some of his sense of humor rubs off on his students.
Senior Patrick Haney, 17, suggested that Ahrens was selected teacher of the year "because he paid off the superintendent."
Then he became serious.
"He's a good guy," Haney said. "He treats everyone with respect. He actually teaches you. Overall, he's just a pretty nice guy."