By Dennis Fiscus
CTE Student Organizations Team Director
Tech Prep Director
Arizona Department of Education
What is the greatest value of the National Ag Ed Inservice? Talking!! Talking to other states, talking to national FFA staff members, talking to our LPS representative, talking to our national CEO and COO and, most importantly, talking to your own state!
With a common theme developed each year by The National Council and national FFA staff that relates to an important issue faced by the agricultural education profession, Inservice provides a valuable tool for each state to talk, review and plan for the future.
Over the years Arizona has utilized Inservice to assist us in things as simple as the development of an Arizona Team Ag Ed logo and institutionalizing AZ Team Ag Ed meeting times and locations, to more complicated projects involving State Agricultural Education Program Standards and a system to review those programs that all AZ Team Ag Ed members support and promote. Many more projects and programs have evolved out of our talking and meeting at the National Ag Ed Inservice.
What did we take away from this year's Inservice? Many, many good ideas that we wanted to put into place were put on paper. With the help of our LPS regional representative, Mike Womochil, we narrowed it down to about five goals and projects that require attention.
The most immediate goal was to have a special dinner and presentation at our State Leadership Conference in June 2008 for those FFA members who had been specifically identified by their agriculture teacher as having a sincere interest in teaching agricultural education. The students will not only be served a nice meal, but will also be given a presentation regarding what it takes to be an agriculture teacher and how AZ Team Ag Ed can help them become one. They will also be starting a one-on-one relationship with the person who identified and invited them to the conference. The goal is to start a mentor relationship with each of these prospects.
How did we determine this was important? We figured it out by talking and listening during the main Inservice sessions, our regional sessions and in our state Team Ag Ed meeting. We all seemed to have a story about a single individual that had made that personal impact in our lives and how that personal relationship led to our careers as agriculture educators. We decided we want that to happen to more of our students. Talking and sharing our experiences helped us get to that point.
Another immediate project for Arizona is as simple as it will be powerful. Arizona already, like many states, has a New Teacher Mentoring program. It seems to work pretty well around the country. By listening to other states talking about their mentoring programs, it became apparent that we all have a similar need within our collegiate student-teacher ranks. Before they enter into the field, we seem to lose many of our potential teachers, even though we have gotten them in the agricultural education program and almost to the student-teaching experience. Why? They are lost, afraid, overwhelmed…you name it. But what can we do to alleviate their fears?
Arizona Team Ag Ed decided that we would take our existing New Teacher Mentoring program and drill it down a little deeper. With the agreement of the teacher's group, the teacher education group, and the Foundation and business partners along with the support of the state education department, Arizona's New Teacher Mentoring program will now start during the student's junior year at the University of Arizona Agriculture Education teacher education program, beginning this fall. We believe this will give the students experiences and resources that they have never before had available. They can actually go to real classrooms, attend real FFA events, discover real agriculture job experiences and interact with all those scary folks at the state department! We believe starting this mentor relationship sooner will help alleviate some of their fears and help us develop even better and more prepared new teachers.
Both of these projects will come about because we had the opportunity to listen and talk to colleagues that gather at only one place during one time of the year—the National Agricultural Education Inservice. If you missed it, be sure to check out the videos and presentations on The Council website later this month. (It can also be linked from the Educator's Workroom on ffa.org.)