By Ken Couture,
Agricultural Education Instructor,
NAAE Region VI Vice President
The National Ag Ed Inservice was recently held in Indianapolis. As many of you know, the Ag Ed Inservice is an annual event sponsored by National Team Ag Ed. It serves as a way for each state's Team Ag Ed to receive an update on the “State of Agricultural Education” at the national level. Each state's Team Ag Ed then makes plans to implement what they've learned in the areas that need strengthening.
This year's Ag Ed Inservice was different because of the concentrated focus on one issue. The theme, “Teacher Recruitment, Development and Retention” addressed what is recognized as one of the biggest obstacles to achieving the goals of the 10 x 15 initiative. Ten thousand quality programs by 2015 will require that we recruit new teachers, retain the teachers we have and provide professional development to assure that all of our programs are quality programs.
Recruiting agricultural education teachers needs to begin in our classrooms. We need to identify students who have the potential to become good agriculture teachers and encourage them every step of the way. This generation of students is looking for a different kind of workplace, one that rewards collaboration, problem solving and flexibility. Are we modeling a career path for those potential teachers that will attract them into our profession?
We heard from a panel of presenters from Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado and Illinois, all of which are promoting an “Ag Ed Academy” concept. Agriculture teachers are asked to nominate promising students to attend a conference to discuss the profession. If your state is doing this, make a nomination. If not, work with your Team Ag Ed to initiate one. Oklahoma has started a “Who is Going to Fill These Shoes?” marketing campaign. Colorado is actively targeting college students who may be undecided. They are making recruitment central to every event and publication. Illinois' goal is to utilize collegiate agricultural education clubs to create a connection to the profession prior to the last year of college. They also hold yearly conferences for college students run by agriculture teachers.
As agriculture teachers we have tremendous influence with our students because of the relationships we build with them and their families. We need to market our profession as dynamic, rewarding and enjoyable.
The panel presenters consisted primarily of teacher educators. Texas highlighted a four-day student-teacher retreat program where student-teachers attend workshops, have time to collaborate and make visits to area high schools. The school visit includes a mock interview with an administrator. Oregon offers a Summer Agriculture Institute program and gives their student-teachers an opportunity to prepare an integrated science lesson to present at the state agriculture teachers' inservice meeting.
While much of the discussion involved programs for pre-service and early career teachers, we all need to take advantage of professional development opportunities. Attending your state conferences and NAAE regional conferences this spring and summer are great opportunities.
The importance and necessity of mentoring was another theme from the panel. Most states have instituted mentoring programs that pair an experienced teacher with a young teacher. They vary in formality and duration, but they all need dedicated and experienced teachers to help new teachers become a successful addition to the profession.
Missouri has a two-year program, which includes a teacher stipend and four statewide meetings per year to look at FFA planning and summer work programs. Kansas has a three-part process including mentoring, new teacher induction and partnerships with state universities and foundations. Arizona's program assigns a professor to each new teacher who makes four visits per year. The program also includes a series of workshops for credit. Their state staff also aids teachers in the certification process. Georgia has an informal mentoring system that works for them.
As teachers, we need to broaden our view of mentoring to include prospective agriculture teachers and pre-service students, as well as young teachers. The message of this inservice was loud and clear: Salary, budgets and facilities are not driving teachers from the profession. Workload, lack of guidance, unsupportive administrations and feeling totally overwhelmed are the issues we need to address. Through mentoring, whether formal or informal, we can make a difference.
The 10x15 initiative is an ambitious goal. It will require an all out effort from the partner organizations of Team Ag Ed to make it a reality. That means attracting people from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities and career fields to fill the new classrooms and maintain the programs we already have. Once they are in the classroom, we need to build quality programs through targeted career-stage professional development. Finally, we need to retain quality teachers through a variety of mentoring experiences, which recognize the needs of each individual.