How do you equip your students with the skills they will need to engage their students in all aspects of agricultural education?
The production of new agriculture educators has become a tricky business of late. Those who do what I do and those in support roles of agriculture educators know of the importance of new professionals entering our discipline and the importance of their retention. In the face of a nationwide epidemic shortage of secondary agriculture educators, the focus of recruitment, development and retention of teachers of the science of agriculture has once again come to the forefront.
I know what you're thinking: What a scary way to lead an editorial on how to equip future agriculture educators to engage all students in their programs! Frankly, I am a realist and the description above is the paradigm we currently operate in nationally. Therefore, when asked how we prepare all teachers to engage all students, we must be aware of variables such as teacher shortages, alternative certification, teacher efficacy and job satisfaction, student culture, school district and community expectations, etc.
I recently adopted a new credo for the courses I teach in agricultural education. “Assess what you value and value what you assess,” which is simply a fancy way of saying keep your eyes on what is most important for young teachers to be good at, and try not to overwhelm them with the massive knowledge-base of agricultural education. After finding what we really value in our young teachers, we practice it and offer feedback on their performance in all areas of the classroom/laboratory, SAE and FFA.
That is, if we value our young teachers engaging their future students in diversified SAEs for a diversified student population, they will propose, conduct, keep record of and evaluate Entrepreneurship, Placement, Exploratory, Improvement, Service, Supplementary and Research-based SAEs. If we value our students' utilization of brain-based teaching techniques, we model for them, have them practice use of the techniques and offer feedback of their efforts. Finally, if we value core concepts germane to their role as an FFA advisor, they will engage in selected activities actively, not as an observer.
If the expectation is that our new professionals engage all students, should we not truly engage them first in all valued components of the program?
What is more motivating, more exciting than being an educator with the ability to teach any core academic concept in the context of one of the most dynamic and diversified industries in the world? Few educators have the benefit of a practical application to almost everything they teach. Our future teachers tend to come to the table with a passion for agricultural education because of the levels of engagement inherent to the variability of teaching and learning that can occur in an agricultural education classroom and laboratories. Much like the three components of agricultural education, a key to the success of new teachers is to instill an understanding and passion for becoming an educator and holding sacred the classroom and laboratory experience.
Consistently, I speak with teachers with three to five years of experience, and so much of their stress and disillusionment with their position has to do with additional responsibilities, extra-curricular activities and management tasks. Conversely, most view the role of teacher of students as the component of their job that brings the most joy. Hence, the formula for student engagement is to make a teacher that is most prepared and gifted in the areas that will bring the most efficacy and overall reward along with the skills to survive the additional tasks faced on a daily basis.
In closing, we must know the variables creating the climate for the preparation of future agriculture educators. These young educators must have practiced experiences in all valued aspects of the classroom/laboratory, SAE and FFA. And, if they are to be truly prepared to engage all students, they are to be skilled educators first. Agricultural education's leadership is doing its part to enhance teachers' abilities to engage students with efforts such as the Delta Conference, the 10x15 Initiative and the CASE Project. Great change and opportunity await us in agricultural education; what a great time to be in the game!