Back in the day, when you needed to take students to a show or competition, you loaded them up, told the office to get a sub, and off you went…
Back in the day, an extended contract was always included in the agriculture teacher’s position…
Back in the day, the school provided transportation for field trips, conventions and competitions…
The times, they are a-changin’.
Does it seem like every time you try to attend something out of school, all you get is pushback from administrators? Are they asking you why you need to take kids to this event? Are they requiring you to pay the transportation cost to attend an event, even the driver’s pay? Are they putting limits on the number of days kids can miss school for agriculture and FFA events?
Does it appear that their intent is to kill the agriculture program and abolish FFA? Before you answer that question, let’s take a moment to analyze why this is happening. What is different today than it was “back in the day?”
- Today, school administrators are receiving greater pressure on student academic achievement and meeting annual yearly progress.
- Today, school budgets are facing monumental cuts this year and in the near future.
- Today, the availability of quality substitutes is decreasing, especially in rural areas.
- Today, constant turnover of administration leads to decreased understanding of CTE programs, such as agriculture education.
If these are the same issues your school is facing, it just may be the reason things have changed when it comes to out-of-school activities, summer contracts and other components of the agriculture program. Should we just throw up our hands and surrender, or do we draw a line in the sand and fight tooth and nail for our kids and our programs?
Before you start throwing dirt on the grave of agricultural education or call in your advisory committee for a nuclear attack on the administration and school board, I suggest you first consider the following points when proposing field trips, CDEs, livestock shows and other out of school activities:
- It must be about the students’ education. When students miss school for an FFA event or field trip, you must be able to justify its impact on their education. This is more than just exposing them to the agriculture industry, increasing their awareness of careers, or the other reasons we’ve used for years. In today’s school setting, you have to show how the students’ participation in an event is leading to their mastery of knowledge. This means showing how competition in a CDE is reinforcing math, communication and science, as well as 21st century skills. Trophies and front-page photos don’t help if the kids aren’t learning while they are competing. You have to explain the application of the core subjects students will be performing in the event. Identify the core knowledge that is embedded in the event, and illustrate how these relate to core content standards. Sure, it takes time to do this, but once you do, it isn’t going to change from year to year. Share the testing materials with math and science teachers; and ask other teachers to assist in preparation of teams, so they understand how it supports student learning in their courses. Are you using the content from the event in your own classes after you return home? Doing this also illustrates the educational value of attending. Utilize the written tests, scenarios and problem-solving components with all your students. If the competition or event is valuable to those who attended, then it should provide some value to all your students.
- The event or activity must relate to the instruction occurring in the agriculture classroom. CDEs, field trips and other competitions are an extension of the classroom. This doesn’t mean you teach the contest as class. It means that if you aren’t teaching the area in your agriculture class, then why would you ask to take students out of school to attend the event?
- If it’s the same event you’ve gone to three times already this year, then be ready to justify why it’s a valuable use of student time to go again. If you can’t give a solid educational reason to attend an event again and again, then maybe the event isn’t essential.
- Make sure students who are staying behind at school are still being educated. Your administration may fully understand and support the learning opportunities for the students going with you, but if the learning stops for all the kids you leave at home, then the trip can’t be justified. Make sure you leave quality lessons for your classes. Design them so any sub can deliver them to the classes. Videos are great entertainment but seldom lead to learning, unless there is a solid lesson planned around the program. Just keeping the kids busy and behaving well for the sub does not meet the expectations of today’s principals. Regardless of your principals’ expectations, you were hired to educate all the students in your program, not just the ones who compete/travel.
- Look to combine events to reduce time away from school. It may mean more stress in preparing for events, but it also means one or two fewer days of sub lessons to prepare. Doing this shows your administration you understand their concern and are attempting to meet them half way. Having an understating approach to crisis situations can lead to a better working relationship down the road.
While budgets will someday return to adequate levels, and the day may come when we step back from our relentless focus on academic test scores, we may never return to the environment of “back in the day.” It may be considered sacrilegious to say it, but I think that would probably be for the best. Contests, shows, field trips and conventions have always been a part of agricultural education and have provided many enjoyable experiences for our students, as well as the teachers. The fellowship, thrill of winning and excitement of attending is a driving force for many of us in the profession but, if it doesn’t lead to meaningful and purposeful learning for students, then we really can’t justify it, no matter what “day” we’re in.