Attracting Youth to Agricultural Education Careers

By Deb Buehler

 

When Oklahoma launched its Future Ag Ed Teacher Academy four summers ago, the goal was to raise awareness about careers in agricultural education.  The program has been a resounding success in helping high school students consider teaching as an agriculture career.

“The attention it has brought to our profession has been really positive,” said Kent Boggs, state executive secretary for FFA Oklahoma. “The publicity has raised awareness in a positive way. We are really proud of the feedback we’ve received about the academy.”

Competitive Process

The teacher academy is the result of a collaboration between the state FFA office and the agricultural education department at Oklahoma State University with annual sponsorships provided by Chesapeake Energy, Farm Credit Association of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Department Career Tech, Oklahoma State University and the Oklahoma FFA Alumni Association.

The $20,000 in sponsorship funding provides for housing, meals, mentor teacher salaries, curriculum materials and a $1,000 college scholarship for any academy graduate’s first year in ag education at Oklahoma State University. The only cost for participation is getting to Oklahoma State University for the one week academy.

“Students complete an application and go through a very competitive selection process to participate,” Boggs explained. “We focus on students with strong local involvement in their FFA chapter. Students provide an essay about why they desire to one day be a high school teacher. This year’s attendees were announced at our state FFA Convention.”

This year, 10 students will be completing the week-long academy, which includes a day-trip to visit single-teacher and multi-teacher ag programs. Mentor teachers, all with less than 10 years in the classrooms themselves, participate with the students throughout the academy, staying in the same dorms serving as chaperones.

“They hang out in the dorm kitchenettes, and have great conversations with participants about what it’s like to be an ag teacher,” Bogg said. “Mentor teachers and students report that this is one of the most important parts of the week.”

GOAL – Grow Our Ag Leaders

Through a $50,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secondary Education Challenge Grant, North Carolina agriculture teacher Luke Beam developed GOAL to inspire future ag educators. “Through the GOAL program, high school seniors are introduced to what it is like to be an ag teacher,” Beam said.

Students enrolled in the class access assignments online and work through several projects that include observing ag teachers at work. From tutoring elementary students one day a week to developing a public speaking script for use in an elementary classroom and adult group setting to preparing a Food for America program to present to elementary or middle school students, for an entire week the high school seniors tackle projects designed to prepare them to teach.

“What we envisioned was working with other schools to create an online product any ag teacher could implement free of charge,” Beam said. “I don’t grade anything. Students e-mail me information, start doing their assignments and work with their own ag teacher, who gives the course grade.” 

With input from National Board Certified teachers Scotty Cook, Tyler Mitchell and Matt and Kaye Harris, Beam put together the semester-long course. To take the class, students need to be high school seniors and have an A- or B-level track record in ag classes. The unique thing about GOAL is that it’s not a classroom full of students. Students simultaneously access assignments on the Internet, observe an ag classroom teacher and complete related assignments. 

“They are participating in the corner of a ninth-grade classroom by working on GOAL assignments throughout the semester,” Beam said. “All of their assignments lead up to teaching the ninth graders for a week.” Students can earn extra credit by tackling tasks, such as grading papers and performing classroom support activities that also provide a glimpse of a teacher’s range of responsibilities.

Beam said that he’s learned that teachers using the materials need to put due dates on assignments.  As they stand, the online course content doesn’t have dates applied to assignments because schools using them have different calendar schedules than his district.

“The most challenging part of the course for some students is the freedom of online courses,” Beam added. “Some students get off track because they get behind on assignments they don’t like. It is important for students to explore online courses because their educational future will involve online work.”

The GOAL lessons can be accessed at http://www.growouragleaders.com/.