By Stacey McArthur
The saying goes that variety is the spice of life, and Tammy Bartholomew has no shortage of flavor. As the agriculture teacher at Drexel High in Missouri, she believes in supervised agricultural experience programs (SAEs). One of her students sells sweet corn at roadside stands and raises popcorn. He even went so far as to create his own business, processing and packaging his popcorn and selling it to the local Wal-Mart store.
Never one to squash creativity and desire, Bartholomew encourages her students to develop SAEs that are tailored to their personal interests. Having a student who is an outdoor videographer definitely spices up the program. The Maximum Archery television show has resulted in her student filming in 16 states, four Canadian Provinces, Mexico, South Africa and New Zealand.
“It’s all about encouraging kids to have a little initiative and belief in themselves,” said Bartholomew, who has been teaching in Missouri for more than 20 years. “That takes a personal relationship.”
It also takes time—time often not available to teachers working just nine months a year. The average agriculture teacher works through the summer on several projects—from SAEs and camps to chapter leadership development—making extended (summer) contracts critical to their jobs.
During this time when legislators are scrutinizing all state budgets, Bartholomew thinks it’s up to agriculture teachers to prove these contracts are necessary. “When I first started teaching, it was understood teachers needed 12-month contracts. Now, there are big battles taking place over balancing school budgets. Justification of the year-round program really falls on the shoulders of the teacher,” she said. “If we are communicating with our parents and our school district and they can see that we’re doing our jobs during the summer, we shouldn’t have to justify our summer contract.”
She also suggests that teachers should submit a summer calendar, talk to administrators on a weekly basis during the summer, create annual reports at the end of the year and participate in any vocational program evaluation processes.
In Missouri, 12-month contracts for agriculture instructors are encouraged by districts and tied into state funding. “Anything less is not approved by the state department. To get [career and technical] funding for salaries and equipment, we must be year-round,” said Bartholomew, also theMissouri Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association state legislative chairman.
In Kentucky, extended contracts for agricultural educators are required by state law. Some would like to change that, said Curt Lucas, Ag Ed Program Consultant and State FFA Advisor. During the recession in the early 1980s, schools looked at cutting these contracts. There was enough backlash from principals, teachers and community members to defeat the movement. In addition, the Kentucky Farm Bureau helped shore up the position by passing a mandate in favor of extended contract days for agriculture teachers.
“That’s been challenged several times but always upheld,” Lucas said. “In most communities where ag teachers are doing an effective job, people see the value of the extended contracts and when they are threatened, the community makes their feelings known.”
Currently Lucas isn’t aware of any formal challenge to dispelling extended contracts even though the legislator is trying to reduce the state’s budget deficit by cutting two days out of all teachers’ contracts.
“It would be great if all teachers could maintain the extended ties to students throughout the summer, but not all teachers want to work through the summer,” Lucas said. “Ag teachers need to work through the summer.
Otherwise during the school year, a teacher would have to be beyond what normal expectation is to work those days and hours."
It is important to remember that in states where extended contracts are not legislated, every teacher is only a new superintendent or principal away from losing it. In states where it is legislated, you are only a committee vote away from experiencing the fight of your career to keep it. Extended contracts should never be taken for granted, especially in these difficult economic times. If you have an extended contract, it is in your best interest to make sure your administration, parents, and community leaders see you working with students during those hours. It is a whole lot easier to gain support when you’ve been doing the job you are paid for.