It has been said, "Take the ordinary and make it exceptional." I believe that is what most ag educators do every day in their classrooms. A fellow educator once told me we need to make those "Ah-Ha" moments more common, instead of the every day routine lessons. How can we do this and make our programs -- where learning has application to the real world with relevance and rigor -- transparent to the rest of the world? What must we do, is draw in exceptional individuals to teach in our classrooms, and keep them there as they inspire our youth to take the lead in facing the challenges to agriculture in the future.
What is causing our teachers to leave after only a few years of teaching? What obstacles do young teachers face? What can we do to better prepare those teachers for the challenges ahead? The frustrations of all teachers, agriculture or otherwise, are many. Some young teachers do not find success in their classrooms that other teachers have due to poor preparation and organization; while others do not have the passion, professionalism, and drive to be an agriculture teacher. I think we can agree that it takes a special breed of individual, who is willing to make the sacrifices required, to build and maintain a strong program. In the receiving line of an agriculture teacher's wedding, my wife will jokingly said, "Welcome to the FFA Advisors Widow's Club!" This statement was said to her after we were married 28 years ago. Yes, it was said in jest, but it does have some merit into the commitment that ag educators make to their students.
Why do teachers who have taught for so many years and are still teaching, profess that they would do nothing else? I fall into that category. As I look back and ask myself that question, I look at the mentoring I had from more experienced teachers and the improvements I have made to my curriculum through the continuous professional development offered in our field. In discussions with agriculture teacher educators at our colleges and universities, I am thrilled that they are working not to just turn out teachers, but are preparing individuals who realize that learning should have application to the real world and its relevance should be transparent -- in no other course of study is this more attainable than in agricultural education. Some institutions are looking at incorporating the CASE model into their instruction, so that teachers have the opportunity to use a "turn key" curriculum. In this aspect, we can act as facilitators and give our students the organization and guidance towards the relevance, rigor, and retention they cannot attain as readily as they do in our agriculture programs.
In summary, there are no easy answers. Thanks to professionals in the ag education institutions, strong teachers in our profession, and outstanding initiatives like the Teach Ag Campaign, we are addressing the challenges of recruitment and retention of agricultural educators. I think everyone would agree that not everyone is made for the ag education profession. However, if we can identify young individuals while they are in high school, encourage and guide them to our profession, together we can fill our profession with passionate and dedicated teachers.