For most of us summertime is a busy time, just a different kind of busy than the school year offers. I find myself between livestock shows and baseball tournaments right now, along with traveling around to ag teachers' conferences. I landed in Pennsylvania to attend the NAAE Region VI Conference, and by the I got into the rental car to go to the conference location it was time for my son’s little league game, which I can listen to from an app on my phone. My son got a triple, which got me so excited that I missed the sign to turn and ended up on the turnpike, which happened to be a toll road. We don’t have toll roads in Oregon, and I'm still not sure how they work, but what I have learned is that if you do not have a ticket, they charge you for traveling the whole length of I-83. My missed road cost me $30 for the 10 miles I was on it — someone from the east coast needs to help this rural Oregon kid out!
The more I travel around and visit with ag teachers, the more I am of the opinion that all ag teachers are the same no matter where you go -- we all have the same struggles and issues. One issue that is very common is an increase of non-traditional teachers filling the ag teacher shortfall. The real concern is that these teachers seldom last very long because of issues with classroom management, learning FFA, SAE's, or being willing to collaborate in their teachers' association. Some become very successful -- I can name two -- but most non-traditional, industry-based teachers struggle with the huge learning curve in agricultural education. We have a huge growth of new teachers, and I think this is a direct result of the National Teach Ag Campaign, however these teachers are struggling as well.
So the question that I get most often is how do we as a state or a region better support these teachers? Things that I have noticed across the nation is that our professional conferences are extremely helpful if we can get the teachers there. I have witnessed that successful conferences have infused more workshops instead of tours, and this is a direct result of “needs” surveys done prior to the conferences. New teachers want the content and the how-to’s! One state I visited had three days of workshops that varied from a full day, two hours, one hour to 30 minutes, based on the emphasis from the teachers attending. This conference that I speak of had a record number of teachers attending, and I believe that was because the state leadership did an outstanding job listening to the needs of the teachers they represented and were willing to change their conference to meet their members' needs.
As the National Teach Ag Campaign is doing a great job recruiting teachers, it is our job to retain them. I believe this begins with encouraging new teacher membership in our organization. Some regions have really done an excellent job of helping preservice teachers get to state, regional and national conferences — I believe this is important because we get them into the wonderful collaboration and the family collusion that NAAE provides its members. It is no different in recruiting your freshmen to become FFA members, because if we wait until they are sophomores or juniors, they have already missed out on so much. One region that I have visited has about four universities with agricultural education degrees, that work together to provide workshops specifically for preservice teachers at the regional conference. This workshop is one day ahead of the major conference schedule, but allows preservice teachers to hear from experienced teachers from various states. This also helps the preservice teachers to learn of the jobs available, and gives them a chance to be recruited as well. This is a win-win, as these soon-to-be new teachers are getting to rub shoulders with experienced ag teachers, who tend to be the state leaders, but the experienced teachers are learning the new technology and out-of-the-box ideas from the preservice teachers.
Lastly, I truly believe the next step to support our current, new, and future teachers is to set up a mentoring system at the local and national levels. The professional growth committee is soon to roll out a national mentorship handbook that can be very beneficial to retaining teachers. As older, more-seasoned ag teachers, we have to be willing to take an active role in this process. We must be willing to mentor young and non-traditional teachers to make sure their teaching experience is as successful as our own.
The NAAE staff have been busy all summer preparing for the national conference in San Antonio this fall. This includes that includes selecting and announcing award winners, selecting workshop presenters, sponsors, speakers, organizing the many programs for ag teachers and so much more. Currently there are four interns working in the office and one in Washington D.C., serving NAAE in an advocacy role. Recently we rewrote the Communications/Marketing position to find a person that really is dialed-in on the communications part of that position, who can run the website, CoP, as well as marketing, and be able to teach ag teachers how to use all of our resources. Virtual committee meetings will be scheduled shortly as we finish up the last regional conferences, so look for those dates on CoP. The action items will be evaluated and put into action at the NAAE Board meeting in September. Summer is indeed a different kind of busy, but please take some time to refuel the flame you have for teaching!
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