Cowboy Logic: "You can catch more flies with honey
than vinegar -- assuming you want to catch flies."
I have seen many changes in my home state's ag teacher dynamics in the last 12 years. I have seen our state move from an average experience level of 25 years to five years of experience, with over 50 percent of our teachers retiring. When I first started teaching, I could count the female teachers in our state on one hand, and now the state is very much equal in the male to female ag teacher ratio. The dynamics have definitely changed, and I believe that it has fed new life to our organization. However, there is one thing that does trouble me -- why is it so hard to convince teachers to become members, and why is it a struggle to get our members to serve in a leadership role?
I have been able to attend three different state conferences this year, and at each one of them the same problems arise: teacher shortage, membership, and a willingness to step up and become a state leader. I believe the solution to each one of these problems is the same -- we have to instill a passion for agricultural education in our teachers!
In the west, "teacher shortage" is rampant and is a tough problem to handle for a teacher organizations. However, I think that there are several states in the west that may have found the solution. Idaho, Montana, California, and now Oregon have put forth or are working on incentive grants for agriculture programs that I believe will turn the tide in winning the war on the shortage of agricultural educators. These states had to get political and advocate, they had to come together as an organization and put their Team Ag Ed groups to work to get bills recognized and they needed key friends from alumni, state departments, universities, congress, and other affiliates to make it work. None of this would have happened, though, if not for the state teacher association's organization!
Membership is the frustrating problem. Why would you not belong to your teacher association or the national association? This has always bothered me---our strength is in our numbers and I view both the state and the national association as not just associates, but as family and friends. I look forward to going to the Oregon Ag Teachers Conference every year because it is like a family reunion to me and in many cases those ag teachers are closer to me than a lot of my own family. Recently, a cow was killed by wolves in my area. The producer of the cow was not a member of the Cattlemen's Association. The Cattlemen's Association has been and will forever be the first line of defense against predation and is willing to go through legal battle for its members against the government and special interest groups to fight for the rights of its members. The Cattlemen's Association fought for this cow producer even though he had not paid his membership--he now is a member. Why did he wait so long to belong to the organized group that represents him? What are you waiting for? Again, our strength is in our numbers! Don't wait for the problem to arise, be the solution when it comes.
I can understand why it would be difficult to serve as a leader for your state or your region because I have had to come to grips with the same difficult questions. I did not run for the VP spot willingly, my arm was twisted. In fact, with every leadership position I have held, my arm was twisted (maybe I have a low pain tolerance). I have enjoyed many parts about the job, particularly getting to meet so many ag teachers and seeing so many awesome things that they are doing for their programs and for their states. I have never regretted serving ag teachers. As far as my family is concerned, I try to do the same thing my dad did with me. My family is included not separated from our teacher association. Family is a vital part of our organization--you can serve a leadership role and have a family included. Every great experience, every trip I have ever had has been because of FFA, OVATA and NAAE -- all of these represent ag education! Serve your fellow teachers, it is a worthwhile experience and it is needed from you!