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Picture the following scenario if you will: A well respected and dedicated agriculture teacher is conducting a routine Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) visit. The student being visited is at the top of the class in an average sized high school. This eleventh grade student has been an outstanding FFA member and is sure to pursue some type of career in agriculture. During the SAE visit, the teacher and student begin discussing the future plans of the student beyond high school. The student says to the teacher, "You know, I am thinking about becoming an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor." The teacher's response in this situation is critical. In this scenario the teacher's response is not as unusual as you may think. The teacher may say something like this: "Are you crazy? You have so much potential. You could become a veterinarian, or an agricultural scientist, or something far more exciting that just an agriculture teacher."
The teacher means well and feels like this advice is in the best interest of the student; but the fact is, many agricultural education professionals do not focus on recruiting. We let our best students consider many great options for a future career in agriculture without even planting the seed that teaching agriculture and becoming an FFA advisor is a rewarding and challenging career choice.
The topic of recruiting agriculture teachers is not new. This issue has been around for a while. In the March, 1995 edition of the Agricultural Education Magazine, Allison Touchstone reflected on her initial perception of agricultural education as she entered the course as a high school freshman. As she recalled, "My initial perception of agricultural science and technology was greatly influenced by my first instructor, and that perception was a poor one to say the least." It is an incredible responsibility that agriculture teachers have each and every day. Not only do we impact a student's perception of agriculture, but we also have the power to mold and shape the students' decisions about future careers in agriculture.
When Ms. Touchstone recalls her years in high school, it is inspiring to find out that a new agriculture teacher began teaching during her second year which she says "helped me to change my perception of agriculture and agricultural education." She recalls that her new agriculture teacher "became a role model" and also "influenced and helped me to define my perceptions and opinions about agriculture." We need teachers like this in our profession who inspire and encourage students, and perhaps even motivate them to consider a career in agricultural education. Two years later, in the March - April 1997 edition of the Agricultural Education Magazine, Allison Touchstone once again challenged our profession to focus on recruiting agriculture teachers by asking the question, "Why not become an Agriculture Instructor?"
Ms. Touchstone's commentary ten years ago still applies today. She remarked, "I don't think that there is a limit on the students who can, and should be recruited to become agriculture teachers." She states that she was once asked, "You could become anything in the world, and you are going to be a teacher? Why?" It is not unreasonable to review those concerns from ten years ago and ask ourselves, have we gotten any better at recruiting teachers? We could spend years talking about the shortage of agriculture teachers (and we have). We could address every issue that impacts the supply and demand of quality agriculture teachers (and continue to do so). But the most important thing that we can do as a profession is to provide focus on recruiting agriculture teachers. What are we doing today that will inspire the next great agriculture teacher and FFA advisor? Are the teachers at the local level given incentive to focus on recruiting future teachers? And most importantly, do we give the perception that teaching agricultural education and serving as an FFA advisor is a worthy profession?
There is no doubt that we could be doing more to recruit teachers into the agricultural education profession. Just being reminded that recruiting is important is a great way to start addressing the issue. There are many tips and ideas on recruiting. Even though they are not new, many of these ideas serve as a reminder that we all need to be proactive in encouraging students to become agriculture teachers. Here are some ideas relating to the recruitment issue:
1. Awards / Recognitions for students planning to major in Agricultural Education
This is an easy way to provide some much needed encouragement to students who are considering the possibility of teaching agriculture. We all should be recognizing future agriculture teachers and FFA advisors and provide positive reinforcement toward that goal. Each FFA chapter banquet should award at least one student every year with some type of recognition that promotes the student's decision to pursue agricultural education as a career. The Georgia Department of Agricultural Education and the Georgia FFA Foundation provide the "Young Owl" award to any teacher who requests the award to present to a student at their local chapter awards program. This award is a small way to encourage and motivate students to keep working toward becoming an agriculture teacher. It can also be used as a reminder to the student that we all share the dream of seeing them become an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor one day.
2. Scholarships for Students entering Agricultural Education majors and careers
Every spring the local newspaper is always covering the "signing-day" in which the best local athletes are receiving scholarships to attend a college or university and play big time sports. The reality is that agricultural education scholarships are far less glamorous and even come in smaller amounts. However, we should always publicize/recognize a student who receives a scholarship in agricultural education. In addition, we should strive to provide more quality scholarships for students pursuing a career in agricultural education. The more money we can provide in scholarships to students seeking a degree in agricultural education, the more student interest we can generate for the profession.
It is also important to continue to work with local FFA alumni affiliates, and community sponsors to insure that scholarship money exists in every program for students willing to accept the challenge of becoming a teacher of agriculture. One unique scholarship that is provided by the Georgia Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association (GVATA) each year is the "New Teacher" scholarship which provides $500 to a beginning agriculture teacher. The money is a nice reward for a college student who has just finished a degree program and is about to take on their first job as a teacher and FFA advisor.
Regardless of the amount of a scholarship, we must continue to promote the use of these rewards and incentives to bring positive attention to those dedicated to making agricultural education a career decision.
3. Awards for Teachers who promote Agricultural Education as a Career
Everyone likes to get positive recognition for doing something extraordinary. A great way to provide more focus on recruiting students into agricultural education is to provide some extra incentive to teachers that actually do get results in this effort. Our state's professional organization, GVATA, recognizes the "Teacher of Teachers" each year at the annual conference. This award is a small step in providing some recognition to those teachers who actually taught some of our current teachers in the profession. The more former students that a teacher currently has as a colleague in this profession, the more reward / award / accolades they should be presented. If we could find a way to provide more award recognition for a teacher's effort in recruiting, we would be well on our way to insuring there is no shortage of agriculture teachers.
There is still plenty of work that could be done in recognizing those teachers who are a positive influence on a student's decision to become involved in agricultural education.
4. Increase effort in the Diversity of Recruiting
Not only should we be encouraging our agricultural education students to become teachers (which we sometimes fail to do), but we should also be looking for ways to include more diversity in our teaching profession. The ideal situation is to recruit students from within our program, but the reality is that we need to look for other sources of future agriculture teachers. With the National FFA initiative to obtain 10,000 quality programs by the year 2015, we are certainly going to have to add agricultural education programs. We will also need to have quality teachers to start these programs. Our profession has not been able to constantly provide enough teachers to meet the demands. We must focus on recruitment from outside our agricultural education classrooms. We have all the right ingredients to draw other people into our profession. We have a demand and we have a rewarding profession. All we need is to get more exposure for our profession in more non-traditional settings.
Many times we fail to plant the idea that there are great opportunities to teach agriculture when we have the chance to speak with other groups of people outside of the agricultural education family. Some of the best agriculture teachers in Georgia began teaching math, science, or other courses of study before deciding to take a position as an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor. There are also some great agriculture teachers who have joined the team from business and industry. We must continue to seek out agriculture teachers from various sources and not rely solely on recruitment from within our agricultural education classrooms.
5. Promote a positive perception about Teaching Agriculture
There is no greater way to encourage and recruit agricultural education students to become teachers than by simply portraying the best reasons to become a teacher. If we project a positive image, and our actions reflect exactly how great this profession really is, then students will be drawn into the idea of becoming a part of such a great career. Rather than "poor mouthing" the opportunity that a student could have to become an FFA advisor, we should be speaking about all the great things that we get to do in this career. Teaching agricultural education and FFA is more than just a job. It is a rewarding career that is unlike any other profession. Dr. Dennis Sheppard, Agriculture Teacher and FFA Advisor at Putnam County High School in Eatonton, Georgia, made one of the most profound statements about this profession. He said, "Teaching agriculture is not just a job, it is a 'way of life.'" We should always portray this positive enthusiasm for being an agriculture teacher. We should also make sure that the activities in our daily classroom instruction are a positive reflection on our chosen career. There is little hope of attracting the best and brightest students if they are not impressed and excited about participation in agriculture courses. Our influence on these students is the most important part of recruiting the next generation of agriculture teachers. Not only should we portray the right image, but we should also encourage our best students to consider teaching agriculture as a profession.
Recruiting is a continuous effort. We must make this effort in every aspect of our daily activities. State staff members in agricultural education must remember to provide focus on recruitment when planning and implementing programs and activities. Agriculture teachers and FFA advisors must remember to "plant the seed" to every student that participates. Teacher educators at our colleges and universities must remember to be involved with secondary agricultural education programs. We must all work together to provide continuous focus on recruitment. There must always be positive attitude and commitment to seeing our profession flourish. Many agricultural education professionals believe that we are past the days of "poor mouthing" and talking down to students about a career as a teacher and FFA advisor. This may be true; but we should never fail to ask ourselves - Are we helping or hurting our profession? There should always be a focus on what we are doing to provide quality agriculture teachers. We cannot afford to be our own worst enemy in regard to recruitment.
But the most important thing that we can do as a profession is to provide focus on recruiting agriculture teachers."
The Young Owl Award is provided by the Georgia Department of Agricultural Education and the Georgia FFA Foundation free of charge to any teacher in the state who would like to present this trophy at their local FFA banquet to a student planning to teach agriculture.
Touchstone, Allison J.L. (March - April, 1997), "Why Not Become an Agriculture Instructor?", The Agricultural Education Magazine,...
Chip Bridges is the North Region Coordinator in Agricultural Education for the Georgia Department of Education…