Look Where You're Going, Not Where You've Been

Article excerpt

Budget cutbacks, furloughs, layoffs. In the educational world, these are some of the most frightening words and phrases teachers, parents, and students will hear. In this "last hired, first fired" economic time, the agricultural education profession is placed in an even more precarious position when considering recruitment and retention of highly qualified, motivated, student-centered new professionals.

Nationally, the profession began experiencing a shortfall of teachers in the early 1990s. Some states avoided the tragedy of programs closing or filled with long-term substitutes until much later, but now, it seems no state has a bullpen of backup teachers scrambling to take up the challenge should someone fall short, retire, or open a new program. Rather, the pendulum is now swinging in the direction of programs desiring the best teachers scrambling to advertise positions early to get those few "top tier" teachers who will make programs grow and prosper.

No offense intended, but the agricultural education profession, as is seemingly true across the career and technical education spectrum, is... ahem... shall we say... an aging profession. Approximately one-third of the current agricultural educators will retire in the next five to ten years. For states that already leave positions open or close them indefinitely, this leaves an even greater gap for those few graduates who choose to enter the teaching profession.

Curriculum changes across the nation reflect the awareness of agricultural education to shift from an elective-based delivery context to one that meets the growing list of high school graduation and college entrance requirements in science, mathematics, language arts, social studies, and others. The trend began in the early 1990s and has gained even more momentum today as states gather resources to rewrite curriculum aligning with state content standards in the STEM areas. Going more deeply are those states who cultivate the fine arts concepts in welding and floral design.

Agricultural educators at all levels have long been aware that what we teach gets to the root of what students need in terms of actively learning and anchoring concepts related to math and science, but through a concrete, experiential mode of delivery. As a result, we have more students in our secondary programs than ever before.

So why are we facing such a gap in teachers entering, and remaining in, the profession?

The teaching profession does not have an "entry level" mode. Once they graduate and receive certification, teachers are handed the keys to the classroom and are expected to teach; and coach teams; and manage budgets; and advise student organizations; and drive buses; and oversee Supervised Agricultural Experiences; and attend faculty and site-based committee meetings; and communicate effectively with parents; and report suspected instances of child abuse; and ensure students eat breakfast; and; and; and .....

Now, teachers must also take content from required core classes for the undergraduate degree and incorporate it into lesson plans and learning activities connecting the agricultural curriculum to student learning outcomes. Students who meet academic requirements through agricultural classes are expected to know and pass the same standardized examinations as students who take a traditional set of courses.

All of this can be intimidating and overwhelming to even the most seasoned teachers. Imagine standing in the shoes of a new teacher. But wait. . . imagine standing in the shoes of anew teacher.

One may be reminded of the adage: They don't know what they don't know. A new teacher's frame of reference is comprised of only that which is modeled for them. What if they learned from the start what is expected of them in today's agricultural education climate?

While change is never something undertaken with ease, it is certainly a manageable process if structured with assistance from key stakeholders. …