During my new position as the Teach Ag Campaign Coordinator, I have had the wonderful opportunity to speak to a wide variety of groups, organizations, and teachers about the awesome profession of agricultural education. Many times the audience consisted of first-year agriculture teachers or those in agricultural education undergraduate programs. A common theme I presented was that it takes a village to raise an agriculture teacher. 1 know that my colleagues share this same belief and I personally experienced this theme during the eight glorious years of teaching agriculture in Minnesota. I lived through the days of despair and also experienced the rewards of this incredible profession. Never has there been a time more critical than now for the village to unite and support the retention of early career teachers.
Agriculture teachers are faced with increasing pressure from administration, parents, and themselves to do better with less money and less time. Agriculture teachers are being asked to teach courses that offer science, economics, math, and/or art credit while maintaining the flexibility and structure that allows a diverse population of students to succeed. Who is better positioned than agriculture teachers to face this challenge with chutzpah and vision?
We all know the latest push for greater inclusion of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in our curriculum. We also know that agricultural education has been implementing STEM into practical and real-life applications since the Smith-Hughes Act was established. This is an example of agriculture teachers getting things done and getting things done right. Unfortunately, agriculture teachers sometimes become burned out in this process and leave the profession because of the do-it-all mentality. However, because of the do-it-right mentality, agricultural education has developed a plethora of resources and programs to support new and veteran agriculture teachers. Agricultural education is on the forefront of creating programs to ensure that good teachers are not lost because of burnout, isolation, or lack of support. So, just what is agricultural education doing right in this battle against attrition and burn out? A LOT! State and national initiatives have been developed to improve job satisfaction and maintain program quality.
Professional Development and Communities of Practice
Agriculture teachers have to wear a lot of hats such as teaching numerous content areas, managing the many aspects of the FFA chapter, and assisting students in having a supervised agricultural experience. To accomplish these objectives, it is imperative that professional development be provided to agriculture teachers. State associations and the National Association of Agricultural Educators (NAAE) do an excellent job of providing workshops and seminars at state and national conferences. Other professional development options range from NAAE sponsored webinars taught by agriculture teachers to content specific training. Because agriculture teachers are often on an island in their program, professional development fosters collegiality and unity within the profession. There is probably no greater professional development than simply sharing ideas so in October 2008, NAAE launched an aggressive new networking program called Communities of Practice (CoP). The impact of CoP on agricultural education has been immeasurable. CoP allows agriculture teachers to communicate with each other without the barrier of distance or time. Agriculture teachers can post questions, documents, discussions, or simply share thoughts through a blog. With over 1200 registered members and countless other users who visit the site daily, CoP has become an effective way for agriculture teachers to do what they do best, help each other. If you have not yet been to the CoP website, I encourage you to stop reading this article now and check out this free resource at http://www.naae. org/communities. …