Writing an article about sustaining the lifeblood of our profession seems easy at first. There are so many directions one could go and questions to be answered - what are teacher education programs doing to maintain the supply? How do we keep current and future agricultural education teachers motivated? How do we educate the public about our profession? To answer the difficult questions on this issue, we as teachers should reflect on our past, look at our present condition, and conceptualize what needs to happen in the future.
R. W. Emerson once said "Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." Our predecessors have blazed a trail that has kept us on top of the career and technical education world for decades. We still reap the benefit of many years of dedication and sacrifice from the pioneers of agricultural education. Introspectively, we look at ourselves as a teacher and often see a person emulating our own agriculture teacher at many levels.
As we look at the past, we see the good and the bad. However, we can't be too quick to try to live in the "glory days" - they are gone. The skills needed to navigate the perils and rewards of the modern classroom are not the same as they were 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. We are inducting a new type of teacher into the classroom, and in many instances, we don't do a very good job of welcoming them to the "family." Most of us expect the new teachers to be like we were. Imagine how many teachers we would have if we only accepted those who grew up on a farm or ranch or had worked in agriculture their entire lives! In order to maintain the supply of agricultural education teachers needed, our profession must embrace the reality that we are becoming and will continue to become increasingly diverse in many ways.
When we look at what we are doing in the present to maintain our supply of teachers, are we encouraging our students to become agriculture teachers? Are we presenting the profession in a positive light with our ethics and our time commitments? The Millennial Generation is a true phenomenon, and we should be cognizant that they see through some of the smoke and mirrors we may put up at times. They want to be at home with their family and have some time to take care of some things outside of the school just like many of us do. Are we showing them how to balance family and career and be successful at both? How many ag teachers do we know now who are not burned out when or before they retire? Why do we wear 60-70 hour work weeks as a badge of honor? As long as we continue to model these behaviors, we will struggle to retain quality teachers. Our work is important. Agriculture education is not a job we clock in and clock out, but we need to continue to work to shift the paradigm into working smarter and not necessarily harder. The "how" part is something we must give a great deal of thought.
Looking to the future, what are our individual roles in maintaining the supply of agricultural education teachers? Teacher education programs at the university level must continue to provide the foundation for success. …