If you are involved in an agriculture organization, whether it's FFA or 4-H, you’ve heard about one of the biggest challenges we are facing; the agriculture teacher shortage. Programs are closing, chapters are shrinking, and students aren’t getting involved in the most important industry to mankind. With a growing industry in such high demand, our industry needs more students to choose a path in agriculture. How can we do that if we don’t have enough teachers to encourage them and teach them about the industry? Let's go back to the beginning where it all started, the Smith-Hughes act.
1917. The year the Smith-Hughes act was passed. The purpose of the Smith-Hughes act was to promote vocational agriculture to train people who wanted to go into an agriculture-related field. The act also provided federal funds for this purpose. Back in the early 1900’s agriculture was a big deal almost everyone grew up on a farm. So farming took precedence over education, mainly because most people would just end up back on the family farm. So to get more students an education they developed agriculture courses for males to attend. So the guys went to ag classes to learn to farm and girls went to home ec to learn how to cook and do other household items. Until 1969 that is. When girls could join FFA. Now more than 70% of leadership roles in the organization are filled by girls.
Jump forward to the present; to Ag classes today. Every Ag classroom across America is filled with bright minds that will eventually be the next CEO of a company, a politician focused on agriculture, a scientist that works on ways to prevent diseases for crops, or maybe even an Ag teacher. But who will inspire them, who will activate a passion, who will get them involved, who will guide them? The answer, Ag teachers. The sad part is not every student that has a passion for Ag, has the opportunity to learn from an Ag teacher. In 2015, 42 programs closed due to no Ag teacher or lack of funding. If each program had 10 students that would be 420 students who would not be able to learn about the industry that they love. That was 2015 alone, there has been many schools who have not had a program for years, some may have never had one. When you think of how many students go without having their full potential reached, it is heartbreaking.
In the year 2015, there were 1,028 open positions in agriculture education. And the number keeps growing. Many Ag teachers who have taught for years are going into retirement leaving their position unfilled. Nationwide 248 Ag teachers went into retirement, 619 left teaching altogether, 207 teachers are not licensed to teach agriculture. Those are just a few statistics on the matter.
But why would there be so many positions open? Wouldn’t so many people love to teach students about agriculture and continue their journey in FFA, but as an advisor? This is the mindset of a lot of students who go into agriculture education. “A lot of former FFA members go into it thinking it will be fun and a continuation of their FFA career, then realize there's more to it than that and they don't stay for long; which creates a huge turnover. Teaching Ag is a high paced and stressful job and that is what turns a lot of people away from it. In order for a program to be successful a lot of work has to be done, it takes a great time commitment and little monetary compensation and most people aren't willing to do that.Your heart really has to be in it, and the rewards that come from it are more enjoyable than any monetary compensation, just knowing you've made a difference for a least one kid.”- A very wise Ag teacher
The previous paragraph wasn’t to scare you, it was to inform that Ag Ed isn’t just about FFA there is a lot that goes on. Ag teachers never have the same day twice, each day they are faced with new challenges and obstacles. If you are willing to devote your life to developing students for the real world, not just the agriculture industry, then Ag Ed might be for you. If you are willing to spend 99.9% of your time on your job working on papers and applications and tests, then Ag Ed might be for you. If you are willing to not make a lot of money, but instead help make a difference in a student's life then Ag Ed might be for you. If you are willing to work for hours and hours and not get any praise, then Ag Ed might be for you. If you are dedicated to education and hold a passion for agriculture, then Ag Ed might be for you.
If you are considering going into agriculture education there are 99 colleges across America that offer Ag Ed. But first, do the research, talk to past and present Ag teachers, see if it’s really for you. We need strong and devoted young adults to hold a passion for teaching agriculture so we can help shrink the Ag teacher shortage and eventually have enough teachers to fill all the positions needed.
To learn more Agriculture Teacher Shortage and the Teach Ag campaign, please go to the National Association of Agricultural Educators website, http://www.naae.org/teachag/index.cfm.