Think for a moment about the adults in your life whom you admire and respect the most. For many FFA members, that list includes their agriculture teacher. Because there’s no denying this fact – ag teachers are pretty awesome people.
Did you know they’re also in high demand? A national shortage of ag teachers exists across the United States, which means some school districts are holding off starting or expanding their agricultural programs, while others who are unable to find qualified candidates are having to fill the positions with teachers whose expertise doesn’t lie in agriculture. In fact, 22 agricultural education programs closed in 2012-2013 because the school districts could not find qualified ag teachers. And in 2013-2014, more than 350 ag teacher positions had to be filled with alternatively licensed teachers.
If you’ve ever considered a career in education, there’s no better time than now to become an ag teacher.
“If you want to change lives, be a positive role model in your community, share your passion for agriculture with others and wake up every day excited to go to work, then being an agriculture teacher is the right career for you,” says Ellen Thompson, coordinator of the National Teach Ag Campaign, which was launched by the National Association of Agricultural Educators in 2009. Before working with the National Teach Ag Campaign, Thompson was an ag teacher for eight years in Minnesota. Her father was also an ag teacher for more than 40 years.
“Most of my best friends and the people I admire most are agriculture teachers,” Thompson says. “Ensuring a quality supply of teachers is how I contribute to a profession that gave me so much. I’m committed to doing everything I can to ensure every student has access to a quality agriculture teacher, because without great teachers, there is no ag ed.”
Thompson adds, “Agriculture teachers work with students on a one-on-one basis over the course of several years. This means they get to be a role model in their students’ lives, and their students depend on them as a trusted advisor and mentor.”
The perks of the job are cool, too. Agriculture teachers get to travel, they never have the same kind of day twice, and they’re part of an extended ag ed family of more than 8,000 like-minded people across the country. Most school districts also have attractive benefits, including health insurance, retirement savings, vacation leave and flexible summer schedules.
Leigh Anne Cason, an agriculture teacher at Plant City High School in Florida, enjoys her job for the endless opportunities it gives her.
“Many of my interests involve agriculture, whether it be bottle-feeding a calf or writing press releases about our FFA chapter. As an agriculture teacher, I get to dip my feet into so many things I would never get to do otherwise,” Cason says. “In private industry, jobs are usually specific to one thing, like researching strawberry varieties or producing vegetables, and that’s it. For me, having the ability to do several different things while being part of an industry dear to my heart is amazing. And I get to teach some pretty phenomenal students, which is what it’s all about.”
Wes Crawford, an agricultural science and technology teacher at Sutherlin High School in Oregon, says the best thing about his job is developing potential in students and helping them achieve things they never thought possible.
“Ag teachers truly make a difference in the lives of others, as well as positively influence agriculture as a whole. Every day is different – it’s hard to get stuck in a rut because so many things happen throughout the school year, and the classes are active, rigorous and hands-on,” Crawford says. “Considering it’s a fun job, it’s important, and there is intense demand and tons of jobs available, why wouldn’t you choose to become an ag teacher?”
Cason jokes that the typical day of an ag teacher is comparable to a day in the life of a high school student, “except I make the rules, and there is significantly less drama,” she says. “Plus I don’t have to change classrooms. There are so many rewarding things about my job, but if I had to break it down to one, it would be this: The kid who shows up on the first day of school with a bad attitude because they can’t believe they were put in an ag class becomes the kid on the last day of school who wants to know how many ag classes they can take and what FFA contests they can be part of next year.”
Of course, getting to lead the local FFA chapter is a priceless benefit in itself.
“FFA is truly a family that includes students, parents, grandparents, teachers and alumni, and together they make a chapter work,” Cason says. “I’m fortunate to work and live in a community where I have great co-workers. Agriculture is still important to everyone, and the amount of community support blows me away.”
If you’re interested in teaching agriculture, visit the Teach Ag website (NAAE.org/teachag). The National Teach Ag Campaign is a project of The National Council for Agricultural Education, led by NAAE. It is sponsored by CHS and DuPont Pioneer as a special project of the National FFA Foundation. On the website, you’ll find resources and tools including testimonials and blogs from current teachers, institutions that offer an agricultural education degree, certification requirements by state, downloadable informational guides, games and more.
– Jessica Mozo