Over the last several years the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has graduated enough agricultural educators to maintain the number of programs, with the caveat that 10 percent of our state’s agricultural educators hold provisional certifications and are currently working toward full certification.
However, there are 14 open positions in Nebraska and an additional three which have been filled for the 2012-13 school year (as of April 11). UNL will only graduate 10 certified students this spring, some of whom will not teach or who will teach in another state. Based on this, we are actively seeking qualified candidates out-of-state.
Q: Where do most NE agricultural educators come from?
A: Nearly all of our graduates come from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln since it is the only college in NE that offers a degree in agricultural education. Typical annual graduates range between 8-14 students per academic year. We have a few teachers who received their degree from neighboring states.
Q: What have you been doing related to agriculture teacher recruitment and retention, and for how long?
A: We started a Teach Ag luncheon during our State FFA Convention in 2011 where current ag teachers can invite a student who might be interested in the profession. Our Nebraska Agricultural Educators Association (NAEA) presidents have been encouraging others to participate in Teach Ag Day in their own programs.
The NAEA has had a booth at the career fair during State FFA Convention the past few years. Last year, career fair attendees had to play “Are You Smarter Than Your Ag Teacher” before they received the answer for the fair-wide scavenger hunt. This year, we used “Cash Bus” and participants were given an opportunity to write a thank-you note to their ag teacher before receiving the scavenger hunt answer. Nearly every student who had an opportunity was eager to write or sign a thank-you note.
As for retention, each district does a pretty good job keeping an eye on their fellow teachers and doing what they can to help them along. We also have a great summer conference where there is quite a bit of camaraderie and networking.
The UNL Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication also recruits students into the teacher education program throughout the year.
Q: What specific components of the National Teach Ag Campaign have you been able to take and use or adapt for your purposes?
A: We have benefited from the Teach Ag grant, which has helped fund our Teach Ag luncheon the last two years. The powerpoint games that are available online have been used.
Q: Has the outlook for the supply of agriculture teachers in NE changed any since you started your efforts?
A: Since NAEA’s efforts and the national Teach Ag Campaign have begun, we have not seen a significant increase of students enrolling in Agricultural Education. However, Nebraska’s efforts are only two years old and much of our statewide campaign has been focused on high school sophomores and juniors.
The UNL Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication prepares students for a variety of careers, including Agricultural Education, Skilled and Technical Science Education (STS - Industrial Technology), Extension, agricultural journalism and Agricultural Education with a Leadership (non-teaching) Option. While the breadth of the department has widened beyond school-based Agricultural Education, student interest has grown over the last 10 years. The addition of the STS program has added a new clientele of students to the department, some of which have chosen to receive endorsements in both Ag Ed and STS.
Q: What are your future goals/plans?
A: Since the first two annual Teach Ag luncheons have been well-attended and well-received by the ag teachers and their students, I think we will continue to offer this luncheon during state convention. Having the booth at the career fair is a great way to interact with many different students. We will plan on doing that each year, making the interaction even stronger and make the message stick even more.
To foster even more camaraderie and networking between current ag teachers, we are hoping to put a photo directory of Nebraska Ag Ed Instructors on a protected section of the association website.
Summer professional conference will open with an additional family activity this summer. A bonfire, rural tourism-type supper, country music, and farm Olympics (competitive sawhorse building) are planned.
It Worked For Me:
Teach Ag in Disguise
Jon Lechtenberg, ag teacher at Southern Valley High School in Oxford, Neb. Celebrated National Teach Ag Day by using a disguise & smart questions to get his class thinking about the career of agricultural education. Here’s his story:
“The idea started because thought it would be cool to have a guest speaker, maybe a retired teacher or possibly doing the ag teacher swap with another school. The problem was that Teach Ag Day came up faster than I was prepared so I didn't have time to arrange for an outside speaker.
That morning I grabbed a costume; nothing crazy, just things the students don't usually see me wear, like a college jacket, my glasses, and a hat. I instructed our school secretary to use the intercom to my room to say "Mr. Lechtenberg, your guest is here." To which I would say "Thank you, tell him I will meet him in the hallway."
I would leave the room and stop in the closet and quickly change my clothes. When I returned to the room I would introduce myself as "Henry Adams" and explain that I was there to talk to them about teaching agriculture and that their real ag teacher had to do a favor for the school principal. Most, but surprisingly not all, students caught on right away and knew it was me. But I did not break character.
After the students realized that I was not going to admit my true identity they began asking some pretty good questions. I answered the questions with my authentic answers. With about 10 minutes left of the class I would say I needed to leave and then I would quickly change in the hall and return as my true self. I would ask where the speaker went and be shocked he would leave without saying goodbye. I apologized to the kids for missing him and asked them questions about what he talked about.
The students had mixed reactions, most very positive. Some started out thinking it was pretty childish and maybe even stupid, but even they seemed to get something out of it. There are some of my students who still aren't sure if it was truly me or not.
I kind of thought that it would get a little watered down throughout the day, but it seemed like the classes kind of kept the secret and each class period my secretary would buzz and we would do it all over again. To this day students still laugh about it every time we actually do have a guest speaker.”