Agricultural education programs face consistent teacher shortages, in Michigan and nationwide
By Sam Loscalzo, Michigan Good Food Charter Graduate Assistant and Liz Gensler, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems
There is a shortage of agricultural education teachers – in Michigan and nationwide – which means that these programs are in danger of shutting down. If your school had offered an agricultural education program like Joe Ankley’s, you might have weighed broiler chickens, mentored elementary school students, worked in a community garden and donated the food you raised to a local food pantry. This is what Ankley’s students do at North Huron School in Kinde, Mich.
Michigan has 110 state-certified agricultural education programs, requiring 126 teachers like Ankley. In June, Michigan had 16 agricultural education positions open for the 2015-16 school year. Without certified agricultural educators, the programs are in danger of termination.
Only six of this year’s openings were filled by certified teachers. The remaining ten were filled through emergency certifications. Emergency certifications are good for one year. They can be granted to a person with relevant agricultural industry work experience when no certified formally trained teachers are available. This means that next year these ten programs will again be in danger of shutting down.
Agricultural education is the “front line” for equipping students with an ability to build a sustainable future according to Carson Letot, an agricultural education student teacher in Lowell, Michigan and recent graduate of Michigan State University’s Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources Education (AFNRE) program. “Our world depends on stewardship towards the environment, an awareness for how the natural world functions, and the ability for our society to be provisioned for survival,” said Letot. “Agricultural education allows me to be on the front line for teaching the next generation these concepts.”
In 2014, a nationwide shortage of 411 certified agricultural education teachers led to 96 positions that remained unfilled, according to a report by the National Association of Agricultural Educators. Between 2001 and 2009, the national deficit has ranged from 300 to 440 certified agricultural education teachers.
Given this shortage, job prospects are strong for students who complete a degree in AFNRE. Michigan State University’s AFNRE program is the sole producer of certified agricultural educators within the state. This year, five AFNRE graduates are completing their student teaching internships, after which they will be certified to teach agricultural education.
Samantha Ludlam, a freshman AFNRE major, sees the timeliness of this opportunity. “Educators are needed right now and will continue to be needed as more people want to know where their food is coming from and as more AFNRE curriculums are offered throughout the nation.”
A career in agricultural education offers a path for students with a calling to be a teacher and interest in agriculture. Casie Forbush, an MSU student completing her AFNRE student teaching internship at Durand High School, is passionate about helping young adults grow within and outside of the classroom through agricultural education programs and the FFA, formerly Future Farmers of America. “To see kids do things they didn’t think they could do or realize that there is more to them than they thought is very powerful to watch and to be a part of, and the FFA has a huge role in that.”
“One of the things that makes a community vibrant and resilient is the school. Agricultural education programs tend to be community-based programs and a very integral part of the fabric of the community,” said Matt Raven, professor of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources Education at MSU.
On National Teach Ag Day on September 24, Mike Everett, an AFNRE academic advisor and instructor at MSU, invited current MSU AFNRE students to celebrate their career path and to share their inspirations for becoming agricultural educators. One of the students, Daniel Brown of Springport, said, “Before high school I was never involved in agriculture. My advisors, they pushed me to love agriculture and to love helping people. So I wanted to take after them to help and impact people the way they have impacted me.”
High school students interested in becoming AFNRE teachers can try their hand at creating and leading an AFNRE lesson plan through two Michigan events: Challenge 24 and the newly created AFNRE Career Development Event. Challenge 24 participants will receive a $2000 scholarship if they attend MSU and major in AFNRE. The first place AFNRE Career Development Event winner will receive a $2500 scholarship if they attend MSU and major in AFNRE.
Teach Ag logo courtesy http://www.naae.org/teachag/brandingcenter.cfm.