“The shortage of qualified agriculture teachers is the greatest challenge facing FFA and agricultural education.”
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, teacher shortages were an issue. However, it wasn’t until the pandemic and the subsequent shutdowns, that the problem was exacerbated. Teachers are leaving the profession by the droves, and extracurricular activities, including those that are part of the FFA organization, are feeling the emptiness of these positions. These empty positions will alter how the organization operates — or, in some cases, lead chapters to shut down altogether.
According to the Learning Policy Institute, “Largely stagnant salaries over the past decade and a 19 percent weekly wage gap between teachers and other college-educated professionals, combined with a culture of teacher blame and punitive test-based evaluation, have taken a toll.”
Because of these issues, teachers are finding themselves in a dilemma of following their passion for teaching or finding a quiet job that will pay the bills.
More specifically, many challenges emerge for those passionate about agricultural education. The 2019 National Agricultural Education Supply & Demand Study found that student enrollment, funding, and obtaining licensed teachers are among the major obstacles. However, there are even additional challenges for agriculture teacher preparation programs, like changing licensure requirements, fiscal implications of the teaching profession, and the lack of a diverse pool of teacher candidates.
This is a nationwide crisis for filling empty agricultural education positions across school districts. The 2019 National Agricultural Education Supply & Demand Study once again found that a total of 605 school-based agricultural educators who taught in the 2018-19 school year would not be returning to the classroom in 2019-20 — this was the year before the emergence of COVID and the ensuing pandemic was on anyone’s mind. The shortages were for a variety of reasons, including retirement, moving, choosing a different career path, and continuing education.
The current teacher shortage is just as astonishing. For example, in Missouri for the up coming school year, there are 65 openings, including 14 retirees, eight changing schools, 30 leaving teaching altogether, 10 expansions, two new programs, and two positions not being filled.
Everything is bigger and better in Texas, right? As far as teacher shortages are concerned — bigger, yes, but not better. On the Agriculture Teachers Association of Texas website, there are over 120 open ag teaching positions across the state.
These numbers are just a brief overview of what is going on across the nation. And it is not just the agriculture departments that are feeling the weight of the crisis.
Figuring out a solution
Illinois — where they are still looking to fill 27 current openings in agriculture education — has noticed the shortage in agricultural teachers and looked for a solution. It has become apparent that young professionals are not going back to the classroom to be educators.
To help their current shortage dilemma, the Illinois Agricultural Education Teacher Grant Program was established to help support and retain new teachers in the classroom. These grants allow agricultural education teachers who remain in the classroom extra supplemental income over the course of five years.
In addition to setting up programs that support teachers financially, there are other helpful activities for this crisis. It is important to highlight the work being done to increase overall interest in agricultural education at the collegiate level. Colleges and universities can support students considering a teaching degree with an emphasis in agricultural education.
New teachers are important to reduce the retirement population of teachers, but it is just as critical to support those teachers who are only in the middle of their careers. By supporting current teachers, districts could reduce the need for new teachers.
But perhaps the biggest step everyone could take in helping this crisis is to evaluate our actions. A little respect and appreciation goes a long way! Even through the shortages, there are ways to tell teachers they are appreciated. For example, National Teacher Appreciation Week is a week-long celebration of educators across the country and is celebrated the first full week of May. Students are encouraged to show their appreciation in any way possible — everything from a card to handmade craft.
The National Association of Agricultural Educators gave away 100 NAAE National Teacher Appreciation Week Honorarium Packages to show their appreciation during this special week.
The teacher shortage crisis is affecting so many subjects — from agriculture to math, students will feel the repercussion for years to come. Teaching is a rewarding career, but one that comes with many challenges. However, there are ways to show our teachers how much they mean to us and the great work they are doing.
Without agriculture teachers and advisors, FFA would not be the same.