Higher education programs striving to recruit, train prospective agriculture education teachers
North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota universities and teaching programs encourage prospective and practicing teachers in a variety of ways.
As the number of middle and high school agricultural education programs across the northern Plains grow and expand, so do efforts by post-secondary institutions to recruit and train students who will teach in them.
North Dakota State University in Fargo, for example, is working toward both short- and long-term solutions to increase the number of ag education teachers. The university has worked with NDSU Extension for several years to do outreach with high schools to recruit agricultural education students. The personal contact with NDSU educators at events, such as the North Dakota State FFA Convention held annually in June, allows students to ask questions about their prospective career, said Adam Marx, NDSU associate professor and program evaluation specialist.
NDSU also hosts an annual agricultural education day in which it invites from 30 to 40 prospective students at the campus for a tour and conversation with agricultural education students.
Meanwhile, NDSU has a collaborative agriculture education program with Dickinson (North Dakota) State University, Marx said. He has two DSU students in his agricultural education class this semester attending via Zoom.
The University of Minnesota encourages high school students who have any level of interest in agriculture to explore agricultural education as a career, Nathan Purrington, agricultural education lead at University of Minnesota Crookston.
“We have students that just have a 4-H background who come into the program and whose great- or their grandparents have a hobby farm, and they thought it was cool to work with animals,” Purrington said.
In Minnesota, the University of Minnesota, University of Minnesota Crookston and Southwest State University in Marshall work collaboratively to recruit prospective agricultural education students.
Purrington is a member of the State Teach Ag Results or STAR committee whose work is to develop strategies to recruit and retain agricultural education teachers. Recruiting strategies include agricultural education leadership development events for FFA members, internship opportunities for agricultural education students and a signing day for agricultural education students. The signing day, similar to a university athlete signing day, celebrates the student’s decision to commit to the program, Purrington said.
The three agricultural education teaching universities also co-host events, such as the “Change Lives, Teach Ag” conference held March 10, 2023, in Staples, Minnesota. Each university had representatives at the conference who talked about their respective programs, he said.
South Dakota State University in Brookings participates in Educators Rising , a national program that works to recruit students for career and technical fields, beginning in high school and then retain them if they choose to pursue a career in the discipline, said Laura Hasselquist, South Dakota State University School of Education assistant professor.
The university recently hosted an Educators Rising learning event, attended by about 100 high school students, that gave them information on teaching disciplines, including science, mathematics and agriculture. One of the students, who was from an urban high school, told her that she hadn’t known before the event that agriculture education was a career choice and asked her for more information about SDSU's program, Hasselquist said.
Another way NDSU is striving to fill the agriculture education teacher shortage is by providing a pathway for educators who have a bachelor’s degree in an agricultural field, such as animal science to earn a master’s of education in teaching methods. About a half dozen teachers have taken advantage of that option in the past few years, Marx said.
Lakes Country Service Co-op in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, is offering an alternative teaching preparation program under a state statute that allows alternative pathways towards Minnesota teacher licensure for programs, including the Career and Technical Education program, that are outside of traditional means of pursuing a degree.
Eighty-five people have enrolled in the alternative teacher preparation program since July 2022, said Troy Haugen, LCSC career and college readiness director. Students in the program move forward in it at their own pace.
“We’re not bound by an academic year,” Haugen said.
Haugen is administering a $150,000 alternative teacher preparation grant from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education to develop career and technical education licensure programs for existing teachers to obtain CTE licensures or endorsements.
Teaching career and technical courses allows educators to use their professional skills in a hands-on method, Haugen said, noting that math teachers can incorporate that knowledge into teaching courses, such as carpentry, that use it in a practical way.
Once students have graduated from agriculture education programs at universities and teaching programs in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, the institutions and state agriculture education organizations work to retain them.
“There’s a demand for agriculture education teachers outside of agriculture,” Purrington said. The skills that agricultural education teachers possess besides their knowledge of the industry, include communication and leadership skills that make them attractive to businesses.
The businesses, in turn, might appear attractive to the educators because they may be paid more and have a less demanding schedule.
“The grass is greener on the other side of the fence so the retention part is huge,” Purrington said.
The North Dakota Association of Agricultural Educators, made up of secondary and post-secondary teachers, provides professional development and support to agriculture education teachers in the state, said Nikki Fideldy-Doll, North Dakota agricultural education supervisor and state FFA advisor.
Meanwhile, North Dakota Career and Technical Center Education visits each of the state’s new agriculture education teachers twice during the school year, she said. The visitors to the school make a connection with the teacher and the school, and through that, the teachers are more likely to ask questions when they have them.
The University of Minnesota hosts two-day conferences focusing on leadership and classroom development and has half-day professional development events for its agricultural education graduates who are teachers, said Lavyne Rada, University of Minnesota Teacher Induction Program for agricultural educators advisor and Minnesota FFA program manager and regional supervisor.
Whatever students’ backgrounds are, SDSU strives to give students a diverse experience while they are studying agriculture education, sending them to schools of all sizes so they have an opportunity to see how different schools conduct agriculture education classes and organizations such as FFA, Hasselquist said. That way students are less likely to get "culture shock," by choosing to teach at a school in a community that is unlike the one in which they grew up.
Retaining agricultural education teachers is important for students, in general, not just those who are going to pursue a career in education or even in agriculture, Rada believes. Besides the practical agricultural skills, students learn about teamwork, how to effectively communicate and problem solving, she said.