OSU supports Oregon’s ag students by supporting their teachers

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FFA members chat with an OSU College of Agricultural Sciences student at the Oregon State Fair.

The United States has looming shortage of farmers. The average age of a farmer is 58 and rising, while the number of farmers younger than 45 has dropped.

Meanwhile, a parallel gap is developing within agriculture education. In 2015, 248 high school ag instructors retired and some 42 agriculture programs across the nation folded, according to the National Association of Agriculture Educators.

Agriculture needs more high school students who will pursue college degrees and become farming’s next generation. And for that, these students need qualified and committed high school teachers.

Knowing that ag teachers are most at risk of abandoning the profession during their first five years, OSU Agricultural Education colleagues Misty Lambert and Jonathan Velez conducted research with Oregon’s 115 agriculture teachers, one-third of whom were in their early career. They found that many of these new teachers felt overwhelmed or underprepared.

Lambert and Velez worked with the Oregon Agriculture Teachers Association to overhaul the professional-development part of ag educators’ training. Among the upgrades: a two-day Early Career Teacher Workshop offering topics such as “Curriculum and resource ideas for metals and woodshop” and “What you need to know about FFA” (Future Farmers of America, now known as the National FFA Organization). They also launched a mentorship program that pairs new teachers with seasoned ones, giving the newcomers both moral support and tips about running a classroom.

The program is only four years old, but is already be making a difference. In July 2016, 17 of 19 ag-teacher vacancies in Oregon have been filled — 13 with OSU grads.

Sources: Misty Lambert and Jonathan Velez, OSU College of Agricultural Sciences

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