Nationwide more than 100 ag programs remain without a certified educator
Emily Rudder is, as the FFA opening ceremonies go, here by the owl. The hometown girl returned to Limon, Colo., and has traded her blue corduroy jacket for the role of adviser.
After serving the state as a member of the State Officer Team, Rudder was selected to represent Colorado in the Teachers Turn the Key professional development scholarship program through the National Association of Agricultural Educators. The program aims to reward agricultural educators in their first four years in the classroom through professional development, a strong group of cohorts, and the tools necessary to retain outstanding agriculture teachers.
The classroom at Limon High School is where Rudder took her first agriculture class, a class she wasn’t convinced she wanted to take but, after transferring to Limon as a freshman, it was a class her father insisted she take.
“From the first day I walked into my ag classroom, I knew it was the right fit for me even if I didn’t want to go into a career in ag,” she said. “I really liked the content and the atmosphere around it.”
Once Rudder memorized the FFA Creed, a rite of passage for freshman greenhand members, she was hooked. She went on to serve in various leadership roles in her chapter and district, eventually earning a coveted position on the state’s Executive Committee. Her time on the state officer team cemented her desire to enter the field of agriculture education as she traveled across the state over 300 days in 2011 and forged relationships with many of the state’s active agriculture educators. After a year at Colorado State University, Rudder completed the challenging process of interviewing for a position on the National Officer team in 2013. While she didn’t earn a position, she knew her future would be in the agriculture classroom. After graduating from CSU, student teaching at Pueblo County High School under the supervision of Troy Mayfield, she spent a year teaching in Rocky Ford before returning to the program in Limon.
AG AND TEACHING
The state officer team on which Rudder served was comprised of five young men, all of whom are currently involved in agriculture or service, and five young women, all of whom have led an agricultural education program. In addition to Rudder, Shannon Baylie is currently teaching agriculture at Windsor High School, Brittney Hudson is currently teaching agriculture at Bennett High School, Lyndee (Charles) Lum teaches agriculture at Thompson Valley. All of the schools are in Colorado. The fifth young woman from the 2011 State Officer Team, Shelby Cochran, taught agriculture at Fleming High School in Fleming, Colo., and then elected to serve Teach for America and is currently in Mississippi as an elementary educator. The entire team, Rudder said, gets together with their families at least once per year and she and her fellow agriculture teachers visit frequently and have supported one another through the challenges of teaching agriculture.
The young men who served alongside Rudder include Clay Miller, an agricultural banker; Kurt Lieberknecht and Patrick Halde who both work in agronomy; Kyle Hartshorn who is serving in the United States Army, and Weston Dedrickson, who is pursuing an education career.
CSU has initiated the Tagged to Teach Ag program to help identify FFA students interested in pursuing a career in agricultural education. The program provides mentorship and opportunities to learn more about the career and the agriculture educator preparation program at CSU. Students nominated by their ag teachers to participate attend a luncheon at the Colorado State FFA Convention to network with other agriculture teachers and students.
The push to retain agriculture educators is nationwide as more than 100 programs remain without a certified agriculture educator.
“Most ag teachers stop teaching in the first three to four years,” Rudder said. “If people can get through year five, a lot of data and research shows that they’ll stay teaching for longer periods of time.”
To better retain current agriculture educators, Colorado FFA has created a position for John Stahley, a recently retired teacher who spent much of his successful career at Platte Valley High School in Kersey, Colo. As the Local Teacher Support person, Stahley visited every first-, second-, and third-year agriculture teacher in the state. His visits, Rudder said, often included administrators, counselors and chapter advisory committees to help reach common goals and ensure that the community, school and students all benefit from the FFA program.
Community members hoping to retain agriculture teachers and protect agriculture education programs can play a role, Rudder said. By attending events and supporting the program and students, community members can demonstrate to administration the value they place upon the program and the agriculture educator.
Choosing a career in agriculture education, Rudder said, has allowed her to be impactful, to be her authentic self, and to influence students who need it most.
“As someone who searched and searched for my place, I have never felt more at home or at ease than being an ag teacher,” she said.
— Spencer Gabel is a freelance writer from Wiggins, Colo., where she and her family raise cattle and show goats. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Rachel Spencer Media.