Where have all the ag teachers gone?

There is a lack of vocational agriculture teachers throughout Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Northwest Iowa’s Akron-Westfield Community District serves as an example.

Instructor Randy Kroksh, with more than 11 years with the school district, helping students achieve numerous awards in agriculture and FFA competitions, made his decision to step down from the classroom to return to full-time farming.

The district began searching for a replacement. A candidate was offered a contract in May 2013, but was unable to secure his teaching certification before the school year started.

Kroksh agreed to return another year as school officials initiated a new search.

This effort was successful last month, with Jayln Havill, of New Liberty, graduating this spring from Northwest Missouri State University, who will assume the post, according to Derick Briggs, A-W’s high school principal.

Voc-ag instructor searches are also underway in other northwest Iowa districts – Algona; Emmetsburg, Spencer and Carroll.

Dave Else, director of Iowa Regional Education Applicant Placement Program, in Cedar Falls, said “a definite number” of schools are looking for voc-ag teachers.

Wade Miller, professor and interim chair of Agricultural Education and Studies at Iowa State University, confirms an apparent instructor shortage in Iowa.

“We see between 20 to 25 openings for agriculture teachers in Iowa each year,” Miller said, “In many cases, only a handful of applicants (are available) while the demand for teachers is constant across the state.”

Miller said while approximately 20 of these program graduates are licensed to teach, some do not seek teaching positions, but accept employment in other ag fields, or continue in post-graduate programs.

Miller said there are several reasons for the shortage, but the biggest, for him, is that many ISU agriculture and life sciences students with teacher certifications, lag in contrast to those in near-by states.

The present over-all number of 84 undergraduate students in the teaching program represent a decrease of 17 students from 2012, which was the third consecutive large graduating class.

Current enrollment, while good, he said, has not been sufficient to offset the 2010 through 2012 graduating classes.

Another factor contributing to an instructor shortage, Miller said, is students starting off in the program are sided-lined from completing their teacher certification due to increasing requirements and costs.

Other “attractive career alternatives,” Miller said, also draws students away.

“There is a good demand for bachelor of science graduates in agriculture and industry,” he said. “Industry often pays more and offers better benefit programs for beginning employees in comparison to those for a beginning teacher.

“Still, other students may be place-bound, meaning that they accept a different job if it means that they can live in a geographic area they have selected.

“This is often related to families and other personal considerations.”

Yet another part of the shortage picture, Miller said, is that a number of ag instructors are leaving for other opportunities in agriculture or farming.

Miller, himself a former vocational agriculture instructor in Texas, said while he was a high school sophomore, an ag teacher encouraged him to consider teaching.

He’s using that approach to enlist the help of instructors in recruiting new students for ISU’s teaching program.

Two additional efforts, he said, are underway to attract more students into ISU’s ag teaching program. These include student scholarships, and a seminar sponsored by the Iowa Association for Agricultural Education and ISU at the annual Iowa FFA Leadership Conference in Ames.

Other states

Matt Kreifel, state director of agriculture education and for the University of Nebraska’s Agriculture Leadership Agriculture Program, said he was “very concerned” about the agriculture teacher shortage in the Cornhusker state with approximately 10 positions currently unfilled.

Kreifel said he looks forward to getting recruiting assistance as a result of Nebraska being selected as a pilot state for the National Council on Education’s “Teach Ag” program.

Citing a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study showing the need for 54,000 college degree-qualified agriculture instructors nationwide, Kreifel said, roughly half are entering other agriculture fields.

Ironically, he said, the greatest competitor for agriculture instructors is related ag industries.

The scenario is the same in South Dakota.

South Dakota State University’s Dr. Scott Smalley, assistant professor of agriculture education, said, “A major reason we’re seeing the shortage here is due to these teachers accepting positions within our agricultural industries.”

A 100 percent placement rate for students, he said, shows graduates are finding the program a rewarding one, and they are sharing with prospective students.