By Katie Eisenberger
In 2019, MSU graduated six agriscience educators to fill open teaching positions statewide. Next year they’re on track to produce another handful. We’re seeing a shift back to the good ol’ days when ag teachers were available and programs could develop and grow instead of treading water in a state of constant turnover.
As seasoned advisors retire, up-and-coming ag teachers face pressure to fill big shoes. Motivated 20-somethings will step into positions and communities with its own traditions and expectations, and an established culture uniquely specific to the area.
One community’s agriscience program quickly went through several new advisors after the retirement of a 20-year veteran. Another program sees turnover every five to six years for no apparent reason. Teachers take better-paying positions in neighboring districts, launch new careers outside teaching, or pursue advanced (or additional) degrees to further their education.
Financial issues aside (even expert farmers like you can’t grow money trees!), there are two other big reasons ag teachers leave positions: high program expectations and the lack of personal support.
Farm Bureau members can play an active role in influencing those factors, smoothing over potential obstacles that could bump a promising new ag teacher off track.
Program Expectations: A Day in the Life
Follow any FFA program closely and you’ll wonder how do they do it all: 25 students feeding 150 broilers, leading discussions on business ethics, practicing for discussion meets during lunch, coordinating with other chapters traveling to Indianapolis for the national conference, printing price sheets for the fruit and nut sale, checking the chickens again after school, getting more sawdust at the farm store, planning tomorrow’s ecology lab, then heading to the alumni meeting.
Thankfully the alumni meet at a diner so they can grab dinner while they help their student rep with the chapter update. Then there’s the inevitable “meeting after the meeting”—another 30-45 minutes with alumni discussing possible donors for the Community Christmas charity event.
First-year teachers might even then return to the classroom to finalize lesson plans or catch up on parent emails.
Personal Support: Life Balance
New ag teachers have likely just moved into a school district where they don’t really know anyone. And being single with few responsibilities outside teaching, they’re often at the school until 10 p.m. or later.
Or maybe they have a young family—two little ones with their own evening activities and family functions to attend. Maybe they’re raising club calves on the side because often teachers need another gig on the side to make ends meet.
Maybe he or she is a newlywed, renting a place near the school because their young spouse is still tied to their own job back in their previous town...
Even if the earliest years of your own adulthood are distant memories, trust that their challenges and struggles haven’t changed much. And in some ways, starting a new adult life in the 21st century is harder than ever.
Submit your responses to [email protected] or mail to MFB Community Group Discussion, ATTN: Michelle Joseph, 7373 W. Saginaw Hwy., Lansing, MI 48909.
Katie Eisenberger grew up on a centennial dairy farm in Isabella County, where she loved 4-H, FFA and making hay forts in the barn. Prior to her role as MFB’s High School & Collegiate Specialist, she worked as an MSU Extension 4-H agent, Farm Bureau Insurance agent and agriscience educator. She and her husband Jesse raise feeder calves, rabbits, pheasants and their three human kiddos near Shepherd.