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Picture looks brighter for filling ag teacher positions

Mark Russell speaking to group
MORE STUDENTS: Mark Russell tells Indiana FFA leaders and former ag teachers that Purdue University is making progress in turning out more teachers to fill teaching slots.
Mark Russell says Purdue is approaching the breakeven point on new teachers vs. new positions.

Two years ago the ag teacher shortage in Indiana had approached a crisis level. Many schools in need of teachers resorted to hiring nonlicensed people from the ag industry who didn’t have teacher training to fill positions to keep their programs going. Schools wanting to start new programs also scrambled to find teachers.

Mark Russell, head of the Department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education at Purdue University, says that while the situation hasn’t been totally reversed, significant progress has been made.

“We should be at or near the point in 2018 where we will break even in terms of new teachers coming out of school and positions that need filled, without resorting to nonlicensed professionals to fill slots,” Russell says. 

That’s partly because the number of students in the ag education program at Purdue has increased dramatically, he says. There are currently 115 students enrolled in ag education, he adds. In 2017, 29 new ag teachers graduated. At the same time, three new ag programs were started in the state, and eight existing programs added second teachers.

Part of the challenge is that not all students who graduate in ag ed teach, Russell notes. In 2017, 70% took teaching jobs, while 20% went into ag business and 10% attended graduate school.

Another challenge is retaining young teachers once they enter the teaching world, he says. Mentor programs have helped, but there is still turnover. Purdue reports the average starting salary for ag ed graduates at $44,000 per year. He believes that salary coupled with a passion for teaching should help fill teaching gaps.

For his part, Russell announced that Purdue intends to hire a new professor to teach ag ed students starting in the fall of 2018. He also has taken other actions to modernize the program to give graduates a better handle on what they will encounter in the real world of teaching. 

Check out the infographic below for an overview of what’s been happening in ag education at Purdue.

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