Pay them and they will come. Continue paying them and they will stay. That is Roger Carr’s solution for solving the ag teacher shortage crisis that currently exists in Indiana. Carr is the vo-ag instructor and FFA advisor at Clinton Central High School near Michigantown.
“Pay them what they’re worth, and they will come and stay,” Carr emphasizes. And when he says "pay what they are worth," he means it!
“If someone asks me how to get a good ag teacher and keep them, my answer is offer them $100,000 per year,” Carr says. “I’m making a point, but I’m also serious. If you want quality people to go into teaching agriculture and stay in it, then schools are going to have to pay them what they are worth.”
COMPETITIVE SALARY: Roger Carr says if schools want to recruit and keep quality agriculture teachers, they need to pay the teachers more money.
Carr, former president of the Indiana Association of Agricultural Educators, is not known for being bashful. He has bold ideas, and isn’t afraid to express them.
Purdue University’s ag education program in the College of Agriculture turned out about a dozen graduates this spring who were qualified to teach agriculture. Not all have chosen to teach, however. Meanwhile, by the time the 2015-16 school year ended, more than 20 schools were still looking for ag teachers for the 2016-17 school year. Not all of those positions have been filled.
One problem is attracting students into ag education. Programs like "Tag a Teacher" implemented by Indiana FFA may help, but it’s a slow process. Current teachers select and "tag" a student they currently teach who they believe would be a good candidate to be an ag teacher. Both walk across the stage and are recognized at the Indiana FFA Convention.
The Indiana State Department of Agriculture helped fund a program the past two school years that provided more immediate support. Two former veteran teachers were designated as mentors for both new and young ag teachers in their first few years of teaching.
Purdue ag ed spokespersons say the number of students in the upcoming senior class who will student teach this school year is higher, and enrollment in following years is also higher, than for 2016. However, there is no guarantee how many of these students will decide to teach after they graduate.
“Why would someone take a job for $35,000 per year when they could go to industry right out of school and command a much higher salary?” Carr asks. “That is what is happening, and one reason we can’t get students to go into ag teaching, or keep them once they are there.”
Whether schools could actually pay higher salaries for ag teachers if they wanted to, let alone a figure like Carr suggests, is up for debate. Some are tied by contracts and other constraints.
In the meantime, Carr believes teachers who are in the classroom need to emphasize all three aspects of ag education to demonstrate the value of the program to administrators and the community.
“FFA and the supervised ag experience program need to be big parts of an ag education program,” he says. “It is supposed to be a triangle. When you couple the three together, you get a quality program that serves kids well.”