Add two more worthy names to the list of Indiana ag teachers retiring this year. Ben Helms and Eldon Cutter are retiring after long but very different careers. And while more retirements mean more teaching positions to fill, Purdue University’s ag education program leaders confirm that changes are underway to bolster the teacher training program in the future.
Here is a look at the two retiring teachers:
Ben Helms spent his career in southern Indiana.
Teaching for roughly four decades, Ben Helms split that time between two schools, both in southern Indiana. He started teaching at L&M High School and moved to Bloomfield High School soon afterward. Helms completed his career as an ag teacher and FFA advisor at Bloomfield.
“I’ve enjoyed it, and we’ve worked with a lot of good people,” he says. “Many of them took time to attend my final FFA banquet and a celebration program this summer, and that means a lot to me.”
Eldon Cutter served agriculture in many ways.
Eldon Cutter wound up his career teaching at South Ripley High School this past year. He guided the FFA quiz bowl team to first place in the state competition this summer.
Cutter taught for several years at Blue River Valley in Henry County, working alongside the late Jan Wooten and guiding a very active FFA chapter. He also spent a stint teaching at Scottsburg High School.
In between, he took time out from teaching and was a county Extension educator, at one time working in Ohio County. His entire career has been devoted to helping others learn in one form or another.
These two teachers join several other veterans who retired this year. They’re leaving big shoes to fill with very few young teachers currently available to fill spots. A teacher shortage exists.
However, Mark Russell, head of the Department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education in the Purdue University College of Agriculture, is charged with helping bolster the Purdue ag ed teacher training program so it can soon turn out more young teachers to fill those gaps.
Earlier this year, Russell announced he would ask Purdue Agriculture Dean Jay Akridge for funds to add another instructor, filling a void left by switching a former instructor to a different assignment. “We’re still waiting to find out whether we can hire someone now or not,” he says. However, he’s not standing still.
“We have funds to hire a Ph.D. student who could work on a Ph.D. and help us teach, and we’re advertising that position now,” Russell says. “We’re ideally looking for a young person with teaching experience who wants to pursue a Ph.D.”
Eventually, the goal within three years is to add two full-time instructors at the college level, he says. Russell adds that student enrollment numbers in current grades within the program are encouraging.