When Carlee Dittemore at Oak Hill High School has a question she can't answer, she can call one of a bevy of teachers at Jay County High School for advice. Sometimes it is to ask for curriculum help. Sometimes it might be to ask about how to address a particular situation that arises that day.
Dittemore is in her first year as vo-ag teacher and FFA adviser at Oak Hill High School in Grant County. It's a one-teacher department, and she's trying to push for improvements, including adding a beginning ag class and a class for eighth graders to the curriculum. It's not unusual that she would have questions about where to find the curriculum, and how to approach her administration. Some things can't be taught in the ivy-covered walls of a college campus.
"I've also been able to go observe other teaches, particularly a teacher at Lebanon High School whom I respect and who has experience," Dittimore says. "That has helped. We didn't get to do much of that while at Purdue University in the ag education program there."
Dittemore is part of a first-year program made possible by a grant from the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. Funding helped hire two coordinators, Beth Theobald, long-time teacher at Delphi, now retired, and Charity Keffaber, a veteran ag teacher who is currently primarily a stay-at-home mom.
Both are coordinating finding a mentor, a veteran teacher, for each of the collective 29 new teachers participating in the program.
Ag education leaders recognize the retention rate for teachers during the first three years is not as high as they would like. It's one reason why there is a current shortage of quality ag instructors to fill a booming demand for ag teachers in Indiana.
"These students do student teaching and have ties to college, then they go out to teach, and if it's a one-teacher department especially, they're on their own, with no one to bounce ideas off," Theobald says. "Part of the idea is to connect them with teachers who are veterans and who know how tough it is to settle in during that first one to three years."
The program is funded for one year. So far positive results would indicate a need to continue the program.