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Indiana's ag teacher mentor program keeps young teachers in the loop

Indiana's ag teacher mentor program keeps young teachers in the loop
New ISDA-backed program offers a lifeline to young teachers in small ag departments

It's your first teaching job as an ag instructor. Suddenly you learn that in your teaching methods class in school when the instructor had your classmates act up on purpose to see how you would handle it, they didn't come close to simulating how some teenagers can react in real classrooms every day. Where do you get tips for helping on discipline?

Related: Where was the ag teacher mentoring program when I started teaching?

And where do you get help on curriculum? There is no one book to pick up and teach the techniques and knowledge base of modern agriculture.

Mentor the new teacher: Charity Keffaber, right, co-coordinator of a mentoring program, visits Kara Hendrickson, a new ag teacher at Hagerstown High School. There is truth to the rumor that this setting was chosen for the picture because the display board features Indiana Prairie Farmer articles!

What about FFA contests? Even if you were in FFA, many have changed. Who can you ask to help you get a handle on how you should prepare students to learn through various FFA activities?

There's a lifeline out there now for young teachers who are suddenly all alone in a one-teacher department, or even for those in a two-teacher department. It's a mentoring program in its first year. It was started with a one-year grant from the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, notes Ted McKinney, ISDA director. The goal was to help improve the retention rate for young teachers. Frustrated and without answers, feeling alone, some are soon tempted by more lucrative positions in industry or in other areas.

Charity Keffaber and Beth Theobald, both veteran ag teachers not currently teaching in a classroom setting, head up the program. "We line up young teachers with veteran mentors who can relate to them," Keffaber says.

Related: Those who can teach agriculture, should teach agriculture!

This year they have 29 mentors helping 29 young teachers. In many cases the new teacher visits the mentor's classroom for a day, and the mentor visits the new teacher's classroom. Most schools are supportive of providing substitute teachers so this kind of training can occur.

Keffaber and Theobald also visit classrooms themselves. Keffaber's goal is that there will be funding to continue the program because she feels it is making a difference for many young teachers.

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