Carlee Dittemore at Oak Hill High School is a first-year agriculture teacher. When she has questions or issues, she calls Brittany Bridges at Jay County High School.
Brittany is assigned to be her mentor through a new program in its first year. It's funded by a special grant from the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.
Ted McKinney, director of ISDA, hopes the grant helps turn the tables on a higher than acceptable loss rate of young ag teachers in the one- to three-year category. Many believe it is contributing to the overall ag teacher shortage which is at or very near crisis level.
Bridges is the assigned mentor, but since Jay County has a large vo-ag and FFA program and four teachers, Carlee can also get advice and help from Melissa Wolter, Seth Swallow and Cody Linville.
Melissa, in her ninth year teaching at Jay County, attended Jay County High School as a student and was in FFA, but didn't participate in contests. She went to Wilmington College in Ohio for ag education training, as did Swallow. So she realizes that each state does things a bit different. But during her first years teaching at Jay County in Indiana, there was no one to guide her through these differences and possible loopholes.
'There was really no one I could turn to like the new teachers participating in the voluntary mentor program can this year," she notes. "I would have loved to have had a mentor when I first started to help clue me in on the best way to approach various situations as a new ag teacher.
"You can't be expected to know everything about everything that ag teachers and FFA advisers try to teach and deal with during the year. You have to have some help. This new program seems like a good way to help young teachers who have the same kind of questions I had when I started teaching," she said.