Beyond New Professionals

By: Jackie Jones, California Department of Education, Southern Region Supervisor

When I was in my 6th year of teaching, I participated in a particularly memorable Vision 2030 breakout session at our CATA Summer Conference. Everyone was divided into groups based on the number of years they have been teaching. I was in the 6 to 10-year group and in the same room were the 1 to 5-year teachers. The facilitators split the group in half; one side 1 to 5 and the other 6 to 10. Looking around the 6 to 10 year tables I saw that many of them were empty or were half full. Finding a group of people to sit with was not hard, but it made you wonder where everyone else was at. 

As I sat down with a group of friends, I quickly glanced over to the other side of the room and noticed that they were not having the same issue as us. On their side of the room, it was the complete opposite.  All their tables were full. A handful of them had to come to our side of the room to grab extra chairs so people could sit and join in on the activity. Not only did they have more people, but they already were given more tables than our group. I then glanced around the nearly half-empty tables on the 6 to 10-year side of the room. We had less tables and we clearly had less people. 

I then started asking questions to my friends on where people went. Did they just not show up to the workshop? Did they not come to the conference? Or did they leave the profession? We started naming people that graduated with us in our credential programs and slowly started to realize that a majority of them left the profession. They either left to work for industry, moved out of state, got married, had kids, took administration positions, started teaching other non-ag related courses or were burned out altogether. I quickly started to think about how much we focused our attention on retaining new teachers, that we somehow overlooked our veteran teachers.

Where Our Focus Has Been

A couple years before, we were urging teachers to start recruiting their own students to become ag teachers, since we saw low teaching numbers from 1 to 3 years. Looking across the room that day, you could obviously see that the campaign worked. We also had a big push for professional development being offered not just to first year teachers, but teachers within the first three years within the profession and created the “New Professionals Conference” (again to help the 1 to 3-year retention rate). But what happens after the “honeymoon years” – after you have already figured out what kind of teacher you are, what strategies work, perfected your lessons and no longer have the feeling of being the “new kid” – then what? What about the teachers who fall within the 6 to 10-year spectrum and beyond? What are we doing to make sure those numbers are being retained and not declining?  

Currently, according to our CalAgEd data, over 45% of our agriculture teachers are within the 0 to 5 year bracket, 19% are in the 6 to 10-year bracket, 11% are in the 11 to 15-year and 16 to 20-year bracket, and 7% are in the 21 to 25-year and 26 years and over bracket. 

Years Taught0-56-1011-1516-2021-2526+

45%19%11%11%7%7%

Our data shows that between years 0-5 and 6-10 there is a large decline in ag teachers. Are we providing enough professional development opportunities for teachers so they don’t find themselves becoming stagnate, overworked and stale? Let’s be honest, I’m sure you can think of at least one person who fits in that category and I can honestly say, I don’t blame them. This profession asks a lot out of you: Your time, your energy, and can wear you down physically and emotionally if you are not careful. So what are we doing about it? How are we making sure that the teachers we have now are going to be around for the long run? 

Professional Development Opportunities

At our summer retreat, state staff discussed this very issue. We reviewed what we offer to teachers to assist in their professional development and detected areas where we need to provide more support, both professionally and personally. We realized we need to go deeper within professional development (including all teaching groups) and provide conferences and workshops to support wellness. Sandy Dale has been a huge help with coordinating our professional development conferences and since she joined our team, we have found ways to offer more opportunities for teachers. 

Advanced Leadership Experience focuses on the leadership opportunities that exist at the local, district, region, state, and national level. The goal of this conference is to prepare and give insight to ag educators who are interested in future roles within ag education. This conference doesn’t just talk about the different opportunities, but also focuses on self-awareness, leadership skill development and working collaboratively. 

Supervising Teacher Institute focuses on preparing and developing cooperative teachers who may or would like to work with student teachers. Sessions at this conference prepare educators on how to assist and navigate student teachers during their credential process.

Personalized Professional Development is new this year. We know that it is hard to attend professional development conferences (location or limit on participants), so we have developed a personalized plan.  Think of this as an individual learning plan for the agriculture teacher. This caters to all levels of teaching and allows you to visit model programs, observe another teacher, collaborate on curriculum, get assistance in a specific skill or even getting help with AET. The program is completely flexible and assists in funding for transportation or a sub-day. This is not just for people who need professional development in a certain area, but for others who would like to mentor and offer their knowledge/skills to other teachers.

Delta Conference has been offered a handful of times throughout the past decade. The conference focuses on direct teaching instruction as well as best teaching practices, the development and structure of lesson planning and delivery. This conference also focuses on goals, providing different teaching techniques and collaborating with other agriculture teachers. 

CATA Women in Agriculture Workshop was offered for the first time at our CATA Summer Conference.  The conference discussed best practices for planning, self-care and how to manage teaching and personal responsibilities. Resources were provided from motivational books, effective organization techniques, self-care, family focus and how to decompress.

NAAE XLR8 is a year-long experience that focuses on teachers who are within their 7th – 15th year of teaching. This program assists in leadership development for mentoring, increased longevity in the profession and provides a variety of leadership experiences. Multiple sessions are held during NAAE convention followed by virtual learning experiences, online collaboration, and other social media tools.  If you are interested, go here for more information. 

Future of Professional Development

Professional Development has always been a process to help expand our professional skills, keep us up to date on the latest trends trends, assist in developing teaching techniques and focus on our goals as a professional. We have seen the benefits of professional development and the need to create new ways to provide it, so everyone has the opportunity to participate. 

In order to provide the proper support for teachers, we need to come up with new and unique ways for professional development and start thinking “outside the box.” Maybe we start offering mini-workshops at sectional meetings. Maybe we start providing virtual professional development conferences that work at the teacher’s pace. Maybe we start a collection of videos that showcase best practices for teaching and for personal development. If you have any new and unique ideas on how we can further assist in providing support to help teachers thrive, grow and stay within the profession through professional development, please do not hesitate to contact your regional supervisor. Together, we can continue to make our profession grow and continue to assist in retaining the teachers that we have. 

For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit http://calagteachers.org/

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