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. 

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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


Supervised Agriculture Experience – Is it worth the time and energy?

By: Shay Williams-Hopper, California Department of Education, San Joaquin Region Supervisor

The National Ag Council is currently pushing the “SAE for all” concept. As I pondered “SAE for all,” my original thought was, “I did this.” But, as I sat back and reflected on my career in the classroom, I can honestly say I did not value Supervised Agriculture Experience Projects for all. I valued it for those students who chose livestock projects, or who had ready-made projects at home because of family interests or businesses. Yes, I graded SAE projects as a part of my student’s grades. Yes, I taught about SAE’s and what they could be. Yes, I required every student to write a reflection on their project each year. What I did not do successfully however, was make the connection for my students as to why SAE projects are valuable. 

Supervised Agriculture Experience projects are the ultimate tool for helping students be college and career ready. No other school assignment requires students to invest as much time and energy into financial literacy, global agriculture awareness, career research, and industry connections, all while being encouraged and mentored by teachers, parents, industry professionals, and peers. 

SAE projects need to be promoted from day one in our programs, just like FFA and classroom instruction. The reality is some of our students are not leadership or classroom driven. They are motivated by getting their hands dirty, building connections and learning through hands-on experience. From the beginning, students need to be given the opportunity to experience all that agriculture has to offer. Start by making the time to discuss what options each student has available to them. Survey their resources (transportation, activities, support at home, interests, etc.) and guide them to have a vested interest in an area of agriculture where they can utilize and hone their skills.  

The added bonus to preparing students for college and career readiness through SAE projects is the opportunity to expose our students to financial literacy. We need to be using AET to teach our students how to budget, manage profit and loss, write business agreements and document their progress.  

I encourage you to spend some time exploring options for foundational and immersion SAE projects that can be completed within your school or program. Foundational SAE allows for students to explore their interests while exposing them to the agricultural world and careers surrounding them. They allow students to process what type of immersion SAE they will want to take on in the future, without jumping in blindly. Additional help, lessons, and resources can be found on the National Council for Agricultural Education website here.

These last few months I have had the opportunity to visit programs all over the central valley, and have viewed some amazing SAE implementation for students. Madera South High School has set up a rabbit and cavy barn to house small animal projects for students who otherwise would not be able to show an animal species at the fair. At the Tulare High School Farm, students build and deliver agricultural education curriculum for eight middle school feeder programs in their district. Strathmore High School has created an onsite farmers market where they grow, market and sell items such as sweet corn, pumpkins, and lettuce which are produced on school grounds by students in the program. Students at Madera-Liberty High School create floral arrangements for local service clubs, weddings, and school events, which they then sell. Clovis East High School maintains a fully operational orchard where students assist with production management and then sell the produce at the local farmers market.  Some students have even taken the project a step further by processing school farmed almonds with a candy coating and selling them as a value added product.  

What SAE’s can your students explore with a little guidance from you? The possibilities are endless.  

For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit

California Department of Education Update, January 2020

By: Charles Parker, California Department of Education, State FFA Advisor

Before I delve into my article for the new year, I want to formally welcome JessaLee Goehring as the North Coast Region Supervisor. JessaLee is a product of the FFA, having earned her American FFA Degree as a member of the Lodi FFA Chapter. She completed her credential work at Fresno State and her master’s at Chico State. JessaLee has taught at Patterson HS, Lodi HS and most recently at Galt HS. She received her Teacher of Excellence in 2013 and served as the Central Region President in 2017. Please join me in welcoming JessaLee as the North Coast Region Supervisor.

I would also like to take a moment to thank the North Coast teachers for their support in this transition. Although not ideal, I truly believe that the changes have created a staff that has a unique set of skills and talents that will benefit teachers and students.

2019 was most certainly a year to remember. For many it was a year with personal achievements while others saw their professional goals being met, and for some, it was a year that they will quickly want to forget.

For me, it was most certainly a mix bag. In February 2019, I was honored to be selected to serve as the Program Manager for Agricultural Education. Upon assuming the role, as with any new position, I quickly realized how much I needed to learn. It was fortunate that we had, and still have, friends on the fifth floor. These individuals have made it clear they wish to support Agricultural Education and the FFA. This support has allowed us to move forward with new staff and a new focus on helping teachers and students.

Although there have been many bumps in the road, some that were paved over quickly and others that were much deeper, the team that has been assembled has worked together to meet each new challenge. As we move into 2020, it will undoubtedly be a year with new opportunities for success and continued challenges to stay relevant. 

Some of the goals will include:

  1. Establishment of a committee to finalize changes in the Agricultural Education Incentive Grant which will be implemented in June 2021.
  2. Development of middle grade agriculture curriculum with the work of the Vision 2030 committee.
  3. Work with the FFA Advisory Committee to ensure that our programs and awards are meeting the needs of our diverse population.
  4. Partner with other like organizations in delivering agricultural education K-Adult.

Teachers will be called upon to help in not only addressing the goals listed, but in helping with other important topics that arise. It is through this support that we will be able to continue to stay on the cutting edge of education and provide our students with the skills necessary to be successful.

Be on the lookout for the next opportunity to serve. That may come at State Conference as a delegate committee advisor or as a member of the committee that will be reviewing AET. When that opportunity arises, I look forward to your participation and ideas.

2019 will go down in the history books as an extremely successful year for California FFA and Agricultural Education. But, with a full staff and quality teachers, I am excited for what lies ahead in 2020. 

For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit

Sacramento Scene, January 2020

By: Matt Patton, CATA Executive Director

Call to Action

California FFA will receive $21,000 less this year from the CalAgPlate program than it did last year. Overall, the program is down nearly $40,000 from its highest point in 2017. This year’s reduction in funding will result in less money going towards offsetting student costs for the State FFA Conference and the Sacramento Leadership Experience. These reductions will directly result in increased expenditures for students, which equates to reduced access for some.

Thank you, Nipomo FFA, Minarets FFA, and all the chapters across the state that have given away ten or more specialty agriculture license plates in the last year. A shout out goes out to Sam Meredith for visiting car dealerships in the Merced area to encourage them to put plates on newly purchased vehicles. To all the ag teachers who put CalAgPlates on their personal vehicles, trailers, and motorcycles (Fishman, talking to you), your efforts are greatly appreciated. Special thanks to the California Farm Bureau for putting plates on all their company vehicles.

It took registering 7,500 plates to get this program started. California FFA spent $273,000 to purchase plates to give away and ag teachers made that happen. Without the hard work of the CATA membership, this program would have never materialized. Because of those efforts, FFA students of California have received over $1.2 million to make all programs more affordable and accessible.

Numbers for the program are down and we are in jeopardy of losing it. The reality of the situation is that the only group that is going to solve the problem is the ag teachers of California. No other group or organization has the resources or resolve to give away the required 3,000 plates to continue the program. If every ag teacher in the state of California gave away one plate the problem would be solved. If every FFA chapter in the state of California gave away ten plates the situation would be rectified. This is a plea for the agricultural education community to make things happen once again.

A Jacket for Those in Need

During Giving Tuesday, because of the generous support of donors, California FFA Foundation and Blue Diamond Growers are proud to announce that Giving Tuesday donation efforts raised enough money for 890 FFA jackets, which is the equivalent of $66,750.

There is an opportunity for FFA students in need to be recommended to receive an FFA Jacket free of charge. Identify students from your chapter to receive a jacket. Every chapter is eligible for at least two free jackets. Jacket applications in excess of this will not be funded through the California FFA at this time. Applications in excess of available funds will await funding through the Give the Gift of Blue program.

Jacket redemption will be handled through the National FFA Give Blue program. Working with National FFA allowed us to secure a jacket and a tie or scarf at $75, which included shipping to your FFA Chapter, tax, etc. To redeem your chapter’s jacket, please follow the instructions below. Applications will be processed in batches.

1. Select a student to complete the application, or you can complete the application on their behalf.

2. Whoever completes the application needs to log into their National FFA account. Visit

3. If the student is not already on your national roster, please email Jennifer Stockton at She can assist in getting them added.

4. From there, follow the application directions. It is advised to have the following information ready and accessible when you start the process.

  • You will need to know the member’s state, chapter, and full name to select the student from the chapter roster. In Step 1, fill in the first and last name of the member you are nominating. Then select the state and chapter from the dropdown list. Next, look at the list of members and select  the student from the list using the students first 3 initials of his/her last name and the first initial of their first name. This will be used to verify the student is an official member of this chapter and provide the advisor reviewing the application with all the student’s information.
  • You will need to know what size standard jacket you want to order for your nominee and what style tie or scarf. To see the tie and scarf options please click on the link “Shop FFA” and click on “Official Dress.”
  • You will also need to write a “Nomination Statement” explaining why this member should receive a jacket from the Give the Gift of Blue program. This program was designed to gift jackets to members who will take full advantage of the opportunities offered in FFA. Funding is limited, so make sure your nominee fits this requirement.

Please be sure to complete the application process to redeem jackets for your chapter. Jackets will be shipped directly to your FFA chapter, via the address included on the application.

Thank you again for your role in making this program become a reality. If you have any questions, please email Matt Patton at


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Matt Patton, Executive Director, California Agricultural Teachers’ Assn.,, 209 744-1605

For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit

Get Fired Up

By: Erin Gorter, CATA President, Cal Poly SLO

The word “burnout” brings several definitions to my mind. First, Jeff Spicoli—the quintessential surfer with disregard to authority in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (I just dated myself, but I will get over it). Second, the act of keeping a vehicle stationary while spinning the tires to create friction. Anyone who has ever visited my old Atascadero home has probably left his or her own tire marks in my incredibly steep drive. Next, the reduction of fuel to nothing through combustion. My grandma lives on a ranch in Pozo where it is critical to keep the wood stove lit during the winter. When that thing burns out, it gets cold! Last, burnout has been described as a physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. Although we probably all have experience with each of these definitions, the one most frequently used concerning teaching agriculture is the last. 

We get tired. We put a lot on our plates. We want to be with our families. We want to support our students. We want to spend time with our friends. We want to travel. We want to learn. We cannot do it all. We fail. We have to get up the next morning and do it all over again. And why do we do it again? We like to work. We like to be productive. We want the best for our families. We want to be our best for our students. We want to enrich our friends’ lives. We want to enhance our communities. We want experiences. We crave activity. We understand that it is okay to fail, as long as we get back up again. As Paolo Coelho says in The Alchemist, “The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” Some days, I feel like I am constantly rebounding for the eighth time. I feel like I have ran out of combustible material in my proverbial wood stove; but it is okay and I will explain why. 

Within the past year, I wrote and defended my doctoral dissertation. Through this exhausting process, I learned something: What I sought to describe had no statistically significant findings whatsoever. Some would say it is worthless, but I cannot bring myself to say that because of the hours, curse words, and the tears that went into it. If life has taught me anything lately, it is that unseen benefits are a necessity. So here is my nugget of silver: I found one quotation from one random journal that has pretty much changed the way I think about things concerning teacher burnout. Fernet, Lavigne, Vallerand, and Austin (2014) said, “…in order to burnout, one must first be on fire” (p. 283). 

Congratulations to you for feeling burned out! It means you care—about your students, about your family, about the work you do every day! These words give me hope that if I start to feel like my flame is dwindling; it is okay; because it means I was actually invested in the first place. Can you imagine going through life with no fire to keep lit at all? Can you imagine working with other people with no inner fire? We are lucky. I will quote a line from a song I heard on the way to work this morning: “Sometimes you’ve gotta bleed to know that you’re alive and have a soul.” Thank you 21 Pilots for reminding me that the pain is good. Pain means growth. Pain means I care. 

Recently, I have had the opportunity to teach a graduate seminar class with future agriculture teachers. We have spent time focusing on self-care and keeping our fires lit. We have a comprehensive list of things we can do (mostly stolen from the Internet) to practice self-care, and one of the most powerful ones I have found to use in my own life is practicing gratitude. I do not mean writing thank you notes after an event. I do not mean saying “thank you” to people. I am talking about some regular, talking to myself, reflective, intentional, do-it-when-life-sucks gratitude. If I start to feel like my flame is flickering, I do these two things: 1) I think of three things that have happened in the past 24 hours that I am thankful for; and 2) I think of three things happening in the next 24 hours that I am thankful for. Sometimes, I write those six items down. I am also a huge fan of Microsoft OneNote sticky notes and I keep one on my desktop for my items of gratitude. The point is you need to find something to be a systemic part of your life that helps you take care of you; helps stoke your fire; helps to remind you of why you are here. Not only do we have our own fires to nurture, we have the opportunity to help stoke the fires of others too. I ask: How freaking hard is it to send a text, an email, a snapchat, something, anything and ask someone how they are doing, share a stupid picture, a GIF, a funny video, a meme…something to brighten their day? 

In conclusion, those that know me understand I hate the term “work-life balance.” I have never thought of it as a balance or keeping the two on opposite ends of the fulcrum because my life is my work and my work is my life and I am happy to have both and they often interact. I believe in self-care. After a very brief but deep conversation with a coworker, I believe self-care extends far beyond the act of going to get a pedicure. Self-care is deeper and more intentional. I like to live going Mach 1 with my hair on fire. When I recognize the metaphorical fire extinguisher of life is impeding upon my flame, I pat myself on the back because it means I care enough to recognize I need to help build that fire and I feel sad for those who were never fired up in the first place. It is okay to feel burned out, now go get lit.

For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit