The Elevator Talk in Anaheim, California

By: Travis Wyrick, Visalia VTEC

Los Angeles traffic, crowds, everything is expensive. State Conference has been held in Anaheim, again. An hour or more away from anything we would call production agriculture. Absent orchards, fields, steers, crops, poultry, and more. I would bet many agriculture teachers feel the desire to get in and get out of the city as quickly as possible. Yet I want to come back.

It was illustrated to me the Saturday night of State Conference  that Anaheim gives my students pride. That evening, one freshman student came to me excited and elated. We were at dinner, and she had gone inside for more food at the buffet when someone asked her, “What is the FFA? What is the blue jacket and official dress all about?” A freshman, all of nine months in our program began to explain. Some call it the elevator talk, sound byte, “the convo” or simply the talk. Whatever your term is, we know all about that 1-2 minute talk with the public.

I found myself having that conversation at California Adventure and at the Convention Center multiple times. People wanted to know more about the FFA, those that had never met FFA members before and others that wanted to recount their past adventures in the blue jacket. Students in my car all had similar experiences, either as an individual or as a group. They were asked what we were in Anaheim for? What was the conference was all about? What they were involved in within the FFA? The best part was our members could answer their questions and more.

After her elevator talk, that young freshman came back excited and proud of the conversation she had. She related it all to me and the older students at the table while we smiled. The older students and I reminisced about the first time we had been asked the very same questions. She was welcomed into a fraternity of members all connected by one similar experience that we all share. Bless the person that talked to my student, they complimented that freshman on her poise and ability to communicate. When they finished, that person asked, “what year in college?” my freshman student was. That question sent her excitedly back to me and inspired this article.

These stories didn’t end, and the pride our students felt in themselves grew. This is what Anaheim brings to the California FFA. We are no longer preaching to a choir; no longer agriculture ambassadors in an agricultural county. Away from all that makes us and our students comfortable, we are now in the middle of it. Surrounded by a public that has little connection to agriculture and the FFA; where one conversation can impact a person and change an opinion. It’s true we are also among those whose minds can never be changed, but it is in Anaheim that our students gain confidence in themselves and their knowledge not often seen in other environments. Yes, the elevator talk is why I want to go back again.

I wish we had a pin that said, “Ask me about FFA!” “Ask me about Agriculture!” That conversation, if only for a minute, has a long-lasting impact on both our students and those that ask the questions. So long until next year, when the city is overrun with white vans and white trucks again.

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

Mission Statement, Vision Statement and Goals for Agricultural Education

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

In June at the CATA Summer Conference, I was ecstatic as I announced a full staff to those in attendance. I knew at that time, teachers would, and should, have higher expectations. With Jackie, Shay and Dane joining Jill, Greg, Hugh and me, we began to think about the future. What would agricultural education look like in twenty years? 

With that premise in mind, the staff was able to spend four days together in early September where we had the opportunity to think outside the box, look at what could be and develop new goals.

I am honored to share with you some of the first work that came out of the retreat. We hope that you will join us in sharing the Mission Statement, Vision Statement and Goals for Agricultural Education.

Mission Statement

Agricultural Education prepares students for successful careers and a lifetime of informed choices in the global agriculture, food, fiber and natural resource systems.

Vision Statement

Agricultural Education envisions a world where ALL people value and understand the vital role of agriculture, food, fiber and natural resource systems in advancing personal and global well-being.


To create an environment where every student is valued, respected and engaged in the three-ring model of agricultural education.

  1. To provide students with rigorous and relevant education in agriculture in order that they may become career and college ready.
  2. To cultivate students’ capacity for life-long leadership through character development and skill attainment in integrity, critical thinking and innovative problem solving.
  3. Provide experiences for students to develop an understanding of and respect for the agriculture industry.
  4. To enhance student learning through financial literacy and resource management.
  5. To develop relationships with other organizations that are engaged in aligned work.
  6. To connect with stakeholders and the public through multiple media platforms.

The retreat was an important first step in our development as a team. Listening to creative ideas and new approaches invigorated me. I know that this team enjoys spending time together and challenging each other. They have enormous ideas and the energy to ensure a bright future.

As I said on stage back in June, all I need to do is stay out of their way and marvel at what they accomplish.

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

Maintenance or Incentive

By: Hugh Mooney, Superior Region Supervisor

I began my first teaching job on July 1, 1984. I had a twenty percent summer contract (that is what we called extended contracts then). My annual salary was $25,012. I submitted an Agriculture Incentive Grant Contract in the amount of $8,300 which the district fully matched. At Big Valley High School, we had a seven-period day. The cost to the district to provide me with a Project Period was $3,475. The district was given the incentive of $2,000 in funding for providing me that period of release time. The same was true about the summer contract. In 1984, the Ag Incentive Grant provided an incentive to districts to meet program standards that the AIG was based on.

When we compare that level of incentive to today it is very different. In 2019, it would not be uncommon that a project period would cost a district $20,000 when you include salary, benefits and salary driven costs. Since we have less funding than is requested, we fund grants at a lower level. The incentive provided by the grant to a district that provides a project supervision period this year is $1,534. In many schools, the Ag Incentive Grant has become program maintenance rather than an incentive to cause program improvement.

Our current effort is to identify a more objective means to provide incentives to districts that develop quality agriculture education programs. Hundreds of teachers have offered ideas and shared concerns as we attempt to find a better method to allocate funding to improve programs. The ideas are varied and I share concerns with some of them that were offered. Some worry that if we identify benchmarks measured by AET that some programs will create records to meet the level of participation that may be less than an accurate measure of student SAE, CDE or LDE participation.

By the time you read this article we will have completed a State Staff Retreat. One purpose of the retreat is to identify a path forward. What objective measurements do we have access to? What incentives can be provided? Is it possible to have additional resources available? We do not expect to find all the answers during our retreat. We do hope to identify a path forward to involve the profession to develop true incentives for program improvement.

This will not be an easy process. The answer will be a challenge to find. If we make our decisions based on what will best serve our students we will identify what will be a true incentive grant.

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

Sacramento Scene

By: Matt Patton, CATA Executive Director

Governor Newsom had an almost 75% Democratic Legislature and billions of surplus funds in the budget for his first year in office. With that, he worked on expanding public preschool, adding an additional year of free community college to full time students, as well as adding to the rainy day fund.  

The legislative session ended on September 13 in a wild and crazy finish that finally concluded at 3 a.m. The long night was due in part to a protestor throwing blood onto the Senate Floor during session — the antics in the Capitol never ceases to amaze. 

When the dust settled, a pile of bills sit on the Governor’s desk waiting for a signature or veto. The following is a list of bills that are pertinent to education that are being tracked by CATA.

Later start of school day (SB 328) Senator Portantino 

SB 328 would mandate that middle schools could not begin the school day before 8 a.m. and high schools could not begin earlier than 8:30 a.m. There is an exclusion in the bill for rural schools. 

School facilities bond (AB 48) Assemblyman O’Donnell 

If signed, AB 48 would put a $15 billion bond for new construction and renovation on the ballot for 2020 and 2022. The funds could be used for preschool, K-12 and higher education. Some of these funds are eligible to be used for CTE infrastructure. 

Maternity leave for teachers (AB 500) Assemblywoman Gonzales

AB 500 would require school districts and community colleges to provide six weeks of paid maternity leave for teachers and classified employees. 

Charter School Regulation (AB 1505) Assemblyman O’Donnell 

AB 1505 makes various changes to the processes of charter school authorization, appeals, and renewal. Important to CATA is that if signed by the Governor, newly hired charter school teachers must have a certificate of clearance and the required credential for their teaching assignment.

January Budget

The entire legislative process begins again with specific attention moving to the drafting of the January Budget. CATA’s budget priorities will be the inclusion and expansion of the Ag Incentive Grant, Career Technical Incentive Grant, and K-12 Strong Work Force funding. 

Formation of the New California State CTE Plan 

California is currently drafting a new Perkins usage plan in addition to a new State Plan for Career Technical Education (CTE). This process is being monitored to insure that crucial items like industry involvement, Career Technical Student Organizations, and proper credentialing of teachers is included in the criteria used to distribute funds for CTE. There will be a time for public comment on the plan in November and a call to action will go to the CATA membership to reinforce our priorities during that time. All public comments have to be addressed in writing to the committee writing the plan. This comment period will insure that our priorities are addressed. 

CATA Update

The Golden Slate is going digital and will be delivered right to your email inbox on a monthly basis, just like this issue. This will be an evolving process and we welcome feedback on the new format. 

Fall is upon us and sectional meetings are wrapping up and regional meetings have begun and will continue through November. I look forward to meeting and talking with each of you at regional meetings as we discuss the business of our organization. The best part of my job is talking to Ag teachers, so please feel free to call with questions or just for an update. 

FFA Association 

The California Association FFA lawsuit with the City of Fresno and SMG entertainment has finally been settled. The lawsuit that began six years ago and was the catalyst for the relocation of the California State FFA Leadership Conference has finally concluded. The insurance company that represented California FFA at the time of the accident has written a check for $337,000 to the city and SMG in exchange for being dismissed from further litigation. 

Elimination of the CalAgPlate Program 

The CalAgPlate program is in danger of being eliminated. Currently the number of plates on the road has dropped below the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) required threshold. We have approximately one calendar year to get 3,000 more plates registered or the program will be discontinued. To date, CAFFA has allocated $273,523 to the CalAgPlate Program and as a result has received $1,238,607 in proceeds. These funds are used annually to fund portions of the California FFA News, State FFA Leadership Convention, and all of the FFA leadership conferences across the state.  

In the beginning, the vast majority of the 7,500 plates needed to start the program were given away by the Ag teachers and FFA chapters. We are going to have to have to do it again. Each chapter is being asked to give away 10 plates to insure the continued funding of the program. Click the following link to print out a form, fill in the highlighted blanks and mail the form to P.O. Box 186, Galt, California 95632. The first 3,000 forms received will get a free CalAgPlate. 


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

A Quest for Understanding: Striving for Success, Work-Life Balance, and Belonging as an Agriculture Teacher

By: Dr. Haley Traini, Oregon State University

As a high school agriculture teacher, I wanted to be the best at everything. The best teacher, coach, SAE supervisor, you name it. And I believe I accomplished this. After five years in the classroom, I coached state winning teams and public speakers, developed new courses, won grants and built successful programs in my chapter. It was both rewarding and fun work. I had wonderful colleagues, laughed every day and went home feeling like I made a difference in the lives of my students. 

But was I living a healthy, balanced lifestyle? Definitely not. In fact, aside from work, I had little to show for the time I spent in my community. When my then boyfriend and I decided to put our American careers on hold and go teach agriculture in Ghana, I had little to show for the time I spent in my community. There were no friends to say goodbye to because there was no time for friends. There were no gym memberships to cancel or clubs to say goodbye to, because there was no time for exercise or      extracurricular activities. There was no church community to say goodbye to, because there was no time for church. There was no time for any of these things because, in my mind, those things would take away from the work I had to do. Afternoons were spent coaching practices, completing paperwork, or weighing pigs. Weekends were spent lesson planning, practicing next week’s lab, or preparing for the upcoming FFA activities. There was so much to do. So much I had to get done and I didn’t foresee this changing anytime soon. 

So why do all of it? Why work 70+ hour weeks just to become depressed, lonely, and exhausted? Well, after much reflection, I realized it’s because I wanted to be good. I wanted to achieve, make a difference in my school, and be recognized as “successful.”      But where did this come from? Why did I think that to be “successful” I had to do ALL of these things? Was this a factor of personality? Where I was in my career? My upbringing as an Ag teacher’s daughter? Or was it something else? While I believe all of these factors contributed to my behavior and feelings, I believe the “something else” is more systemic, more cultural. And it was with these ideas that sparked my research as a doctoral student at Oregon State University (OSU).

To help make sense of my own experience, I dove into existing research that explores the work of agriculture teachers as soon as I began my studies at OSU. You won’t be surprised to hear that study after study found agriculture teachers encounter many challenges as they engage in their work (e.g., long hours, demanding expectations, excessive paperwork) and that they struggle to balance their work and non-work lives (often described as work-life balance). These same factors are the reasons why agriculture teachers leave the profession before retirement. 

Yet, I was disappointed to find that the recommendations to address the problem of overwork (long hours, burnout, low job satisfaction, job stress, etc.) were all pointed at the individual teacher. In other words, there is this underlying assumption that it is the teacher’s fault he/she can’t manage the job. Researchers often recommend professional development be implemented to fix the teacher and make him/her better at their job. And, while we can always improve and become more effective at our job, I found myself frustrated with this narrative. Is it really the teacher’s fault? Do they really just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and keep chugging along? After going through the literature and discovering this, I decided to take a new approach with my research, one that doesn’t solely focus on the teacher as an isolated individual, but rather looks at the teacher as someone who operates within a system, a culture and a community. 

Here is what I found.

My first study was with agriculture teachers in Oregon who were in their first five years of teaching. This study investigated the ways in which the notion of      success is reified in school-based agricultural education and how agriculture teachers interact with reified forms of success, particularly when the concept of work-life balance is factored in. Reification is a theoretical concept I employed from a theory called Communities of Practice that acknowledges practices, concepts, symbols, language and      artifacts, becoming congealed into “thingness” when meaning is given to them (e.g., the American flag has become reified to mean freedom and patriotism).      

To answer my research questions, I asked participants to respond to eight questions on a large whiteboard through an interactive silent discussion. Examples of questions included: What does work-life balance look like? What is preventing you from achieving balance? How do you personally define a successful Ag. Teacher? How does our profession define success? Does balance factor into our notion of success? After 15 minutes of this, we had a series of discussions about what they wrote and what it means. I analyzed the responses they recorded on the whiteboard along with the small and whole-group discussions that took place after. The results were astonishing. Are you ready? 

Participants in this study struggle with the notion of success and work-life balance as the two concepts are not compatible with each other. They noted that one can be either a successful agriculture teacher (which they defined as winning awards, blue banners, grant dollars and high student membership) or a balanced agriculture teacher (which they defined as mentally and physically healthy), but you can’t be both. Participants identified that they struggle with this as they want to be both a good and balanced agriculture teacher. Unfortunately this is difficult as they couldn’t identify an agriculture teacher who  exemplifies this. Put in the perspective of the theoretical lens I employed to explain these results, we (agriculture teachers) do what we must to be considered good or competent in our profession to feel like we belong because when we feel like we belong, our life and work has meaning and purpose. We can’t simply let these reifications of success go. We can’t simply say, I will forsake winning, growing my program and increasing FFA membership to have more work-life balance because if we do, then we won’t be seen as good, successful, or competent by our peers in our profession. And feeling like we belong is important, it gives our life meaning.* 

I was floored by the results from this study because 1) I felt like I was finally able to tease out and put a name to my experiences as an agriculture teacher and 2) I realized that this may be something that is felt by other agriculture teachers, that perhaps I was getting at the underlying root to the agriculture teacher attrition problem.

Fortunately, I had another opportunity to dive deeper into this phenomenon for my dissertation. For this study, I decided to use the same theory to explore how agriculture teachers reconcile the competing demands of the profession. I wanted to understand how they go about managing the different expectations they have, hats they wear, and the roles they play. To do this, I engaged in one-hour interviews with 12 teachers across the country. I asked them about their work, who they are accountable to, and how they reconcile the different expectations and accountability partners of the job. While I don’t have space here to flesh out all of my results, I will share a few. The first is the theme I called Arms Race. Essentially, when participants were talking about their work, they described an unspoken yet ever-present feeling of judgement, comparison and competition that exists among agriculture teachers to be the best or most successful. To them, success depends on different accountability partners, but is often associated with awards, visibility, status and power in profession. Participants in my study are keenly aware of what other programs and agriculture teachers are doing and feel the need to do the same or more work to be considered a good agriculture teacher. One participant captured this by saying, “there are some Ag teachers that put a lot of pressure on other Ag teachers, there’s this kind of unspoken judgment, that if you don’t go to every SAE or CDE in your district, that you are doing something wrong.”      

Another theme was No Room for Error. Here, participants described the feeling of living in a fishbowl, that there is little room for forgiveness should they make a mistake or mess up in any way. These thoughts surfaced as they discussed feelings of fear, social pressure, and threats of losing funding should they mess up in any way. This finding went hand-in-hand with another theme called “Appeasing Those in Power.” Here, participants recognized people and groups of people that are more powerful than them (e.g., administrators, advisory board members, influential community members) and the importance of giving them what they want and keeping them happy, even if it doesn’t align with their vision for the program. They do this because they need these individuals to support their program, either through financial, material, or social means. I also found that participants reconcile the competing demands of the profession through a variety of means ranging from prioritizing some responsibilities of the job over others, leveraging existing resources, networks and opportunities to check multiple boxes at once, neglecting certain aspects of their job altogether, molding their family to their job, or delegating certain responsibilities to other people, among others. Participants even reconciled the competing demands of the profession by finding a new job at a different school or contemplating leaving the profession altogether. 

When I look at my data holistically, one thing stands out. Agriculture teachers have such complex and demanding jobs that it appears that it is simply not feasible to both do it all and do it well. Something must give. And as they try their best and manage the best way they can, they have the eyes of the entire community, not to mention the profession, on them. Could this be a reason why so many agriculture teachers choose to leave the profession despite their love for students and agriculture? Could this be the reason we see such a shortage of agriculture teachers across the country? Unfortunately, I’m not able to answer those questions given my data, but it does make me wonder if these feelings and experiences are unique to this sample of participants. Luckily, my job as a researcher allows me to continue asking these questions. 

So, readers, now that I’ve shared with you a snapshot of my research, I’m curious to know what you think. Do you resonate with the experiences of my participants? Did you find yourself nodding along as your read this article? Or have you had a different experience, one that counteracts those of my participants? I would love to hear your story! Please email me at, find me on Facebook, or come visit me at Oregon State!

*If you want to hear more about my first study, check out the podcast I recorded with Owl Pellets. The Owl Pellets podcast can be found on Facebook and any podcast platform.

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