Agriculture education in California is continually going through struggles as it attempts to keep up with the growing population of students joining agriculture programs. While the expansion of agriculture education in California is a positive concept, the shortage of agriculture teachers halts this progression in its tracks. Ag mechanics teachers, in particular, are heavily sought after and are in the largest scarcity of all agriculture teachers.
Chris Mckenna, a professor of agriculture mechanics at Fresno State, is closely connected to the production of agriculture mechanics teachers and has observed how these shortages are impacting agriculture education and the industry as a whole.
Mckenna believes that the higher pay and easy access of other jobs in agriculture mechanics are more desirable to students proficient in this subject, and that this creates a difficult choice for those considering becoming teachers. In addition, not all agriculture mechanics students want to be teachers.
“The kids that are interested in that kind of stuff, they don’t necessarily want to work with students,” Mckenna said. “That’s not everybody, but that is a portion of some people that I’ve had conversations with. They just don’t have the desire to work with students.”
Students that are interested in becoming agriculture teachers are required to take an assortment of agriculture classes from different areas of the industry, and then choose a specialization related to the various areas of study such as animal science, plant science, and agriculture mechanics. Many of the students that become ag mechanics teachers do not initially plan to follow that path and often specialize in another subject before realizing their potential in the mechanical fields and the opportunities for job openings.
“Just this last year, I don’t think we had anybody coming out as ag mech, but we had just gotten sent through a whole bunch, probably eight or ten, through our program, and then we have now a larger influx that’s coming out,” Mckenna said. “So, it really comes in waves, whether or not they jump into it, it really depends on the year.”
While the number of agriculture teachers fluctuates, the demand for agriculture mechanics teachers will never decline. Due to many schools shutting down industrial technology classes and agriculture mechanics programs becoming more desirable to high school students, teachers for these classes will always be able to find jobs in California.