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Teaching Ag Teachers

April 27, 2017

An increasing number of Texas high school students are learning vocational agriculture skills from teachers who graduated from the ASU Agriculture Department.

Dr. Will Dickison Dr. Will Dickison The department’s agricultural science and leadership bachelor’s degree program was started in 2010 in direct response to the dramatic shortage of high school ag teachers in Texas that still exists today. Already, 21 graduates of the program are high school ag teachers or county 4-H extension agents, some as far away as Houston and Lewisville. 

But there are still plenty of jobs out there. On April 20, the Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association of Texas (VATAT) website showed nearly 60 openings for high school ag teachers, and that number is only expected to increase. 

“These were posted by schools that know they are either going to hire another teacher or know they have a teacher who will not be returning,” said Dr. Will Dickison, assistant professor of agriculture science. “It doesn’t count the schools that may have a teacher retiring who hasn’t told them yet, or maybe they have a teacher who is looking at taking one of the existing openings. There will be a point sometime in May or June when there are over 100 jobs open.” 

To prepare graduates who are both eager and prepared for those jobs, Dickison directs ASU’s comprehensive agricultural science and leadership degree program.

“They take the agriculture science courses, and there are eight of them,” Dickison said. “They take some animal science courses, an agriculture economics course and two food science courses. They also take three range and wildlife courses that range from soils science to wildlife management. So our students get a broad view of all the things they will have to teach, from a curriculum standpoint, in a high school setting.” 

“Many of them also compete on our meat and wool judging teams,” he added, “because they might have to teach that in high school.” 

“Once students complete our program and graduate, the jobs are out there waiting for them.”

Dr. Will Dickison

The program took a huge step forward in 2014 when the Mayer-Rousselot Agriculture Education and Training Center opened at the ASU Ranch. It’s where students supplement their classroom instruction with hands-on training in welding and metal work, wood construction, electrical work, plumbing, concrete work and small engine repair. 

“The center is like a work of art, it’s priceless,” Dickison said. “Before we had the facility, I had to teach the hands-on courses during the summer at the West Texas Training Center. Most of our students aren’t used to taking summer courses, and it was not our facility, so that limited us greatly.” 

“Having this facility allows me to teach the skills that need to be taught,” he added. “From a teaching standpoint, I can’t stress enough how important it is. I need it, and it’s awesome!”           

All that hands-on experience makes ASU’s budding ag teachers even more attractive to prospective employers. 

“Of the current job openings,” Dickison said, “the vast majority want ag teachers who can teach the welding, mechanics and other skills our students are learning and practicing in the Mayer-Rousselot Center. They can also teach all the other ag courses, but mechanical experience is definitely needed, and it just makes our center that much more important.” 

Enrollment in ASU’s program has grown from eight students in fall 2010 to about 60 students this spring, and nearly 50 students have graduated through the program since 2012. It is also a popular degree for students planning careers in agriculture sales or as county extension agents, but about 70 percent of the students currently enrolled are on track for ag teacher certification. 

As far as the job market is concerned, they cannot graduate fast enough. 

“There are potentially 100 jobs that will be open this spring,” Dickison said, “and there are not enough people to fill them. Most schools our size average 5-10 graduates each spring, and the larger schools will have more than that, but we can’t keep up with the demand.” 

“Once students complete our program and graduate, the jobs are out there waiting for them.”

Fun Fact

Dr. Will Dickison holds ASU’s Davidson Chair in Agricultural Science and Leadership. He uses the endowment funding from the James A. “Buddy” Davidson Foundation for the materials used by students at the Mayer-Rousselot Center, including metal, welding rods, coils, gases, etc.

Students only pay for materials if they want to work on personal projects.