Growing up in Plainville, Kansas, Alexandra Walters considered a career in social work, but decided early on to teach about agriculture. A 2018 graduate of K-State, Walters is a first-year agriculture education teacher at Peabody-Burns Middle School-High School in Peabody, Kansas, where she teaches classes in plant science, animal science, food science, agricultural mechanics and others.
“My students enjoy anything they get to design themselves,” she said, adding that her high school food-science students created their own Christmas cookie business.
Walters is teaching in what’s part of a growing trend in middle schools and high schools across the country to offer agricultural education programs, and colleges and universities cannot turn out graduates fast enough to keep up with demand.
“There is a nationwide shortage of agriculture teachers,” said Brandie Disberger, an instructor in Kansas State University’s Department of Communications and Agricultural Education. “Here in Kansas we are currently only graduating about half of the needed agriculture teachers. We have had 100% placement in this major for more than 20 years.”
Students with an interest in agriculture and a passion for working with people make excellent candidates, Disberger said, noting that as of May 2018, average starting salaries in Kansas were more than $40,000. The average salary of agriculture education teachers across the country in 2017 was $43,093, according to the National Association of Agricultural Educators, with averages across the U.S. varying by region.
Disberger, who taught high school agricultural education for 10 years before coming to teach at K-State, said contrary to some perceptions, there are ag education openings in urban and suburban school districts as well as in rural areas.
The breadth of training students receive lends itself to a range of careers, she said. About 80% of K-State’s ag education graduates go on to teach in high school, but some move into careers in extension where they teach adults and youth in less formal settings. Others work in agriculture-related sales or service positions, nonprofit organizations, or pursue advanced academic degrees.
Students study topics such as energy systems, animal science, plant systems, food products and processing, biotechnology in agriculture, power, and structural and technical systems.
“Some individuals think career and technical education programs, including agricultural education, are closing in high schools when it is just the opposite. They are growing rapidly,” Disberger said.