Teach Ag speech contest sparks interest in ag education as a career

For most Missourians, December is a time for chilly weather, Christmas movies, and family. For Pam Rowland, the teacher recruitment and retention coordinator for Missouri Agricultural Education, December is a time for hope — for the future of agricultural education. Throughout the month, FFA members give polished presentations for scholarships and awards in a variety of topic areas.

During the fall, FFA members from across Missouri are preparing speeches to present at a number of contests scattered throughout the region. Their topics range from soil and water conservation to pork production to technology in agriculture. The speech contests are sponsored by Missouri agriculture organizations such as Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Institute of Cooperatives, and Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, in addition to eight others. 

Among the newest on the list is the Missouri Teach Ag Speech contest. The contest is now in its second year open to high school FFA members. Students present speeches six to eight minutes in length and include an interview with a current or retired FFA adviser.  According to the Missouri Teach Ag Speech Contest bulletin, the purpose of the speech contest is to, “promote Ag Education, encourage students to consider a career in Ag Ed, recruit potential teachers, and emphasize the importance of agricultural educators.”

Americans working in the agriculture industry are well aware of the shortage of agricultural educators nationwide. The National Teach Ag Campaign, an effort of the National Association of Agricultural Educators, or NAAE, reports there is a shortage of agricultural educators in more than 30 states nationwide. The NAAE also claims there was a deficit of more than 400 agriculture teachers during the 2014-2015 school year.

Rowland is currently serving as the Missouri Teach Ag speech contest director. She credits John Tummons, assistant teaching professor and director of undergraduate studies for Agricultural Education and Leadership at the University of Missouri, with kick-starting the planning process.

“John Tummons thought this would be a great idea and passed it my way because he didn’t have the time to put it together,” Rowland said. “I had the time, and I’m glad that I did. Last year, Teach Ag had more participants in it than any other speech contest.”

The high rate of participation is a small victory for Rowland and Missouri Teach Ag, who work tirelessly creating social media campaigns, educational programs for high school students, and offer grants to student teachers. Each program is implemented to decrease the deficit of agriculture teachers in Missouri. Rowland said she is confident the speech contest is a contributing factor to the increase of possible agricultural educators in the state. She says the main goal is of the contest is, “to celebrate ag teachers and emphasize the important role they play in their students’ lives!”

Tyler Burgin, the Marshall FFA adviser and an Argricultural Education instructor at the Saline County Career Center, said the Missouri Teach Ag program is a great tool, and he has already seen interest sparked in agricultural education as a career choice among his students.

“Every fall, each student in my agriculture leadership course is required to write a speech,” Burgin said. “This year, Teach Ag has been one of the most popular topics, and I have seen some quality ideas come from those speeches. Because of this program, I have had more conversations with my students about the benefits of a career in agricultural education and would not be surprised to see an ag teacher or two come out of this bunch.”

The 2017 Teach Ag state speaking contest will take place on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, at Tan-Tar-a in Osage Beach, Missouri. The contest will be held in conjunction with the Missouri Farm Bureau Annual Meeting. Rowland, Burgin, and the Missouri FFA Association are hopeful this is another phenomenal year to hear from future agricultural educators in the state.