Ag education: UW program sees success in creating ag educators
“I remember being in seventh grade and a teacher said, ‘We need you to take some class that could affect you for the rest of your life starting next year,’ and that was a lot of pressure,” explains University of Wyoming (UW) Agriculture Education Faculty Member and Lecturer Lindsey Freeman.
Freeman, a Wyoming native, knew from a young age teaching agriculture had a place in her future.
After signing up for ag classes, Freeman didn’t spend much time outside of the ag classroom.
“A lot of the time I would ditch physical education class to go to the ag room, or I would go eat my lunch there,” she said. “I really liked spending all of my time in the ag classroom and doing FFA-related activities.”
She continued, “I took a chance and decided to go with ag education, and I am better at it than I originally gave myself credit for.”
Freeman graduated with a bachelor’s degree from UW in agricultural education with a concentration in agricultural communication, and she began her teaching career in Chugwater. From there, she migrated over the mountain to the H.E.M. Junior and Senior High School in Medicine Bow, and in 2018, she received her master’s in curriculum and instruction from UW.
“I started in 2018. My advisor moved into a different position and this job became something on my radar,” Freeman said, “And here we are.”
Freeman shared teaching at the college level is much different than teaching middle school and high school students, noting, “I don’t have to force kids to turn in their work or work on projects. The college students come for every class and we get to learn and explore together.”
She continued, “One of my absolute favorite parts is going to my students’ schools when they are student teaching in the spring and getting to see everything we talked about in class and how they are implementing what they learned in my classroom. It is rewarding to see them forming relationships with students – it’s hard to teach this.”
For Freeman, one of the greatest challenges she faces is teaching agricultural education students everything she wants them to know. She notes some of the greatest lessons come with experience and happen on the job or in the moment of teaching.
“When I first started teaching at the college, I thought, ‘We are going to teach this, this and this, and when we send them out they are going to be totally ready to go,’” she explained. “But, I don’t think anybody is ready to be an ag teacher until their 16th or 17th year of teaching, because there is so much for students to learn on their own.”
The agriculture education program at UW is designed for students to complete three concurrent programs set up along with the agriculture education degree. Animal and veterinary science, ag business and ag communication are all concentrations students can choose to accompany their agriculture education degree.
“Much of the agricultural content in students’ education comes from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and we teach students how to teach those learned materials in the College of Education,” explained Freeman. “Most of my classes are agriculture mechanics and teaching methods.”
Graduating agriculture educators
COVID-19 has made it hard to measure growth, but the program has seen an uptick in graduates in the last couple of years.
“I base my numbers off of how many students I graduate each year, and we have 30 to 40 current students altogether,” Freeman shared. “When I started at UW, the program graduated five students, and this year I will have nine graduates.”
Freeman has plans moving forward to not only help current students but also teachers in the workplace.
“I am trying to do a lot of outreach for our teachers in service,” she shared. “There’s a teacher shortage nationwide and it is hard to be an ag teacher, but we need to be better at recruiting people to teach in order to avoid the teacher shortage other states are experiencing. The teachers we have are great, we just want to make sure every kid has an ag teacher at the beginning of every year.”
Freeman plans on holding off the shortage in agriculture educators as long as she is able, stating, “I have been focusing on recruiting at different levels, and it is something I will work on for the next couple of years. Recruiting at the high school level, recruiting college students and even looking at alternative ways to join the program.”
“We just have to focus on recruiting high-quality people so that every Wyoming high school student has access to agricultural education,” she concluded.
Cameron Magee is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.