Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Montana Maybe? Penn State AEE Alumnus Explores the Great West!

[A summer reflection by our student blog manager, 2014 Student Teacher Jeanne Case]

One of my roommates is interning with Dow Agri-Sciences in Montana this summer and during her travels she met an agricultural teacher that is a Penn State alumna. After continuously telling me that I absolutely HAVE to get a teaching job in Montana, she gave me the contact information of Jodi Koterba, the PSU alumnus. 

People always tell me that there are not jobs in agricultural education right now- citing stories where friends cannot get jobs. In my opinion, people have trouble getting these jobs because they don’t want to relocate. Dr. Foster has shared close to 500 jobs with the 2013 graduates from 41 states. Both the USDE Secretary, Arne Duncan, and the USDA Secretary, Tom Vilsack, have publicly commented on the crisis of a shortage of secondary school-based agriscience teachers. In fact, there has been a shortage across the nation for over 30 years, it is just getting much worse!  The nation is in need of agricultural teachers – maybe not necessarily in Pennsylvania at this time, but they are needed across the country. – This is  why I am contacting teachers across the nation to get their stories. (If you are reading this and have a story to share on your state, please comment below or send an email to me at  

Students working on their greenhouse
Montana is different than Pennsylvania, as they have a much smaller population size. In larger populated areas they have multiple teacher programs but most of the state is lightly populated with very small schools. Therefore, some places must combine two or more districts into one building, making the distance that students have to travel to school very great. This negatively impacts intracurricular (like FFA) and extracurricular programs that wish to conduct after school events. Montana’s agriculture is different from Pennsylvania as well since they have a different climate. They get less rainfall, rely more on irrigation and dry land farming, and more than half the state is range lands where they typically use it for grazing cattle, sheep and wildlife. With different a climate it brings different agricultural education. Agriculture education changes as you travel across the country due to the changing climates. It wouldn't do much good to teach about how to raise oranges in Pennsylvania or Montana. That would be a subject better suited for Florida or California.

Jodi Koterba, originally Jodi Hall, graduated from Penn State in 1995 with a degree in Agricultural Education with honors in Ag Ed and Horticulture. She also got her master’s degree in Agricultural Education from Penn State in 1997. She found her first place of employment in Ephrata, PA for nine and a half years. Jodi didn't make her way to Montana until January 2004, when she accepted a 4-H extension agent position in Helena, Montana. However, AFTER 8 months, she ALREADY MISSED TEACHING! This led Jodi to get an Industrial Technology position with Great Falls Public schools, at the time of employment there was not an agricultural program and she had to start it herself!

While Jodi was starting her own program there were some bumps in the road, such as the school district wanting the opportunities for the kids….. but they did’t want to start the program. I am sure many teachers across the nation can relate to this frustration with school district administrations. To begin the program, Jodi started with a landscape curriculum that worked well with the high school construction tech program, where the students build a house from start to finish in one school year. Through that class and the success of the students, the school became more willing to offer more ag classes. One of Jodi’s biggest challenges was informing her school district, the community, parents, and students about the many different aspects of the agriculture industry. (This is something that many teachers struggle with.) Even in Montana, Jodi deals with the issue of people only associating cows, plows and sows with the word agriculture.

Induction of the new chapter officer team. 
This year Montana’s state convention was the highlight of her program, they received four state FFA degrees, had a member elected as a state FFA officer, received 1st place in the hall-of-chapters displays, and had two first places in prepared public speaking and discovery creed competition. Also, during the school year the FFA chapter membership grew from 12 members to 58 members, which made it a wonderfully busy year. The chapter accomplished this  growth after only 5 years of creation, as they were chartered in 2009.

Jodi’s words of advice are “Agricultural Education is a family. It is absolutely critical that you become a part of the professional organizations available. I have taught in Ag Ed and in Industrial Tech. There is no comparison to the support and encouragement available in the Ag Ed community. When you become an Ag teacher and FFA adviser it is a lifestyle commitment. It is important that your significant other, family, and personal life are committed to your profession (and some would say addiction!). I say this with the fondest of hearts as I thought I was leaving in 2004 but was unable to stay away.”

As my roommate was still badgering me about how I really need to teach in Montana because they have more positions open than people, I asked Jodi about the agricultural education situation in Montana. She enlightened me by saying that their state government has begun providing funding to improve state agricultural programs which then makes it possible for programs to start or expand –thus creating more positions that need filled!

To learn more about Montana FFA, visit: Individuals interested in Montana Ag Ed Opportunities should contact Brad King, the Montana Agricultural Education Specialist. He is willing to email updates of teaching positions available in Montana if you send him your contact information (e-mail address and phone number) His office number is 406-444-4451 and his email is

FFA Members walking around during Christmas time.
 To learn more about starting on the path to having a career that makes a positive impact on the lives of students across the globe by becoming an agricultural educator, please contact the agricultural teacher education program at Follow us on Twitter at TeachAgPSU, on Facebook, or on our blog

Jeanne Case
Student Blogger
2014 Dover HS Student Teacher
Twitter: JRose_Case

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