Educator Evolution: Becoming and Being a CTE Teacher Then and Now

High School, Career

By Amanda Gronewold
Connections Magazine

One hundred years ago, the Smith-Hughes Act was signed, and this federal legislation began shaping career and technical education (CTE) into what it is today. A lot of attention is paid to how CTE has changed over the years, but what about the profession? How has being a CTE teacher changed over the past 100 years?

While we were unable to contact any CTE educators who were alive in 1917—perhaps some current health science students will ensure we have more around for the 200th anniversary?—we did look back over the last several decades at changes that have taken place in becoming and being a CTE teacher.

Beginnings in Agriculture and Home Economics

Modern-day CTE has deep roots in agriculture education, as does former agriculture student and teacher Johnny Allen. Allen taught at Alcorn Central High School from 1978 to 1982, and at the postsecondary level for eight more years. The biggest change Allen encountered during his teaching career was the incorporation of technology and automation in agriculture.

“It used to be fairly simple to teach ag sciences: plant science, animal science. Starting in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, we started seeing a lot more chemicals, electronics, feed ingredients, and medications,” explained Allen.

During this time and before, most students in agriculture classes were coming from family farms and would be entering an agriculture profession, so much of the class was production based and students brought firsthand examples.

“The Morrill Act of 1862 established land grant universities that housed agriculture and engineering study and research. With this research, they now needed a way to share that information to farmers and communities,” explained Allen. “This led to the creation of extension branches to share with current farmers. Finally, the Smith Hughes Act was passed to share the university’s research with future farmers in ag programs in high school.”

The average agriculture instructor once held a master’s degree in agriculture education and many times was the most educated school employee behind the principal. Both the principal and agriculture teachers often lived on the school campus to be close to the community they served.

“They would work hand in hand with the extension agent in the community,” said Allen. “Agriculture teachers worked on a 12-month contract, and during the summer they visited farms to observe students, and they were always available to offer advice to farmers.

“In fact, many classes were like veterinary clinics. Because of the rural landscape of some school districts, veterinarians were not easily accessible, but ag teachers could perform procedures and administer medicines because they were teaching the students,” continued Allen.

Although most agriculture students were boys in the early years, Allen also saw more and more female students get involved over the years, particularly after the National FFA began allowing female members in 1971.

“Today, when you go to [FFA] state competition, it’s probably two-thirds female,” Allen said.

In the early years, most girls were in home economics class. As more women entered the workforce, the gender makeup of CTE classes began to change as well.

The Mississippi Department of Education’s Janie Leach supervises the family and consumer science (FCS) program, a subject that has its roots in home economics. She saw a shift from home economics to a heavier academic focus in schools in the late 1980s, but going into the ‘90s, schools realized the skills it taught were still needed. She believes this contributed to home economics’ evolution to FCS today.

“Lifestyles and life skills were changing with the times, and FCS evolved to meet the current challenges facing individuals, families, and community, emphasizing issues relevant to current skills critical to successful life and meeting the needs of daily living,” Leach said. “Courses now are much more acclimated towards careers than before and these courses can identify and nurture potential pathway students.”

In the way that agriculture is no longer a “boys’ club,” FCS is not a “girls’ club” anymore either.

“I am slowly seeing more males in the family and consumer science field,” said Leach. “I believe that is in large part due to addressing the subjects with family and consumer sciences as skills needed to live, which are neutral instead of gender associated. Also, FCCLA [Family, Career and Community Leaders of America] provides opportunities in leadership and participation in events and content in FCS in a neutral atmosphere.”

The Evolution of Training

While home economics and agricultural teachers in the early 20th century commonly held college degrees in education before entering the classroom, many of today’s CTE teachers come from industry and therefore enter the field through an alternate route.

The Research and Curriculum Unit (RCU) at Mississippi State University (MSU) began training new CTE teachers in the late 1970s, through a program known as Intensive Pre-Service and Inservice Training for Beginning Vocational Teachers, or simply Pre-Service. Former RCU director Jimmy McCully recalled the implementation of Pre-Service.

“The state director of vocational education asked the RCU to set up a one-week ‘survival school’ for new vo-tech instructors who had never had a course in instructional methodology,” said McCully. “Local directors of vocational education were complaining that their new instructors were not receiving enough training through the traditional teacher education departments at the state universities.”

Early Pre-Service provided approximately 30 hours of preservice and 15 hours of inservice training to teachers who lacked formal education training. Competencies included teaching methods and techniques; laboratory organization, management, and safety; lesson planning; trade and job analysis; development and use of instructional materials; and measurement and evaluation of student learning.

Today, all CTE teachers need a minimum of an associate’s degree, and many teachers in specific pathways, such as agriculture and early childhood education, are required to have a bachelor’s degree—but most of those degrees are not in education. As many as 95% of CTE teachers now begin as experts in their trade who pursue a career change to teaching, as opposed to having an education background.

The RCU still handles the training of these teachers, with a year-long cohort program known as New Teacher Induction (NTI). Participants begin with two weeks of training with RCU staff at MSU’s campus, continue throughout the first year of teaching with multiple regional trainings and classroom observations, and “graduate” NTI after a final two-week session at MSU the following summer.

Leanne Long, an assistant research professor at the RCU, has been involved in this training for 14 years, and she notes it has evolved over the years from a lecture-based, “sit-and-get” style of teaching to a more interactive experience. She also credited the implementation of classroom observations as being very important to the success of the participants.

“We morphed it into a more group-based training experience. Adult-learning strategies were heavily implemented: creating things with us, being able to model different teaching strategies,” Long explained.

NTI graduate and law and public safety instructor John Glass welcomed the opportunity to teach after a 25-year career as an EMT, paramedic, and volunteer firefighter.

“I was working as a flight paramedic in 2014 when I was asked about starting the law and public safety program at George County High School,” Glass said. “I accepted the position and have loved the opportunity to build the program and teach the students from the beginning. I love teaching and sharing something that I’m so passionate about with students. I also enjoy helping them make decisions about their future and how to achieve their goals.“

Glass, now in his fourth year of teaching, claims the biggest change he has seen in his teaching career has been interest in the program. Law and public safety, a relatively new pathway that began with one class at one school in 2011 and now involves students from 49 schools statewide in 2017.

“I am excited about the direction and the chance to be on the ground floor as the program is being built and established as part of CTE,” said Glass.

CTE in Mississippi over the last century has dealt many changes to the ones teaching it. While many changes are specific within each career area, including the addition of new pathways, there is an overall theme of growth, improvement, and inclusion. It is evident that teachers both old and new are passionate about helping all students succeed, and that, thankfully, is unlikely to change.

For a more detailed look at CTE evolution in Mississippi, including an interview with Allen and Mike Mulvihill at the Mississippi Department of Education, check out the Mississippi Ed Talk podcast episode “100 years of CTE” at