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K-State Today

April 18, 2012

Making a comeback: Family and consumer sciences teachers in demand, shortages predicted

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

On his way to becoming a high school family and consumer sciences teacher, Nolan Henderson was a stand-up comedian.

After six years on the road, he returned to Kansas State University and graduated in 2011, one of the first men to get a family and consumer sciences degree.

Henderson is part of the changing face of family and consumer sciences, a profession that will soon have more job openings than qualified teachers, according to Sally Yahnke, an associate professor of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education. Her students get degrees from the College of Human Ecology, while fulfilling their teacher education requirements through the College of Education.

Yahnke predicts new graduates will find a job easily, even in today's tight job market.

"Within the next six years, Kansas will need about 1,000 family and consumer sciences education teachers. At the current graduation rate, we will be short nearly 700 teachers," she said.

Nationwide, schools will need more than a half million teachers by 2018, according to the Kansas Association of Family and Consumer Sciences. Yahnke said that some school districts that eliminated family and consumer sciences education because of budget cuts are bringing it back.

"Family and consumer science classes teach students to cope with everyday life. It's hard to argue against the need for those skills," she said.

Henderson teaches at Free State High School in Lawrence.

"I was actually the first male to major in family and consumer sciences," he said. But one of his professors urged him to follow his heart. What Henderson really wanted to be was a stand-up comedian and travel the world. So he interrupted his college career to pursue his passion.

He is the second male to get a family and consumer sciences education degree from Kansas State University's College of Human Ecology. The first was Paul Musselman, who got his second bachelor's degree -- his first was in hotel and restaurant management -- from K-State in 2010. He teaches at Wichita East High.

In the classroom, topics and demographics have changed. The family and consumer sciences course work is totally integrated, Yahnke said.

"Students today wouldn't think it is a girl's class. Subjects involve nutrition, personal wellness, parenting, consumerism, personal financial planning and sustainability," Yahnke said.

Henderson agreed.

"The world is changing and how we live and do things changes almost daily," he said. "It is amazing what some of our family and consumer science teachers are doing at schools throughout the state. I'm hoping to become a huge part of that someday."

For more than 15 years, Yahnke has taught students to be family and consumer sciences teachers. High school and middle school programs have changed dramatically from baking and sewing to dealing with all facets of daily life. Yahnke said today's family and consumer sciences teachers cover many current hot topics, such as obesity prevention, time and money management, bullying prevention, personal and family financial literacy, and communication.

"Our students are equipped to tackle issues that plague families," she said.

These issues are not gender-based. In most middle schools, all students take family and consumer sciences, Yahnke said. In high school, classes are often at least half male. In some classes -- especially food classes -- more males enroll than females. But family and consumer science teachers are still overwhelmingly female.

Henderson teaches Interiors, Human Growth and Development I and II, Intro to Human Services, Family Studies, and Nutrition and Wellness.

His career path was shaped by two current university faculty members.

"To make a long story short, Dr. Kelly Welch and Dr. Farrell Webb both teach classes -- which I took and loved -- in the College of Human Ecology, which is basically the ground work for family and consumer sciences. That's why I chose family and consumer sciences. I get to teach and coach it to high school kids."

The funnyman experience made him a better teacher, Henderson said, adding that after his years as a traveling comedian, job security attracted him to teaching. He'd also recommend family and consumer sciences teaching to other males.

"I love it. But you have to have a pretty open mind to enter the field and have some thick skin," he said.

Comedians seem to have thick skins. Henderson's YouTube video from his stand-up days makes the rounds at the high school where he teaches, and students leave comments such as "my favorite teacher!" and "…this guy gave me an D- on my test!"