Preparing teachers for rural classrooms: why it matters and how to get started (2023)

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Preparing teachers for rural classrooms: why it matters and how to get started (1)

Posted on: March 5, 2021

Written by Devon Brenner, co-author withAmy Price Azano, Jayne Downey, Karen Eppley e Ann K. Schultevonteaching in rural area.

Think of a rural place. You see? Fields? forests? mountain streams? who lives there How did you get there? Imagine a rural school in this place. Who are the students? What are you learning? Now imagine that you are a teacher at this school. Happy to join and ready to work? What do you need to know, what skills and abilities do you need to be successful in this rural school?

There are many good reasons to live and teach in a rural community. These benefits vary, but typically rural teaching careers offer the opportunity to be near (or in) places of outstanding natural beauty or outdoor recreation. Small rural communities often provide opportunities to meet students inside and outside the school and build strong relationships. Rural teachers can have greater autonomy in the classroom, numerous opportunities for collaboration and leadership, and greater diversity at work, for example. B. teach multiple subjects instead of the same homework or training all day long. Rural teachers, in particular, can have a big impact on the students they teach.

Despite these and many other benefits, rural schools often face challenges in recruiting and retaining new teachers. Rural schools often have problems filling vacancies (especially for subject areas and special education). Once hired, many new rural teachers do not stay. Turnover rates are higher in rural schools than in other settings.

Rural students need and deserve effective teachers, well-prepared teachers who understand and appreciate the important role that schools play in rural life. This is especially true in rural schools serving black and low-income students, where staffing challenges are greatest. Although many teacher education programs prepare teachers to work in rural schools, few teacher educators explicitly address location or the rural environment in teacher preparation. Despite the fact that approximately half of all school districts, one-third of schools and one-fifth of students live in rural areas, there are few teacher training resources that focus on teaching in rural schools. (Compare the lack of resources for rural instruction with the number of books, articles, and teacher training programs that focus on urban instruction.)

My colleagues (Amy Azano, Jayne Downey, Karen Epley and Ann Schulte) and I believe that ensuring rural students have well-prepared and committed teachers is a matter of equal opportunity and equity for rural communities. Because we committed ourselves to this belief, we werework to identify strategies that teacher educators can implementprepare teachers for rural internships. These include:

1. Encourage teachers to consider rural locations.

Many future teachers may not have considered living or working in rural areas. that could bereinforced by negative stereotypesabout rural places in the media. Young adults from suburban and urban areas may be discouraged from working in rural areas, and rural youth may learn that the only way to succeed is to leave the country. These concerns can be exacerbated in our teacher education programs, which are generally located in larger, more urban settings and are led by teachers who have recently arrived in the states and regions where they work to prepare teachers. One strategy to combat this isdesigning rural field experiencesfor new teachers to meet students, families and people in rural communities and help them understand the complexities of a place so they can imagine themselves working in a rural school.

2. Prepare new teachers to get to know the place where they will teach.

At first glance, it may seem that rural places have fewer resources for teaching and learning. However, with a little creativity and an open mind, teachers can identify extensive resources to support teaching and learning. Rural communities often have strong institutions: religious institutions, social and service groups such as Grange or a weavers' guild, local or municipal elected officials or government agencies, state land grant university advisors, attractions, historic sites, and more. A community walk orcollaborative study activityIt's a structured way of knowing where you can teach, which can reveal many opportunities for collaboration, field trips, guest speakers, or new social connections. These community-based learning activities can be modeled on teacher preparation and help new teachers find strengths to celebrate and resources for planning and teaching, as well as the needs of the community.

3. Support the development of a critical understanding of rural places.

Teacher candidates may be surprised at how different the reality of rural schools is from what they imagine. Teacher candidates may think that rural schools are picturesque and idyllic, simpler and safer. Or they see rural schools as isolated and intolerant places, or backward and poverty-stricken. None of this is true. Training of quality rural teacherssupports teachers in developing new and complex understandingsrural communities just as quality urban teacher preparation programs prepare teachers for the unique challenges and benefits of urban settings. Existing beliefs (and even personal experiences) need to be questioned along with the historical, cultural and socio-cultural characteristics that make up each rural community, including racial, economic and local beliefs. This is as true for prospective teachers from rural areas as it is for teachers who are new to the communities in which they teach. Developing a critical understanding of a place, such as exploring the place's origins and learning about the history of settlement, colonization, migration and immigration in a place, can provide important insights into understanding the place today. When teacher educators provide teachers with the tools to think critically about places, they support a culturally relevant education that helps students understand the world at large and how the norms of their communities compare to those elsewhere.

4. Preparing new teachers to learn and use local knowledge and experience.

All teachers should be reflective professionals who gather information from their classroom to inform how they make instructional decisions. For rural teachers in small school districts with few peers in their grade or specialty, this type of individual investigation may be even more necessary. Traditional educational research often overlooks specific rural contexts, such as B. co-ed classrooms or multi-sibling teaching. Rigorous investigations into how students learn can inspire intellectual curiosity for teachers and support for rural students. Rural learners, in particular, can bring unique sets of knowledge and perspectives on the world that are not always valued or represented in the standardized curriculum. Rural students can have unique ways of being that are local and specific. Rural teacher training can help new teachers learn how to identify and use students' unique knowledgedevelop place-conscious teachingwhich increases students' knowledge pathways and helps them develop a more complex understanding of the world.

These steps are just a start. These and other topics are covered in our new book,Teaching in rural settings: thriving in classrooms, schools and communities. In this book, we discuss what it means to teach social justice in different rural classrooms and provide concrete strategies and numerous real-world examples from across the United States drawn from our experiences as rural teachers and teacher educators.

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