Rural school districts face challenges from several directions when recruiting teachers.
- Baby boomers are retiring.
- Many small towns are losing population and vitality.
- Urban school districts often can pay more than rural districts.
- The education profession as a whole has become more of a pressure cooker with changing standards and more reporting requirements.
All these and more factor into rural districts’ struggle to find qualified teachers—especially the kind of “teacher-leaders” that can have a dramatic impact in the lives of rural students and the communities in which they live.
These are some of the ideas that started off a two-day conversation about rural teacher recruitment and retention at Dakota Wesleyan University in June.
The event, which was sponsored by Dakota Wesleyan and the Rural Schools Collaborative, drew 69 participants from nine states. In addition to providing an opportunity to think deeply about the issue, the event was intended to build a network of people who care about rural teacher recruitment and to help the Rural Schools Collaborative work with that network to develop more successful projects.
One key insight for Mike Knutson of Watertown, S.D., one of the event organizers, was that teachers they want to recruit to rural places are not necessarily young.
“As I heard second-career teachers tell us to not forget about them,” Knutson said, “I was reminded of the research that tells us that small towns should focus their recruitment efforts on people age 30-49 because that’s the age when people decide that they want to move back to small towns.”
The group came up with a long list of insights and suggestions. Gary Funk, director of the Rural Schools Collaborative, saw promise in work that starts well before teachers step into a classroom.
“I believe teacher preparation programs that have an intentional rural focus and engage community oriented organizations are doable and have great potential,” Funk said.
Here are some insights from the group’s conversation.
What are the roles and characteristics of outstanding teacher-leaders?
- Active in the community.
- Active in school events.
- Are mentored and become mentors.
- Innovative. They see things outside the box.
- Possess passion for people and are dedicated to their work.
- Build relationships with students, parents and community members.
How can we work together to bolster the recruitment of future rural teacher-leaders?
- Develop a network of positive role models to encourage people to become rural teachers. “Equip teachers to promote teaching as a noble profession.”
- Retell the rural story; emphasize the positive aspects of the rural experience. “We need to learn to tell the stories of place better.”
- Recruit teachers while they are still students. “Grow your own!” “Recruit future rural teachers with the same vigor we recruit college athletes!”
- Recruit mid-career professionals who may be tied to a given community.
- Develop scholarship incentives for teachers to commit to a rural teaching placement.
Read a full report at ruralschoolscollaborative.org.