The Dilemmas Facing Rural Teachers and Students: Retaining Ambitious Teachers

The next few posts will likely be scattered and maybe even a bit fragmented. I'm working through an intense amount of writer's block on my thesis and am following a reader's advice about continuing the search (thanks for the tips, Stu!). So I started another book last night and will be recording my responses as I read. Tonight's post is more introductory in nature; I'll delve into thoughts about the book in the next coming weeks.

I'm aware of the predicament in which rural schools often find themselves. In my neck of the woods--southwest Nebraska--it's hard to attract young, motivated, critical teachers and it's even harder to get them to stay. My career is a testament to this predicament. I was hired to teach in a small, consolidated district before I had even completed my student teaching experience simply because the district was faced with a retiring teacher and no applicants....other than me: an overly ambitious college student handing out resumes to any principals who'd take them. They really had no choice but to hire me. The district is solid, the kids (for the most part) are hard-working, and the administration is fairly supportive, but it only took me a a few months to realize I didn't have the stamina or experience to maintain the schedule handed to me by the district: 8 preps in an 8 period day is practically homicide for a novice teacher. A few years later I find myself teaching in a larger school twenty miles down the road---a class C school with a rapidly declining student population in a town where the majority seems to shrug its shoulders at problems the district faces. Either the massive work loads or the lack of community investment in its most precious commodity, education, push many young and ambitious teachers out (especially those with no roots in the region). Who can blame them? I'm interested in how we can retain these teachers because ultimately, the students are losing out the most. Research proves that students do not learn as much from a first-year teacher as they do from a more experienced teacher. It's not rocket science. From my experience, the first three years of teaching are pretty much trial and error and survival. So when jobs become "revolving door" positions, what are students gaining?

For the past three years I've been studying Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas's work dealing with The Rural Brain Drain phenomenon. Students in my English 12 class read, discuss, and write about their article, "The Rural Brain Drain," that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education. These conversations with students have been fruitful and encouraging for me, causing me to invest more in examining the dilemmas rural students face. So looking for inspiration for my thesis, last night I picked up Carr and Kefalas's book Hollowing Out The Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America. Not only does the book scientifically examine this phenomenon, it also blends in rich profiles of rural people and the dilemmas they face. The writers' descriptions are vivid and prove that writing about research can result in a compelling read that is anything but dry. I'm really hoping this book will provide me with some direction in which to direct my thesis. However, I'm also looking forward to examining this brain drain more deeply and am hoping it will invigorate my teaching at a time when I'm feeling tired and overworked.

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