Confronting Challenges at the Intersection of Rurality, Place, and Teacher Preparation: Improving Efforts in Teacher Education to Staff Rural Schools
Azano, Amy Price
Stewart, Trevor Thomas
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Recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers in rural schools is a persistent struggle in many countries, including the U.S. While rural education researchers have long lamented the struggle to recruit and retain teachers, there is relatively little known about intentional efforts to prepare teachers, specifically, for rural classrooms. Salient challenges related to poverty, geographic isolation, low teacher salaries, and a lack of community amenities seem to trump perks of living in rural communities. Recognizing this issue as a complex and hard to solve fixture in the composition of rural communities, we sought to understand how teacher preparation programs might better prepare preservice teachers for successful student teaching placements and, ideally, eventual careers in rural schools. In this study, we explore teacher candidates’ perceptions of rurality while examining how specific theory, pedagogy, and practice influence their feelings of preparedness for working in a rural school. Using pre- and post- questionnaire data, classroom observations, and reflections, we assess the effectiveness of deliberate efforts in our teacher preparation program to increase readiness for rural teaching. In our analysis and discussion, we draw on critical and sociocultural theories to understand the experiences of a cohort of teacher candidates as they explore personal histories, the importance of place, expectations, and teaching strategies for rural contexts. We conclude our article with recommendations for enhancing teacher preparation programs in ways that might result in significant progress toward the goal of staffing rural schools with the highly skilled teachers all students deserve.