ERIC Identifier: ED438152
Publication Date: 1999-12-00
Author: Collins, Timothy
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small
Schools Charleston WV.
Attracting and Retaining Teachers in Rural Areas. ERIC
The American Association of School Administrators (1999) has observed
that the main problem of rural school districts is attracting and keeping
quality teachers. The rural teacher shortage affects all subject areas
but particularly math, science, and special education. This Digest examines
the problem from a legislative and policy perspective. It suggests strategies
to address the problem, noting sample programs from several states.
LEGISLATIVE AND POLICY BACKGROUND
The rural teacher recruitment and retention problem varies across the
United States. Some states have teacher surpluses; others have shortages.
According to the National Association of State Boards of Education, an
adequate number of teachers is trained each year (Bradley, 1998). The problem
is with distribution. State legislatures deal with teacher recruitment
and retention in various ways, depending on their circumstances (see "What
Some States are Doing" below) (Education Commission of the States, 1999).
In an attempt to alleviate the problem, President Clinton signed the
Higher Education Amendments law in October 1998. Title II of this bill
creates teacher recruitment grants to improve teacher quality and reduce
shortages of qualified teachers in high-need districts (U.S. Department
of Education, 1999).
WHY TEACHERS STAY OR GO
The principal reason teachers leave rural areas is isolation--social,
cultural, and professional. Recent research on rural teacher recruitment
and retention appears thin, and much of it has been conducted outside the
United States. For example, a survey of teacher mobility (94 past and current
teachers in a rural British Columbia school district) found that teachers
leave communities because of geographic isolation, weather, distance from
larger communities and family, and inadequate shopping (Murphy & Angelski,
The literature suggests rural administrators have difficulty finding
qualified teachers who fit in with the school and community and who will
stay in the job. The "ideal" rural teacher is certified to teach more than
one subject or grade level, can teach students with a wide range of abilities
in the same classroom, is prepared to supervise extracurricular activities,
and can adjust to the community (Lemke, 1994; Stone, 1990). In the British
Columbia study, teachers stayed because of their principal, spouse employment
in the community, and satisfaction with the rural lifestyle (Murphy &
RECRUITING RURAL TEACHERS
To recruit rural teachers, administrators must target candidates with
rural backgrounds or with personal characteristics or educational experiences
that predispose them to live in rural areas. The emphasis on background
and experience is crucial for racially or culturally distinct communities.
Selling points in recruitment efforts are the benefits of teaching in rural
schools, such as few discipline problems, less red tape, more personal
contact, greater chance for leadership, small class size, individualized
instruction, greater student and parent participation, and greater teacher
impact on decision making (Boylan & Bandy, 1994; Lemke, 1994; Stone,
Most rural teachers were raised close to where they now teach. Various
"grow-your-own" strategies offer incentives to local residents with potential
to become teachers, such as assisting them in obtaining the needed education
and training. For example, Future Teachers of America (FTA) clubs encourage
students to consider returning to their home communities once they have
received their teaching credentials (Lemke, 1994).
RETAINING RURAL TEACHERS
Colleges must take more of a role in recruiting students who demonstrate
the characteristics of successful rural teachers. The U.S. Department of
Education (1998) suggests colleges should recruit aggressively in middle
and high schools, exposing students to peer tutoring, camp counseling,
role modeling, and classes in education theory. Although few universities
in the United States have preservice programs for rural teachers, successful
programs in Australia and Canada offer a rural focus in course work and
provide ample opportunity for rural experiences (Stone, 1990; Boylan &
The degree to which a rural teacher becomes involved in community educational
and cultural programs influences his or her decision to remain; therefore,
retention requires a coordinated school-community effort. A school-community
orientation can help new rural teachers overcome feelings of isolation,
acquire a sense of community security, and develop professional competence.
Principals should select a new teacher's initial assignments carefully,
set clear goals, welcome feedback, establish an encouraging and nonthreatening
environment, and provide opportunities to interact with experienced colleagues
and parents. Collegial mentoring--that is not a part of teacher evaluation--can
be crucial. The school also can ease the way for new teachers by streamlining
paperwork, providing a well-planned in-service program, and arranging release
time for visiting other teachers' classrooms. The community should recognize
new teachers' accomplishments and invite them to participate in various
activities. Universities also can play an important role by offering cost-effective
distance-learning courses to keep rural teachers up-to-date. (Boylan &
Bandy, 1994; Lemke, 1994; Stone, 1990).
WHAT SOME STATES ARE DOING
State programs for recruiting and retaining teachers vary considerably.
Salary differentials often pit one state against another. In addition,
there are rural-urban pay disparities within states (Iowa Governor, 1997).
Two states, Kentucky and Connecticut, have equalized teacher salaries statewide
to diminish regional inequalities (Bradley, 1998).
Many states have developed teacher supply-and-demand analyses to track
teacher availability in subject areas and across communities. For example,
Alaska's annual teacher supply-and-demand report (LaBerge, 1999) notes
the teacher shortage is worsened by the state's early-retirement incentive
program; low salary levels that put the state in a poor competitive position;
procedural difficulties with certification; and increased time needed to
earn certification. The University of Alaska Fairbanks (1997) has set up
Alaska Teacher Placement, a nonprofit, statewide clearinghouse for placing
teachers. The clearinghouse recruits teachers and maintains a job bank
accessible on the World Wide Web.1
According to Oklahoma's supply-and-demand study, (1) rural districts
need more early childhood and elementary teachers; (2) generally, rural
districts (two-thirds of Oklahoma's school districts and one-fifth of the
educators) have the greatest need for teachers; and (3) more research is
needed to understand why so many more students in the state train to be
teachers than are hired by Oklahoma schools (Southern Regional Education
Board & Data Decision and Analysis, 1998).
Mississippi offers teachers scholarships, high-school-to-college programs,
college courses, incentive loans for teachers who serve in rural areas
experiencing teacher shortages, scholarships for certified teachers seeking
advanced training while working in a shortage area, and home loans or rental
housing for teachers in shortage areas. Mississippi also has a professional
on the department of education staff who recruits teachers instate and
out-of-state (Education Commission of the States, 1999).
Florida's legislature instructed its department of education to set
up a teacher recruitment and retention services office to advertise positions
in targeted states, provide information related to alternative certification,
and sponsor the Florida Future Educator Program. For critical shortage
areas the legislature created a program that forgives loans in exchange
for teaching service. Pennsylvania's legislature has set up a similar program
(Education Commission of the States, 1999).
The South Carolina Center for Teacher Recruitment (1998), founded in
1986, supports numerous programs and activities, including (1) the ProTeam
Program, a course and club that introduces primarily minority seventh-
and eighth-grade students to the idea of a teaching career; (2) the Teacher
Cadet Program, an introduction-to-teaching class that twelfth graders can
take for college credit; (3) the Teaching Assistant Program, a complement
to the Teacher Cadet Program, that allows students to work one-on-one with
teachers in critical shortage areas; (4) the Teacher Job Bank; (5) the
EXPO for Teacher Recruitment; and (6) two scholarship programs for prospective
teachers. Various organizations participate in South Carolina's recruitment
efforts. For example, Benedict College's Minority Access to Teacher Education
(MATE) program encourages college-bound minority students from rural and
underdeveloped school districts to teach in rural communities or in subject
areas that face teacher shortages. It also provides financial assistance,
counseling, and tutoring.
Few states have developed specific programs to address the problems
of rural teacher recruitment and retention. If the national teacher supply-and-demand
problem is the result of distribution, not the number of teachers, states
and rural school districts have an opportunity to put their best foot forward
and attract quality teachers. The Education Commission of the States (1999)
outlines a number of strategies for states: offer programs for high school
and college students; recruit midcareer professionals from other fields;
forgive scholarship and loan debts in exchange for teaching service; make
a special effort to place teachers in low-performing schools suffering
economic hardships; and create programs, positions, and agencies to promote
Regardless of state policies, rural schools and their communities have
many tools at their disposal for recruiting and retaining teachers. They
can create local programs, possibly in cooperation with a nearby college
or university, to attract local youth into teaching. Districts can develop
orientation programs and mentoring, and support joint school-community
efforts to help new teachers feel more at home. Most importantly, schools
and communities should publicize the advantages of teaching in a rural
1 At this writing the Web address is <http://zorba.uafadm.alaska.edu/atp/>
American Association of School Administrators. (1999). AASA online advocacy.
Boylan, C., & Bandy, H. (1994). Education and training for rural
teachers and professionals. Issues affecting rural communities. In Proceedings
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Reproduction Service No. ED 390 603)
Bradley, Ann. (1998). Uneven distribution contributes to teacher shortages,
study warns. Education Week on the Web, November 4, 1998. <http://www.edweek.org/ew/vol-18/10recrui.h18>.
Education Commission of the States. (1999). Teacher recruitment. Clearinghouse
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Iowa Governor. (1997). Iowa 77th General Assembly. Second session. Exec.
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LaBerge, M. E. (1999). 1998 statewide educator supply & demand report:
State of Alaska. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska Teacher
Lemke, J. C. (1994). Teacher induction in rural and small school districts.
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Education (ACRES). Conference held in Austin, Texas, March 23-26, 1994.
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Murphy, P. J., & Angelski, K. (1996/1997). Rural teacher mobility:
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Stone, D. (1990). Recruiting and retaining teachers in rural schools.
Far West Laboratory Knowledge Brief. Number Four. San Francisco: Far West
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to improve teacher quality-September 1998. <http://www.ed.gov/pubs/PromPractice/chapter2.html>.
U.S. Department of Education. Office of Postsecondary Education. (1999).
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