ERIC Identifier: ED259875
Publication Date: 1984-09-00
Author: Swift, Doug
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools Las Cruces NM.

Finding and Keeping Teachers: Strategies for Small Schools.

Recruiting and retaining qualified, competent teachers is an ongoing problem for administrators of small schools that are rural and often isolated by distance and terrain.

This Digest discusses why teachers leave small school districts and suggests strategies for recruiting and retaining teachers.


Many teachers employed in small schools come reluctantly and do not stay. Teachers leave these districts for the following reasons:

--Preservice preparation that is inappropriate for small, rural schools

--Failure to recognize that experience in small schools can advance career plans and goals

--Inadequate experiential and psychological preparation for the demands and limitations of these schools and communities

--Mismatch of personal value systems and rural lifestyles

--Discontinuity between idyllic expectations and harsh realities of rural living


Administrators of small and rural schools should analyze school and community needs, plan an annual recruitment calendar, and prepare a recruitment package for prospective applicants and college placement offices (including job announcement, salary schedule, school calendar, application form, and descriptions of school/community profiles and resources).

In addition, administrators may want to consider the following strategies (Miller 1982; Seifert and Kurtz 1983; Lewis and Edington 1983):

--Review college placement files for persons from nearby or similar rural areas who are more likely to be satisfied in rural school districts

--Emphasize the quality of rural life and special features (geography, climate, historical sites, cuisine, and isolation)

--Arrange (require!) family interviews with overnight or weekend visits

--Include school support personnel in recruitment activities (preparing information packets, seeking applicants, and participating in interview activities)

--Involve the community by having a school patron host the prospective family, by encouraging a community potluck, or by arranging a camping trip or a tour of interesting sites

--Arrange "package deals," employing the spouse in the school system or the community

--Pay all or part of relocation expenses

As a long-range strategy, a number of small districts might cooperatively sponsor scholarships requiring that recipients teach in small districts or forgiveness of student financial aid loans for persons who teach in rural areas.


Housing in rural areas is often substandard and/or distant from the school. A number of solutions to this problem have been offered by Swift (1983):

--Housing subsidized or provided by the school district is a tax-free benefit to the employee

--Revenue bonds may be issued to pay for housing construction with rent used to service the bonds

--Housing, constructed by a nearby postsecondary vocational school, could be built on-site or at the vocational school and later transported to the school district for less than if built by a general contractor. Financing could be through revenue bonds or lease-purchase agreement

--Housing, constructed by the high school construction trades program, can use community resources such as donated or at cost building materials and volunteer construction expertise

--Wind- and solar-energy laboratories for the high school science program can provide housing


The following advantages of small schools should be emphasized in recruiting and retention efforts:

--Low pupil-teacher ratio and individualized instruction

--Opportunity to know students and their families and satisfaction of watching students' progress

--Opportunity to influence curriculum and administration

--Community involvement in the school


Salaries in small school districts are generally lower and/or tend to fall behind those in large districts in the same state. However, the total compensation package--salary and benefits (insurance, retirement, and worker's and unemployment compensation) are often comparable.

Small schools can offer some of the following monetary considerations not necessarily appropriate to large districts: salary increments for multiple teaching assignments, tuition reimbursement for professional development activities, career ladders and merit pay, and a four-day teaching week.


Activities to retain personnel start the day after hiring and should include the following (Seifert 1982; Seifert and Kurtz 1983):

--providing orientation information about the school and district, including the names and duties of staff members, administrative procedures, curriculum (philosophy, objectives, and course outlines), and community (names, resources, and map)

--Involving the community in welcoming the teacher

--Pairing the new teacher with a master teacher

--Involving the teacher in an activity outside the classroom that requires interaction with other school personnel

--Visiting the teacher's classroom

--Helping the new teacher define professional development needs and appropriate activities

--Allowing sabbatical and professional leave for career development activities and for district business

--Allowing faculty exchanges with other districts, large and small

--Reimbursing professional dues


Generating additional funds often requires legislative action to improve the formula on which financing is based.

Approximately 27 states recognize that small schools cost more to operate per pupil and adjust their general aid formulas for school size, district size, sparsity, isolation, or combinations thereof (Wright 1981). One state helps fund shared services, and a few states fund regional centers or intermediate districts which provide or coordinate shared services.

States vary in their recognition of teacher salary costs. New Mexico, for example, recognizes training and experience while Nebraska recognizes training only. If local school districts were to recognize multiple endorsements and teaching assignments, then the general aid formula might also be changed to reflect these additional incurred costs.

Many states provide additional funding to small districts through transportation and capital outlay assistance.

An idea gaining momentum is that of locally supported school foundations. Long a tactic of higher education, the concept is moving down the educational ladder and may provide additional funding.


The following cooperative strategies among small school districts should prove beneficial:

--Similar salary schedules, including what is recognized (training, experience, multiple teaching assignments), when it is recognized, and how (in terms of dollars) it is recognized

--Agreement among districts to offer mobility on the salary schedule, including merit pay and ladder steps

--Availability of specialized services that cannot be afforded in individual small districts but are common in large districts

--Combined lobbying effort. Because small-district representation in state legislatures is small compared to large-district representation, only coalitions of small districts, local communities, and their representatives can wield sufficient power to accomplish the funding goals


Armstrong, Gail. THE SOURCEBOOK: A DIRECTORY OF RESOURCES FOR SMALL AND RURAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS. Arlington, VA: The American Association of School Administrators, 1983. ED 234 978.

Beckner, Weldon. THE CASE FOR THE SMALLER SCHOOL. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1983. ED 228 002.

Lewis, Ted, and Everett D. Edington. SMALL DISTRICT TEACHER STUDY. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY. Monograph Number 2. Las Cruces, NM: The New Mexico Center for Rural Education, 1983. ED 231 580.

Miller, Jim, Jr. TEACHER RECRUITMENT IN RURAL AREAS. Paper presented at the Small Schools Workshop, Las Cruces, NM, March 29-30, 1982.

Seifert, Edward H. "Personnel Practices in Small Schools." THE SMALL SCHOOL FORUM 4 (Fall 1982): 10-12.

Seifert, Edward H., and William H. Kurtz. TEACHER RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION STRATEGIES FOR SMALLER SCHOOLS: A HANDBOOK FOR SUPERINTENDENTS AND SCHOOL BOARDS. San Marcos, TX: Small Schools Resource Center, Southwest Texas State University, 1983. ED 234 972.

Swift, Doug. DECLINING ENROLLMENT AND THE "VERY SMALL" SCHOOL DISTRICT. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Rocky Mountain Educational Research Association, November, 12, 1983. ED 222 319.

Wright, Lyle O. SPECIAL FUNDING FOR SMALL AND/OR ISOLATED RURAL SCHOOLS. Las Cruces, NM: ERIC Clearinghuse on Rural Education and Small Schools, 1981.

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