You are here

Research Center

Finding and Keeping Rural Teachers

Essentials on education data and analysis from research authority AEL

Schools in isolated rural areas and inner cities are the hardest to staff, particularly those

serving minority or low-income students, according to recent data. Teachers in special education, math, science and foreign languages are especially needed. Shortages are greatest in the Southeast, Southwest and the West. With No Child Left Behind putting greater emphasis on having "highly qualified" teachers in every classroom, the competition among districts for teachers is likely to intensify the problem and present a challenge for rural districts.

NCLB's requirement poses a problem for rural schools with small enrollments, which rely on teachers who can teach more than one grade or subject. Under the law, these teachers will have to be certified in every subject they teach, even if they are only teaching that class once a week. Middle school teachers who hold only a K-8 certificate may need to acquire additional certifications. The same is true for secondary school teachers of multiple core subjects.

The decision to teach in a rural district can require teachers to maintain multiple certifications while living far from the nearest university and preparing for and teaching several different classes each day, all at a salary that may be thousands of dollars less than one's suburban or urban counterparts. (Compared to teachers in non-rural districts, beginning rural teachers earn 13.3 percent less; teachers with a master's degrees and 20 years of experience earn 17.2 percent less.) Unless teachers are rooted to a rural school by a spouse's employment or some other factor, teachers may seek relief by taking positions elsewhere.

State strategies include scholarship programs, loan and loan-forgiveness programs, salary increases, bonuses, tax credit/mortgage assistance, relocation assistance, and stipends. What can rural district leaders do? The following suggestions are based on recent research as well as reports from national education organizations.

Offer targeted incentives Target limited financial resources where the need is greatest: high-poverty schools, remote areas and hard-to-fill subject areas.

Upgrade recruitment and hiring practices Use marketing techniques that emphasize the advantages of living and teaching in rural communities. Encourage adoption of a common statewide application form (three states have already done this). Include teachers in the hiring process, and encourage a two-way exchange of information.

Establish a comprehensive induction program Studies show this decreases the likelihood that teachers will quit in the first year. Include a school-community orientation.

Nurture local talent Use outreach efforts, tuition assistance and other incentives to nurture teaching talent among high school students, out-of field teachers, school paraprofessionals, and second-career adults.

Collaborate with post-secondary institutions A Virginia school district teamed with a community college and a university to create a structured curriculum path for high school students interested in teaching. These students return to student teach in the county school system.

Create avenues for greater community involvement "One isolated district in North Dakota managed to lure a teacher by promising him bird-hunting rights on private farmland," reports the Education Commission of the States.

For citation of the references used in this article, go to