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Analysis Finds Ed. Research Portrays Rural Teachers as Problematic

If you believe the portayals in published research, rural teachers are professionally isolated, different from urban and suburban teachers, lacking in professional knowledge, and particularly resistant to change, according to a new analysis.

Three researchers did a narrative literature analysis on four decades of rural education research, and those four main themes emerged. Their findings, "Storylines About Rural Teachers in the United States: A Narrative Analysis of the Literature," were published in the Journal of Research in Rural Education. The researchers were Megan Burton of Auburn University in Alabama, Kara Brown of University of South Carolina, and Amy Johnson of Hunter College in New York City.

They saw those storylines or narrative threads depicting rural educators' character and experience as negative, and as having broader implications for the perception of rural schools.

"We argue that these storylines often suggest that rural teachers ... present a formidable 'problem' in the educational growth of students and the successful implementation of education policy," according to the paper.

Their review looked at 48 articles in major education publications or rural education journals. That number alone was alarming—only nine of the articles were published in general education journals—and showed a dearth of research focused on rural teachers, according to researchers.

"Thus, from this research emerges a story about research priorities and publication in the United States; it is a story where the rural largely is marginalized, and perhaps ignored, in the most prestigious journals," according to the article. "... We hope to begin a broader conversation about ways in which rural research can be re-centered in the pages of our broader professional publications."

Researchers also were surprised by the simplistic characterization of rural teachers, as well as the way rurality was portrayed as a problem "to overcome rather than as the setting to understand."

"Our study revealed that researchers frequently depicted rural teachers as the antagonists in the stories being told about them," according to the study. "As antagonists, they were part of the problem in rural education because of issues such as lack of knowledge and resistance to change."

They recommended that the politics and ideology behind various storylines be explored further, as well as for there to be more empirical research on rural teachers and for that to be shared with more than the rural education community.

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