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Career-Changing, First-Year Rural Teachers Studied

Rural schools can support first-year, career-changing teachers by helping them adjust to their new communities and encouraging them to develop mentors, according to a new study.

"Career Changers as First-Year Teachers in Rural Schools" studied four career-changing first-year teachers in rural schools, and the Journal of Research in Rural Education published its authors' findings.

"The challenges new teachers face, the complexity of teaching in rural schools, and issues unique to career-changing teachers are all well documented in the literature," according to the study. "However, the relationships between these three dimensions are less well-understood."

Authors Sara Winstead Fry and Holly Anderson of Boise State University used that to guide their research. They didn't identify the names or locations of the teachers, but they did interview each participant at least three times as well observe their classrooms and informally communicate with their principals.

Each teacher studied completed a nontraditional, postbaccalaureate teaching-certification program at a metropolitan university in the Northwest. The unidentified state mostly is made of small towns and remote regions, so many new teachers find their first teaching jobs in rural areas.

The article cited isolation as one of the key factors that makes it difficult for rural districts to recruit and retain teachers, saying that often can be more profound in remote areas. And when nontraditional teachers begin in rural classrooms, the unique challenges and characteristics of rural schools may surprise them. The study says these teachers must understand their new school and the surrounding community.

The following excerpt explained why:

"The people who live in rural areas often have deep attachments to their communities (Woodrum, 2009), with their schools standing as important symbols of the community. Effective teaching (Eppley, 2009) and leadership (Budge, 2006) in rural areas require that educators recognize and respect this unique sociological dynamic. Teacher-preparation programs that place significant numbers of preservice teachers in rural communities do these individuals a disservice without substantial focus on rural conditions (Barley, 2009) and place consciousness (White & Reid, 2008)."

Some of the recommendations from the study include:

• Teacher education programs should offer new teachers a more practical analysis of school culture, such as the social dynamics of rural schools, and emphasize the importance of understanding the community. Colleges with a large number of graduates who go to work in rural areas also should offer coursework or workshops about rural conditions;
• Rural school leaders should guide first-year teachers on how to present new ideas in ways that will be welcomed by the community, as well as support them if resistance arises;
• Teacher education programs should introduce career-changing teachers to the benefits of mentoring and collegial relationships;
• Rural schools should offer formal mentoring programs or, if that's not possible, promote collegiality and encourage teachers to develop unofficial mentoring relationships; and
• Rural school leaders should actively work to familiarize new teachers with explicit teaching expectations, as well as the more subtle social and community expectations.

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