Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Pandemic may have worsened rural teacher shortages; states mull how to address the problem

Rural schools, especially in the West, where they include tribal schools, have long had trouble finding and keeping qualified teachers. "Principals in small towns across the West regularly import teachers from afar, even from abroad. They hire unlicensed teachers and stop offering specific courses. Elementary, fine arts and special education teachers are especially hard to find," Neal Morton reports for The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit education newsroom.

The pandemic has made it even more difficult, since poor pay is usually part of the problem, and many rural teachers "have had to stretch their low pay even further this year — to cover out-of-pocket purchases of personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and other pandemic essentials," Morton reports. "The pandemic also has heightened the solitude of working in isolated settings, making it harder to build a sense of community and belonging. . . . It’s still unclear how much the pandemic will increase the rural teacher shortage, and there’s a sense among some advocates that no one cares."

Some states and districts are trying to figure out how to get hometown graduates to stay in town or return there to teach, and also how to make their schools and towns more attractive to imported teachers so they'll stay longer. "One idea is to stop recruiting people to move and just focus on getting them to stay. Many of the recently funded government efforts have been aimed at convincing people who grow up in these towns to stay and teach," Morton reports. "It’s harder than it sounds, since rural areas tend to produce fewer people with the education levels necessary to become teachers. Those who do earn advanced degrees can be loath to return. And there’s little evidence to say how well 'grow your own' efforts work."

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