Preparing teachers for rural and regional settings: the RRRTEC project
Globally many rural schools find it harder to attract and retain quality teachers than their urban counterparts. A group of teacher education faculties have addressed this problem through the Renewing Rural and Regional Teacher Education Curriculum (RRRTEC) project. The project takes a fresh approach to the preparation of teachers for non-metropolitan settings, by helping prepare teachers not just for the school and classroom but also for life in rural and regional communities.
The project team has set up a website (www.rrrtec.net.au) compiling resources to assist in the preparation of teachers for living and working outside Australia's major cities. While designed principally to assist teacher educators, the resource collection is also intended to be of value to others who wish to learn more about rural and regional education research.
The RRRTEC project was undertaken over 2009–2011 as a collaboration between Monash University, Deakin University (VIC), Charles Sturt University (NSW), and Edith Cowan University (WA). It has been funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) .
Over the last two decades a growing number of Australian and international studies have examined the issue of attracting and retaining quality teachers for rural and regional communities. Some have been focused on teacher education, some on professional experience and some on rural education more broadly. Large Australian-related studies in this area include:
Roberts (2005) confirmed that Australia's remote, rural and regional schools are frequently staffed with young, inexperienced teachers, and teacher turnover is high. O'Brien, Goodard and Keeffe (2007) found burnout of beginning teachers in these communities to be a common problem: as well as having 'a devastating influence on the personal lives of beginning teachers and their families', the associated attrition 'also negatively impinges on the entire teaching profession'. Geographic isolation, weather, distance from family, and inadequate shopping were among the reasons teachers reported for leaving rural areas (Collins, 1999).
Halsey (2005) specifically explored the impact of a rural practicum on pre-service teachers, and highlighted the additional social and economic costs they encountered in completing a rural professional experience. Sharplin (2002) discovered that many pre-service teachers feared that as rural teachers they would lack access to resources, and face isolation and cultural barriers. These fears left many of them unwilling to consider a future rural career or even to trial a teacher education incentive program.
Other studies (Collins, 1999; Hudson & Hudson, 2008; McClure, Redfield & Hammer, 2003) have also reported that both pre-service and in-service teaches identify rural teaching with geographical, social, cultural, and professional isolation. Other problems they identified included inadequate housing and a lack of preparation for multi-age classrooms. Classroom burnout appeared to trigger an exodus from rural classrooms. Hudson & Hudson (2008, p 67) cited a report in The Age (26 February, 2007), in which it was stated that younger teachers 'point to issues such as overwork, pay structures, being put on contract without assurance of permanency, community expectations, student management and lack of social status' as reasons for leaving rural areas.
Starr and White (2008) found that in rural schools teachers, and leading teachers in particular, face many of the same issues as their metropolitan counterparts. However, they once again identified real or perceived problems distinctive to rural teaching, including personal and professional isolation; inadequate access to professional learning and teaching resources; high visibility in the community; requirements to teach 'out of area', and early professional advancement to positions of leadership without preparation at an earlier stage in their careers.
Each of these studies highlight the ways in which teachers could be viewed as 'unprepared' to teach in rural communities and signify that teacher education needs to reconsider the ways in which they currently prepare teachers.
Halsey (2005) urgently recommended that teacher education programs develop policies to increase significantly the number of pre-service country teaching placements, with the view that this might encourage beginning teachers to consider a rural career. Rural practicum, however, is only one aspect of teacher education.
White and Reid (2008) argued for a new conceptualisation of teacher education. They identified links between the sustainability of rural communities and teacher preparation, finding that rural communities stand to benefit from teacher education that is inclusive of rural education needs. White (2010) further argued that the relationships between rural schools and local communities are reciprocal, whereby successes in the areas of rural leadership and community collaboration can inform teacher education reform.
Researchers of rural teaching have also called for effective skills for teaching the multi-age and grade class (Page, 2006), and for understanding rural and regional students' funds of knowledge (Moll, 1992) and the 'virtual school bags' that teachers need to unpack regarding the students they teach (Thompson, 2002). They have called as well for greater understanding of place-based consciousness (Grunewald, 2003), and skills to develop place-based curriculum that connects students to their communities (White, 2010; White and Reid, 2008).
For the RRRTEC website, the project team summarised the research literature into the five key themes of teachers' experience of rurality; community; schools; classroom; and preparing for a rural career key themes.
The RRRTEC model attempts to reframe the preparation of teachers, extending it beyond the classroom to the school and to the rural community (White, Bloomfield and Le Cornu, 2010). This is what White (2010) has outlined as a need for teachers to be 'community ready, school ready and classroom ready'.
The website houses a collection of resources that include a large number of rural and regional education research publications, case studies, DVDs and photos, and a range of advice from principals, teachers and teacher educators about their experiences working in rural and regional locations. It also includes many stories of pre-service teachers who have been placed in rural and regional locations.
The resources on the website may also be explored under each of the five key themes. Each theme is organised into one or more potential teaching modules for teacher education courses, as follows.
A range of readings cover the diversity of the concept of 'rurality', in its geographic, demographic and economic aspects. The material is intended to help future teachers know and understand the diverse definitions of metropolitan, rural and regional communities as they relate to educational policy, resourcing and experience. It covers the impact of community change and renewal on rural and regional education, and examines historical and contemporary issues and policies related to the employment and retention of teachers in rural and regional contexts.
The focus of this module is the diversity and complexity of regional and rural communities. It examines rural social space (Reid et al, 2010) and 'place consciousness' – distinguishing, for example, between different rural and regional places – and considers the implications for education.
Understanding rural teacher identity and teachers' work
Teachers construct and negotiate their personal and professional roles in rural and regional communities. The module offers strategies to access information on community and school roles and expectations in rural and regional contexts, to help future teachers work and live within and across a community, and successfully in these environments.
Understanding working with rural and regional communities
Here, the focus is on understanding community partnerships and stepping up to leadership roles. The module offers strategies to work collaboratively and create partnerships with colleagues, school support staff, other professionals and community‐based personnel, to enhance student learning and wellbeing and build social and cultural capital.
Getting to know rural students' lives
Strategies to promote the learning of regional and rural students include developing place-based learning experiences that connect the local and the global. The future teacher is offered ways to work collaboratively with colleagues, school support staff, other professionals and community‐based personnel.
Preparing for rural/regional professional experience
Pre-service teachers gain their greatest insights into teaching through authentic experiences. A practicum experience provides an effective way to develop an understanding of teaching and living in a rural or regional community; however, this is not always possible due to the scope of the subject being undertaken or to individual circumstances. Teacher educators are therefore encouraged to select experiences that best suit their subject or practicum preparation requirements and that enable pre-service teachers to engage authentically with rural and regional schools and communities.
Prior to undertaking any of the rural or regional experiences (remote contact, site visits, field trips or practicum) pre-service teachers should undertake relevant preparatory activities in order to familiarise themselves with the place, the community and its school.
The module suggests modes in which teacher educators can deliver course content, discussing the relative merits of guest speakers, visits, fields trips and practicum. It also discusses online tools for observations, communication and collaboration, and a simulations site.
Obtaining a position at a rural or regional school
The final module covers issues for the future teacher to consider applying for a rural/regional position. It includes embedded video clips in which a practising teacher and two officers from education authorities offer advice to pre-service teachers.
While the initial work on the RRRTEC website is now complete, the site is not intended as a finished product. Rather, those who visit this site are invited to participate in the ongoing research to improve rural and regional teacher education. Future work will now focus on building resources relevant for remote contexts and developing recommendations to better design rural and remote professional experiences.
For more information on RRRTEC workshops and how you might contribute to the growing resource collection, contact Professor Simone White – firstname.lastname@example.org
Collins, T. (1999). Attracting and retaining teachers in rural areas. ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools, Digest EDO–RC–99–7. Charleston, WV: ERIC/CRESS, Appalachia Educational Laboratory.
González, N., Moll, L., & Amanti, C. (2005). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities, and classrooms. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Green, B. (Ed.) (2008). Spaces and places: The NSW rural (teacher) education project. WaggaWagga, New South Wales: Centre for Information Studies, Charles Sturt University.
Grunewald, D. (2003). Foundations of place: A multidisciplinary framework for place-conscious education. American Educational Research Journal, 40(3), 619–654.
Halsey, R. J. (2005). Pre-service country teaching in Australia: What's happening—what needs to happen? Paper presented at the 21st Society for the Provision of Education in Rural Australia Conference. Darwin, NT.
Hudson, P., & Hudson, S. (2008). Changing preservice teachers' attitudes for teaching in rural schools. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 33(4): 67–77.
Lyons, T., Cooksey, R., Panizzon, D., Parnell, A., & Pegg, J. (2006). Science, ICT and Mathematics Education in Rural and Regional Australia. The SiMERR National Survey prepared for the Department of Education, Science and Training. National Centre of Science, ICT and Mathematics Education for Rural and Regional Australia. Armidale: University of New England.
McClure, C., Redfield, D., & Hammer, P. (2003). Recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers in rural areas. AEL. Retrieved from www.ael.org/page.htm?&pd=abo6721&id=764
Page, J. (2006). Teaching in rural and remote schools: implications for pre-service teacher preparation pedagogies of place and their implication for pre-service teacher preparation. Education in Rural Australia; 16(1): 47–63.
O'Brien, P., Goodard, R., & Keeffe, M. (2008). Burnout confirmed as a viable explanation for beginning teacher attrition. In: Australian Association for Research in Education Annual Conference Proceedings (AARE 2008), 25–29 November 2007, Fremantle, Western Australia. Retrieved from http://www.aare.edu.au/07pap/obr07567.pdf
Reid, J., Green, B., Cooper, M., Hastings, W., Lock, G., & White, S. (2010). Regenerating Rural Social Space? Teacher Education for Rural-Regional Sustainability. Australian Journal of Education, Nov, 54(3), 262–276.
Roberts, P. (2005). Staffing an empty schoolhouse: attracting and retaining teachers in rural, remote and isolated communities. Surry Hills, NSW: New South Wales Teachers Federation.
Roberts, P. (2007). Shaping future staffing systems to support students in rural, remote and isolated communities. Discussion paper – Australian College of Educators 13.
Sharplin, E. (2002). Rural retreat or outback hell: expectations of rural and remote teaching. Issues in Educational Research, 12. Retrieved from http://www.iier.org.au/iier12/sharplin.html
Starr, K., & White, S. (2008). The small rural school principalship: Key challenges and cross-school responses. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 23(5) pp 1–12.
Thomson, P. (2002). Schooling the rustbelt kids: making the difference in changing times. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin.
White, S., & Reid, J. (2008). Placing teachers? Sustaining rural schooling through place consciousness in Teacher Education. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 23(7), 1–11.
White, S. (2010). Creating and celebrating place and partnerships: a key to sustaining rural education communities. Keynote address for the Society for the Provision of Education in Rural Australia (SPERA), 15–17th of September. University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs.
White, S., Bloomfield, D., Le Cornu, R. (2010). Professional Experience in new times: issues and responses to a changing education landscape. Asia Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, vol. 38, no. 3, Special Issue : Continuing the Pursuit of Quality in Professional Experience, Routledge, United Kingdom, pp 181–193.
Subject HeadingsRural sociology
Social life and customs
School and community