By definition, rural schools are “located in remote geographical locations where the distance to an urban city is over 100 miles” (Campo Ringler and Jones). That means almost all school districts in the state of Wyoming are classified as rural schools.
And as we well know, rural schools face many challenges. Among them, declining enrollments as people move away for different opportunities, geographical isolation, and economic hardship as historical industries evolve.
In addition, it’s not always easy for teachers to move to a rural district, even if they are highly motivated. For one thing, there aren’t as many openings. It can be tough to find housing, and integrating into a rural community as an outsider can be really tough.
What difference can one teacher make?
With a well-documented shortage of teachers plaguing schools across the country and an estimated 44% of new teachers leaving the profession within 5 years, rural Wyoming school districts are feeling the pinch as well. Schools struggle to keep highly-qualified teachers, which is devastating when one teacher can mean the difference between a student getting a math credit required for graduation…or not.
This is why a newly-formed partnership between the Teton Science Schools’ Professional Learning and the University of Wyoming’s School of Teacher Education received a $25,000 planning grant from Rural Schools Collaborative in March 2022 – to explore what a rural teacher corps would look like in Wyoming.
The Rural Teacher Corps aims to match pre-service teachers – college sophomores and juniors in the UW College of Education – with mentors in the field. These mentors will coach them on how to problem-solve in rural settings. We believe that learning some of the skills and challenges unique to rural schools could help pre-service teachers know how to be resourceful before they even step into the classroom.
Experienced rural teachers know things like the need to plan ahead as rural towns don’t always have quick access to stores for lesson supplies. Or, how to problem-solve as the only staff member in a one-room schoolhouse. Who do you talk to about a puzzling student issue?
The future of rural education
Through the Rural Teacher corps, educators and pre-service teachers will build relationships among themselves as well as within the communities they serve. Ideally, new teachers will head into the field feeling more comfortable, and potentially be inspired to stay in their teaching positions for longer than a year or couple years. This is important for student achievement and overall educational outcomes.
Rural Teacher Corps participants will be trained in place-based education, which is at the core of the program. Place-based education offers students – and teachers – a way to interact within their immediate environments.
With additional training in place-based education, students and teachers in the Rural Teacher Corps will explore questions such as, “What is special and unique about my community?” And, “who is doing what within the community?” With this focus on their local area, students and teachers explore their immediate surroundings through the lenses of ecology, economics, and culture.
Goals of the Rural Teacher Corps include:
- Facilitating relationships between teachers, students, and community members in rural towns
- Establishing a professional learning community among teachers
- Overcoming the misconception that small communities are boring or don’t have much to offer
- Promoting positive mental health for teachers
- Offering teachers long-term career support
The Rural Teacher Corps aims to support new teachers in small towns across Wyoming, reduce the isolation that rural teachers feel, and facilitate a network of rural educators to ultimately help increase student achievement.
With an eye towards building community and providing support to teachers early in their careers, Wyoming’s Rural Teacher Corps is focused on the long-term success of rural teachers and students.
This year, 12 UW education students are participating in the pilot year of the Rural Teacher Corps. We look forward to sharing more details and insights as the school year progresses.For more information about the Rural Teacher Corps, please contact Leslie Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org.