Tasha Egalite, PhD student, New Mexico State University
The United States is a nation of rural regions. The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that there are 7,156 rural districts across the United States (NCES, 2019). The NCES has also noted the high percentage of teacher vacancies in rural schools by subject with approximately 30% for general elementary and 28% for special education (NCES). Senior statisticians within the Office of Postsecondary Education stated that in the State of New Mexico alone during the 2017-2018 school year, there were massive shortages in many subjects and grades (U.S. Department of Education, 2017), leaving 440 teacher vacancies in the school system (Nott, 2016).
Within the State of New Mexico, there are 33 counties; 12 of which the Census Bureau has defined as mostly or completely rural. For example, Union County, New Mexico is completely rural whereas Lincoln County, New Mexico is mostly rural (Reagan, 2016). In a 2012-2013 school year report, 23.7% of all students in New Mexico attend school in rural districts with there being 304 rural schools (NCES, 2013). Associations like the New Mexico Regional Education Cooperatives Association (NMRECA) have been established to work with the department of public education to help support and combat the need in districts within rural areas (NMRECA, 2019).
Even with this assistance, rural teachers still need the development to support their students’ learning effectively. According to Rodriguez & McKay (2010), educators need professional development. It “affirms the knowledge, experience and intuitive judgement they have cultivated during their careers” (Rodriguez & McKay, p. 1). There is a feeling of gratification to receive confirmation from others in the field; professional development creates a sort of validation to the work done. Educators may even “benefit from opportunities to reflect their enthusiasm for teaching” (Rodriguez & McKay, p. 1). Professional development is an important way that teachers to learn effective strategies teaching and build community as educators with both common and unique experiences.
Rural educators should continue their education inside or outside the classroom. However, there are obstacles for teachers working in rural districts. While the secluded environment restricts opportunities for teachers to access some forms of distance education, there is great potential for rural teachers to leverage the technological access they have (Rice, 2019).
Building a professional network will enable rural educators to share challenges and successes from the classroom as well as discuss new strategies or improvements. A professional learning network that I have been a member of and use extensively for my continuing education units is EdWeb.net. EdWeb was founded in 2008 by an educational executive as a social network— building a community for professionals that faced barriers in education. This website was developed for creative teachers to share and improve their teaching with other teachers anytime and anywhere (EdWeb, 2019). EdWeb provides teachers with webinars for professional development. One webinar newsfeed I received this week is for Bringing humor and storytelling to STEM Projects and Empowering competency-based learning throughout a district. The asynchronous nature of community has the potential to connect teachers are in different time zones. It’s one of a teacher’s best tools for keeping up with new ideas or solutions by educators in and outside the classroom.
This resource has also created a community for rural educators that will launch in September. EdWeb has partnered with CoSN, the Consortium for School Networking to assist rural districts in the digital learning platform. The consortium and EdWeb want to bridge the gap by bringing district leaders to discuss the challenges rural schools face in acquiring technology. I am hopeful that this site will have an impact on the teachers who join. Rural teachers should be positioned for success in the classrooms when they able to engage with others outside of their immediate environment. Let’s take advantage of this resource readily accessed through technology.
EdWeb, LLC. (2019). Sharing ideas to improve teaching and learning. Retrieved from https://home.edweb.net/why-edweb/
National Center for Education Statistics (2019). Rural education. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ruraled/tables/a.1.a.-1.asp
National Center for Education Statistics (2013). Selected statistics from the public elementary and secondary education universe: school year 2012–13. Retrieved from http://web.archive.org/web/20150504191112/http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2013/2014098/tables/table_04.asp
New Mexico Regional Education Cooperatives Association (2019). Welcome to the nmreca. Retrieved from www.nmreca.org
Nott, R. (2016, December 6). Report: New Mexico in ‘dire’ need of public school teachers. Retrieved from https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/education/report-new-mexico-in-dire-need-of-public-school-teachers/article_67ad2b1b-baf9-54d2-a2ff-62e7fcb9c07f.html
Reagan, S. (2016, December 9). How rural is Mew Mexico? Retrieved from https://bber.unm.edu/blog/how-rural-is-new-mexico/
Rice, M. (2019). Supporting literacy leaders in sustaining technological change in rural spaces: Recommendations for three shifts. English Leadership Quarterly,41(3), 9-13.
Rodriguez, A.M. & McKay, S. (2010). Professional development for experienced teachers working with adult English language learners. Center for Applied Linguistics. Retrieved from http://www.cal.org/caelanetwork/resources/experienced.html
US Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education (2017). Teacher shortage areas nationwide listing 1990–1991 through 2017–2018. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ope/pol/bteachershortageareasreport201718.pdf