Teaching in Rural Saskatchewan: First Year Teachers Identify Challenges and Make Recommendations

Article excerpt

Despite the existing research on rural education, rural teaching, and pre-service rural practician placements, there is little research on the experiences of beginning teachers in rural schools. The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of Saskatchewan beginning teachers who obtain employment in rural or northern schools. Eight beginning teachers voluntarily participated in a telephone interview during their first year in the teaching profession. Their interviews highlighted shared themes related to the challenges of working in rural and northern communities, including: acceptance: understanding the community; isolation; overlap between personal and professional lives; and impact of rural context on workload. In addition, participants made recommendations for teachers considering employment in these environments, including: preparing to obtain a rural teaching position; seeking out mentorship relationships; and making connections within and outside of the community. These shared themes are discussed within the context of existing literature, and recommendations are made relating to future directions for research in this area.

Key words: Rural beginning teachers; challenges; recommendations; experiences.

Although most new teachers feel prepared for their first year of teaching (McPherson, 2000), some beginning teachers report an inability to cope and describe feeling isolated and overwhelmed by the demands of the profession (Rogers & Babinski, 2002). Beginning teachers may experience difficulties adjusting to school culture, procedures, and expectations as well as in modifying their university education to fit their current school culture (Khamis, 2000). These difficulties may be amplified by the unique challenges of teaching in a rural community (Monk, 2007). Rural environments can be geographically, socially, culturally, personally, and professionally isolating (McCormack & Thomas, 2003). Prospective rural teachers are often unprepared for rural life and may have idealized preconceived ideas which lead to disappointment when proved incorrect (Sharplin, 2002) or deter them from accepting rural positions (Miles, Marshall, Rolfe, & Noonan, 2004). It can also be difficult to retain quality teachers in rural jobs (Schwartzbeck, Redfield, Morris, & Hammer, 2003), as many rural teachers do not renew their contracts upon their completion (Miller, Paterson, & Graham, 2005). Challenges to rural teaching include a lack of professional support (Ralph, 2002) and insufficient instructional materials, supplies, and equipment (McCoy, 2006). Multiple subject area responsibilities (Beesley, Atwill, Blair, & Barley, 2010) and the need to teach "multiple grades, sometimes in multi-grade, mixed-age classrooms" (Barley, 2009, p. 10) further complicate some rural teachers' placements.

It is important to examine the realities of beginning rural teachers since their early experiences have long term implications for teacher effectiveness, job satisfaction, and career length (McCormack & Thomas, 2003). The purpose of this study was to examine the challenges and rewards experienced by eight beginning teachers in rural and/or northern schools in their first year of employment.

Context of Study

Saskatchewan is one of Canada's three prairie provinces, located between Alberta to the west and Manitoba to the east. With an area of 251,366 square miles, its boundaries extend from the US border along the 49lh parallel to the border with the Northwest Territories along the 60th parallel. Provincial population estimates (2010) were 1,041,729 inhabitants of which approximately 15% self identified as Aboriginal (Government of Saskatchewan, 2011).

Saskatchewan currently has approximately 160,000 students enrolled within the Kindergarten to Grade 12 school system (Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, 2009). Among the 721 schools active in the 2008-09 school year, 371 (51.4%) were rural, 327 (45. …