Teachers' Perceptions of Rural STEM Teaching: Implications for Rural Teacher Retention

Article excerpt

Rural school districts often struggle with attracting and retaining high-quality teachers, especially in science subject areas. However, little is known about STEM in-service teachers ' lived experiences of rural teaching as they relate to retention. In this phenomenographical study, six rural in-service science teachers were interviewed regarding their perceptions of the benefits and challenges of teaching in rural schools in general, and teaching science subjects in particular. Community interactions, professional development, and rural school structures emerged as three key factors related to rural teacher retention. Participants viewed each of these factors as having both positive and negative aspects. Findings from this study confirm existing literature regarding rural teaching, in general, but provide additional insight into the complexities of rural science teaching, in particular. Implications for rural teacher preparation, recruitment, and retention are discussed.

Keywords: rural teacher retention; rural teacher attrition; science teaching; teacher attitudes; rural education.

This study addresses gaps in the recruitment and retention literature by examining the lived experiences of rural STEM teachers, including their perceptions of the benefits and challenges of rural teaching, with the overarching goal of understanding the factors related to their persistence in rural teaching in general, and rural STEM teaching in particular. As the prior research suggests, there is a great need for studies focused on the lived experiences of in-service rural teachers and, specifically, how their experiences might influence their decisions to persist in rural teaching. Also, because the consequences of rural teacher attrition are dire for rural STEM learning in particular, it is necessary to investigate the experiences of rural STEM teachers and examine whether or not their experiences and challenges are peculiar or similar to those reported by rural teachers in other studies. Thus, the current study investigated the following research questions:

What are the lived experiences of rural STEM teachers?

What do rural STEM teachers perceive as the benefits and challenges of rural STEM teaching? How do rural STEM teachers' experiences relate to rural teacher retention?

How do rural STEM teachers' experiences compare to previously published reports of rural teaching, generally?

Rural Teacher Attrition and Retention

Teacher turnover, estimated to be 9% annually (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2009), presents a major challenge for rural schools. Although some teachers originating from rural communities remain teaching in the same school for their entire careers, other teachers leave rural schools soon after beginning employment (Monk, 2007). Problems with rural teacher shortages are compounded in secondary areas of specialization including mathematics, science, and technology (Monk, 2007). Compared to schools in central cities, suburban areas, and large towns, schools in rural areas and small towns have greater difficulty filling vacancies, particularly in physical and computer science areas (NCES, 2006). Hence, rural school districts particularly struggle to attract and retain quality science and math teachers.

The negative consequences of rural teacher attrition cannot be overemphasized. Rural teacher attrition often results in schools staffed predominantly with relatively new and inexperienced teachers (Murphy & Angelski, 1997). Compared to teachers working in cities, suburban areas, and towns, rural teachers are more likely to be younger in age and less likely to have earned graduate degrees (NCES, 2009). Additionally, rural teacher attrition can have deleterious effects on the quality of education in rural schools. Schools in rural areas and small towns are more likely to deal with vacancies by cancelling planned course offerings and assigning an administrator or counselor to teach those classes (NCES, 2006). …