Academic journal article Rural Educator

An Examination of Resiliency in Rural Special Educators

Academic journal article Rural Educator

An Examination of Resiliency in Rural Special Educators

Article excerpt

Retention of rural special education teachers is a dilemma for many school districts. Districts in rural areas suffer from a lack of qualified special education teachers. Therefore, the problem of having enough qualified special educators is not easily solved. Many rural districts are able to hire teacher candidates, but fail to retain them for various reasons. Building resiliency in new teachers and educators during the first several years of teaching may be part of the answer to addressing the high rate of teacher turnover in rural areas. This paper summarizes highlights from research completed with rural Nebraska teachers on the topics of intrinsic resiliency and building resiliency in rural teachers.

Background of the Study

Attracting and retaining special education teacher candidates is a difficult task at best. Rosenkoetter, Irwin, and Saceda (2004) noted that currently 13% of special education teachers are not completely certified. Other surveys report that within the first five years of teaching roughly forty percent of rural beginning special education teachers leave the field (Beeson & Strange, 2003). According to Beeson and Strange (2003) in some Southern and Midwestern states almost one third of all students attended rural schools, meaning the schools were located in communities that had less that 2,500 people. In twenty states the percentage of rural schools was even higher. In some states, such as Nebraska and South Dakota, the percentage of rural schools was 60% and 77%, respectively. Therefore, the need to attract and retain teachers, specifically special education teachers, to rural areas is critical.

The shortage of rural educators is a multi-faceted problem. From the outset, the teacher candidate pool is more limited than in metropolitan areas (McCreight, 2000). Commonly mentioned reasons for the shortage of special education teachers in rural districts is sub-standard facilities, lower pay, and fewer benefits (McCreight, 2000). Consequently, attracting teachers to these communities is difficult given the restrictions of fewer potential candidates, monetary constraints, and higher attrition of teachers once they were employed within the district. The result is a reduced amount of qualified and certified teachers teaching students from low socio-economic backgrounds, many of whom would benefit from additional services and innovative instructional strategies (McCreight, 2000). Garnes, Menlove, and Adams (2002) explained that it was not the number of candidates per position, but finding the right candidates to fill the positions. Following this line of reasoning, it is essential that the teaching candidates be the right fit for the position, the school, and the community. Schools may have to use innovative hiring and retention strategies to attract and retain qualified teachers. With this in mind, this study attempted to ascertain why some teachers were attracted to rural schools and why they chose to remain in the school district.

Many schools selected applicants that did not have a longterm commitment to the school or community (Garnes, Menlove, & Adams, 2002). Consequently, they were only employed in the district for a year or two. For that reason, it is not sufficient for the teacher candidate to just have the proper teacher certification. The key to alleviating the shortage of special education teachers in rural areas may be to find the right candidate who prefers the rural lifestyle and can adjust not only to the way things are done in a small school, but also to the expectations of a rural community. If the district could address the shortages with individuals who enjoyed the rural lifestyle, perhaps they would remain there long-term and become active, contributing citizens within the community. Both the school and the community would benefit from this type of candidate.

Rural teachers stayed because they enjoyed the rural lifestyle and the relationships they formed with their students. …

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