Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Storylines about Rural Teachers in the United States: A Narrative Analysis of the Literature

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Storylines about Rural Teachers in the United States: A Narrative Analysis of the Literature

Article excerpt

This narrative literature analysis examines the storylines of rural teachers told through published research on rural teachers. Using a narrative analysis approach, we investigated research published between 1970 and 2010-four decades of rural-oriented education research and policy work. Four storylines emerged from our coding of rural-related education research: (1) rural teachers are professionally isolated, (2) rural teachers are different from urban and/or suburban teachers, (3) rural teachers are often lacking in professional knowledge/teaching credentials, and (4) rural teachers are particularly resistant to change. Examining the explicit and implicit ways in which rural teachers and schools are portrayed as problematic in research underscores the significant role academics play in sustaining the "rural problem" storyline.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, rural schools in the United States have faced critical challenges related to teacher recruitment and retention, professional and geographic isolation, and professional credentialing of teachers (e.g., Abel & Sewell, 1999; Barrow & Thompson, 1996; Burton & Johnson, 2010; Cady & Rearden, 2009; Carlsen & Monk, 1992; Malloy & Allen, 2007; Westling & Whitten, 1996). These teacher challenges converge to generate issues of equity, for they impact the life experiences and educational opportunities of youth who attend rural schools. In turn, they negatively influence the future of rural communities as a whole. Furthermore, complex struggles between local, state, and national control of rural schools' curriculum, certification, assessment, and environment plague rural schools and affect the professional lives of rural teachers (Kannapel & DeYoung, 1999).

Despite the social and political imperative to investigate the rural circumstance as thoroughly and comprehensively as other place-defined school phenomena (e.g., urban education) (DeYoung, 1987), researchers have rarely taken up the issue of equity in the rural context (Burton & Johnson, 2010; Yeo, 1998). We focused our investigation in this article on only one important group involved in educational equity in the rural context-teachers. Specifically, we conducted a systematic narrative analysis of the research literature on rural teachers in the United States guided by the following questions.

* What narrative storylines emerge from the empirical research literature about rural teachers in the United States?

* What do such storylines suggest or reveal about research concerning rural teachers and rural schools in the United States?

In analyzing four decades of peer-reviewed research on rural teachers, we were struck by the strong and consistent storylines that researchers constructed about rural teachers and their experiences. By "storyline" we refer to the narrative threads within the research that depict the character and experiences of teachers. We argue that these storylines often suggest that rural teachers-due to a variety of factors including geographic isolation, lack of professional development, and resistance to change-present a formidable "problem" in the educational growth of students and the successful implementation of education policy. This article explores the storylines told in research from 1970-2010 and considers the ways these storylines contribute to a broader social and cultural narrative about rural teachers and rural schools.

Developing Storylines About Rural Teachers: A Brief Historical Overview

Scholarly attention to the unique needs of rural teachers and their preparation has permeated research during the 20th and 21st centuries. Until the late 19th century, the majority of teachers were rural or semi-rural (Sher, 1977). Urbanization and consolidation gradually made the small one-room rural school the exception, rather than the norm. Indeed, in 1917, Woofer wrote of the special nature of rural schools, highlighting the distinctiveness of the institution, but not necessarily its teachers. …

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