This is a guest post by Waski The Squirrel.
Joel’s invitation to be a guest-writer here was a prime opportunity to advertise the joys of teaching in rural America. I run a small blog on Townhall. Rural America is an ignored sector of education, except in the occasional news article about poverty. I can’t really contrast rural America with anywhere else. I’ve always taught in rural schools: first in Pennsylvania
and now in North Dakota. My current school educates about 450 students who come from an area of just over 1000 square miles.
When I first moved to North Dakota 10 years ago, I discovered that “rural” is a relative term. The school where I student taught back in Pennsylvania graduated 200 students every year. The school where I took my first job graduated 14 students that year.
In college, my major was in Physics. I took math and science as electives. In North Dakota, my elective choices turned out to be a good thing. I was the only science teacher in my school. I taught every single science course for grades 7-12 as well as one math class. I learned more about time management that year than I ever thought could be learned. I was teaching classes like Biology which I’d never liked or really understood. After 6 years of this, I really saw how the different sciences went together.
The other side of this was to live in a town of about 500. I got to know students, their parents, and even their grandparents. My social life was always with people who knew my students personally. I also discovered that in a small town, you are involved in many aspects of the community. I became involved with the ambulance, my church, economic development, and various other activities.
It was a great place to learn how to teach. I had small class sizes. Classroom management was fairly easy. I was able to push kids because parents knew me as a person. They realized I wanted the best for their children. After some initial resistance to my high standards, I was able to accomplish a lot. At the same time, my “new teacher mistakes” were easily forgiven.
I spent six years in two different schools of this size. Unfortunately, rural America is losing people. Every year, school districts all around North Dakota close because they don’t have enough students to stay open. I wanted to find a school that was rural, but would stay open through my career.
I spent one unhappy year in a larger school. It was rural, and about the size of my current school, but there were serious problems there that I was not prepared to deal with. During that year, NCLB came into effect and I got myself highly qualified in the various sciences as well as math.
The opportunity to move to my current district in western North Dakota opened up and I jumped at it. Though the population is sparse, there is actually quite a lot out here. It’s a beautiful area and I knew I would enjoy it. It has been a good experience. For the first time in my career, I was not the youngest teacher. I actually had teachers coming to me for advice! I shared the science department with one other teacher who was a lot like me, except that she actually liked the life sciences.
Right now, I still teach Biology, but the rest of my schedule includes Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus. I’m going into my third year in this district excited for the upcoming year.
- They’re small and you get to know the students and their families.
- You see students outside the school context.
- You get to teach a wide selection of courses.
- The culture is that education is opportunity.
- There is lots of room out here to breathe!
- Classroom management is easier.
- Students and their parents (mostly) recognize the value of hard work.
- I’m quite conservative, so I’m comfortable in this conservative culture.
- I have quite a lot of freedom to teach as I see fit.
- My students are ready and willing to be pushed to their potential.
I might add that the picture above is not my school. I’ve never taught in a building that was particularly photogenic. This school is in the town of Rhame, ND and closed 3 years ago due to declining enrollment.
I want to close by thanking Joel for this opportunity. I’ve never written on someone else’s blog!