10 Reasons to Love Rural Schools

This is a guest post by Waski The Squirrel.

568586829_36743062af_mJoel’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.Squaw Gap in the sun

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.Hamberg School

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.

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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.

To summarize, I love rural schools because…Wildrose Sign

  1. They’re small and you get to know the students and their families.
  2. You see students outside the school context.
  3. You get to teach a wide selection of courses.
  4. The culture is that education is opportunity.
  5. There is lots of room out here to breathe!
  6. Classroom management is easier.
  7. Students and their parents (mostly) recognize the value of hard work.
  8. I’m quite conservative, so I’m comfortable in this conservative culture.
  9. I have quite a lot of freedom to teach as I see fit.
  10. 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!

6 Comments on 10 Reasons to Love Rural Schools

  1. This brought back so many fond memories! Three years ago our small school was forced to annex with a nearby school because of our low numbers (in Arkansas the magic number is 350.) I had taught there for ten years; we were like a big family.

    Enjoy your time there…and your school family!

  2. Greetings! Thanks for writing about a demographic that does often get overlooked. Could I ask two things, coming from a city-boy education student perspective? First what kind of music culture is there in the schools of rural America, both in the classroom and with garage bands? Second, what does happens to a teacher when schools close? Is there much notice given to find new jobs? Is it often a process of entire relocation?

    Thanks so much, and I hope all’s well,
    -Greg

  3. Greg, thanks for the interest. To be honest, your city background is as alien to me as my rural background must be to you. I’ll try to address your questions:

    1. The schools usually have a band and a choir program. In smaller schools, it can be a challenge to run a 10 piece band! Some schools have taken the step of lumping junior high and senior high together, but music teachers don’t like this.
    2. Most garage bands are rock. There are a few that do country. These are teenagers, after all, and they want to emulate what they see on the Internet and TV.
    3. When the school closes, the teacher is out of a job. In some cases, they are hired by a neighboring district. In other cases they are not.
    4. After a school closes, it is up to the teacher to find a new job, relocate, and what have you. Usually there is at least a 1 year notice. At a minimum, it is known during the school year in plenty of time to find a new job.

    I personally have never seen my school close. My current school recently took in about 70 students from a district that closed next door. Most of those teachers are working in our building. One or two were let go and, honestly, we’re better off without those particular teachers.

  4. I also LOVE rural schools! I landed my first job last year in a school with approximately 200 kids in grades 9-12. I also had to teach classes I never thought I would (yikes-physics!). But, I really liked it and I had the opportunity to work with some AMAZING students! I will miss last year’s seniors! The parents were also very helpful and made me feel like family. It was a great first-year experience. I will be going into my second year at this district and am looking forward to it! Best wishes!

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