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Why is it so hard to hire teachers in rural areas?

News Staff - November 20, 2018

VERMILLION, SD - When Louisa Korgge was looking for a job, her interviews in rural school districts convinced her she needed more from a position than a paycheck.  A lack of housing, social and cultural opportunities and more health benefits all factored in to her decision to apply in more populated areas.

Susan Curtin, Ed.D., an associate professor with the University of South Dakota School of Education, has published research outlining the challenges of recruiting and retaining teachers in rural areas.

The study, published in "Voices of Reform: Educational Research to Inform and Reform," addresses a gap regarding administrators' perceptions of factors impacting teacher recruitment and retention in rural areas.

Study participants--including elementary principals, secondary principals, superintendents and a human resources director--stated that rural and remote rural districts struggle with a smaller pool of candidates, candidates' preference to work near family members, a need for specific content expertise (e.g., science, math, special education, career/technical education) and lower salaries and reduced benefits, including less access to housing, goods, transportation and social experiences.

"Many of our district leaders in South Dakota share the same challenges and concerns related to recruitment and retention of teachers," Curtin said. "Sharing perspectives of rural leaders provides an opportunity to give voice to those concerns and bring to light strategies that have been successful for similar districts."

Curtin offers creative recommendations for administrators in rural areas to improve recruitment and retention. Options include grow-your-own programs, early identification of needs and targeted recruiting, connection to wider networks of professionals, mentoring programs and incentives. Curtin encourages administrators to consider recruiting and actively seeking applicants as opposed to waiting for applications.

Furthermore, Curtin suggests that administrators anticipate and prepare for their future needs not only by seeking applicants, but also by developing and articulating a recruitment and retention plan.

"Rural and remote rural districts note a shift in recruitment. Whereas previously the districts interviewed candidates, now candidates are interviewing districts," Curtin said. "Districts may need to respond by considering a strength-based approach. They can articulate what their district might offer a candidate and present an appealing package. Recent graduates are not necessarily seeking a 30-year position but might consider a five-year commitment if the right kind of support was offered."

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