In Wisconsin, the school year is about to start, and Wabeno school district is, as in the previous years, struggling to find teachers and fill open positions in education.
In this northern Wisconsin small town of some 1,000 residents, a teaching job in the whole fifth grade was vacant all year long. A few years ago, thirty staff members resigned after a dispute with a former district administrator.
Finding teachers in rural parts of America these days is not an easy job. Some of the reasons are the population decline, isolation of schools, low payment, but also some social consideration, such as few dating options.
Recruiting teachers in rural districts of America is a constant struggle since graduates have at their disposal more lucrative job options.
Today, administrators in Wabeno school have received 30 applications for teaching positions that used to have been interesting for 300 applicants. According to the claims of the superintendent of the school district, Jeffrey Walsh, one of the open positions didn’t have a single application in August.
Union-Busting Law Harmed Rural Districts
Starting with the law from 2011, signed by Governor Walker, the teacher turnover started to be especially intense since the law canceled collective bargain. From then on, a teacher had to sign individual contracts which would be renewed on an annual basis. Few teachers have their job position protected based on their seniority.
When the law impacted Wisconsin schools, many experienced teachers retired according to the conditions of their expiring agreement. When it comes to younger educators, the new law pushed them to leave for urban districts that pay more. According to Walsh, teachers are leaving because they are offered a better deal somewhere else. For instance, in a nearby Michigan union, protections are in place.
Little Town of Wabeno Affected by Big Issues
Teacher departures were accelerated since the State of Wisconsin revisited teacher labor law, as well as due to small raises and increased insurance rates. Also, many teachers felt alienated by district administrators who focus more on students’ performance than on the teachers working conditions. Due to lack of protection by the unions, teachers found themselves powerless to request improvements regarding their working conditions.
From 2015 to 2018, Wabeno schools dropped in scores. According to a report from 2015, schools undoubtedly exceeded expectations, while in 2018, the report said schools met few expectations. This drop in score is the result of a regular change in schools staff, which harms students’ learning process and breaks their routine and connections between students and teaching staff. The school is constantly striving to get back to where it was before.
It’s Not All About Money
A formal principal in Wabeno, Allison Space, who left the school in 2016, says that she was frustrated by the district’s direction, and now she’s a superintendent at school 30 minutes away from Wabeno. She thinks that leadership plays a big role in retaining educators in rural areas. Money is not the only reason why teachers leave schools. When she left the school, two staff members followed her.
Teacher exodus is the problem of both rural and urban areas. However, in rural schools, it’s way harder to overcome the teacher shortage.
Peter Goff examined retention strategies for keeping teachers in rural areas, and his study shows that educators appreciate good school leadership, strong support system, as well as higher pay.
Grow Your Own Teacher Programs
In some rural districts, in hope to get high school students interested in education jobs and make them stay and become teachers, Grow Your Own program has been started.
This program could pay off in six years, and on the other hand, the need for teachers is strong, as said by Tony Warren, the superintendent of Turner School District in Montana state.
The previous year, when his district couldn’t find a science teacher, they recruited one from the Philippines, Christine Villano. They have found her through the International Expert Resources recruitment company operating worldwide.
Villano says she was warmly welcomed by the community, and she sees this as an opportunity for advancement in her career.
John David Ulferts, the principal of Shirland School District in the State of Illinois, says that nurturing good relationships is one of the best ways to keep teachers even in the smallest of schools.
According to his research about small rural schools, most of the teachers are attracted to rural areas for family reasons. They stay there due to strong relationships with their colleagues, safe environment, as well as small class sizes.
Special Scholarships for Students
The State of Montana started offering scholarships to those students who go through their student teaching programs in its rural areas. This way, the state will help cover their apartment costs. Also, the University of New Hampshire has initiated a residency program for educators in the period of 15 months after which, they’d go for a year-long teaching stint= in the remote North Country. A sum of $28,000 annually is given to students through this program as they receive their teaching certifications. This year, the program will get the third class of students.