Supporting pre-service teachers in their placements to succeed in rural schools

Year: 2016

Author: Cuervo, Hernan, Acquaro, Daniela

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Research studies consistently report that rural schools experience difficulty in recruiting and retaining staff (ASPA 2007, Hudson & Hudson 2008, Kline et al. 2013, Lock 2008, Trinidad et al. 2014). This difficulty has a direct impact on the quality of rural students’ educational experiences and outcomes, their transition to tertiary education and work, and on the continuity and success of school policies and curriculum implementation (Boylan & Wallace 2007, Commonwealth of Australia 2013, Cuervo 2014, Somerville et al. 2010). Researchers engaged in rural education have identified rural teaching placements as part of initial teacher education as a positive innovation to redress the recruitment and retention problem. However, they also stress that many pre-service teachers undertaking rural placements lack the social, educational, financial and emotional support to successfully navigate the challenges of teaching in rural schools. This paper explores the role that initial teacher education placements can play in rural settings to address the rural school staffing shortage. The paper draws on a qualitative research study with eight pre-service teachers at a metropolitan university who elected to complete a rural teaching placement. Semi-structured interviews were conducted over 16 months with all participants in this study. Rather than looking at the stage of placement (the “during”) as a single snapshot, this research study examines pre-service teachers’ views along the different stages of their placement: “before”, “during” and “after”. The paper argues that examining pre-service teachers’ views at the different stages of placements provides: (1) a better understanding of change and continuity in pre-service motivations and challenges to work in rural schools; and (2) a more complete picture of the tools and strategies higher education institutions and schools have to put in place to support them. Preliminary findings of these semi-structured interviews showed that one-size-fits-all solutions to the problem of rural school staffing is problematic and calls for attention to the social, emotional, financial and spatial particularities of students and schools. Pre-service teachers’ comments revealed varied challenges including a sense of isolation, the need for greater classroom management skills, and a better knowledge of the rural space, as well as positive relational experiences with peers, higher education teachers and school staff in their quest to explore the possibility of becoming a rural teacher.