The private problem with public service: Family considerations in rural teachers' tenure

Year: 2012

Author: Lassig, Carly, Doherty, Catherine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Attracting and retaining educational professionals to staff schools in regional, rural and remote communities is an important issue for the public good, but a complex private issue for teachers with families. This presentation will explore how teachers who work in such communities reconcile their own careers with the careers of their partners, and with educational decisions for their children and themselves. Findings reported in this presentation derive from qualitative, semi-structured interviews with 11 teachers in six regional, rural and remote communities in Queensland. The interviews elicited a detailed chronology of their household mobility and narratives of how competing priorities for family members shaped decisions. These interviews form the first phase of a mixed methods study of career mobility in educational markets for human service professionals (teachers, doctors, nurses, and police). While many pre-service and young teachers without families might view work mobility as an attractive aspect of a teaching career, the lived reality of mobility becomes more complex when teachers accrue family responsibilities. The teachers interviewed for this study highly valued their children's education and often used insider knowledge that influenced where they wanted to educate their children. This produced contradictory dilemmas around firstly choosing schools other than the one they taught in, and secondly, placing their child in their own school.  However, families in regional, rural and remote communities do not have the market of school choice available in metropolitan cities and, therefore at different stages of their lives, decisions about children's education were shown to often trump potential career, financial or lifestyle opportunities afforded to teachers in small towns. This study with teachers working outside metropolitan areas revealed the 'messiness' of reconciling family priorities in small towns, and the complex, lived experiences of how they improvise solutions to harmonise different family members' career and education projects. These 'projects' are shaped by families' ever-evolving stories, and are also now influenced by the educational markets promoted by neoliberal policy. Teachers with families are both client and service provider in educational markets, and need to reconcile these two perspectives in their family units' decisions. Decentring the focus on the individual work of a teacher, and using a more relational sociological lens, might better elucidate the im/mobility of teachers with families, and inform strategies to increase retention of teachers in regional, rural and remote communities.