What is a Rural School?
Ultimately, the technical definition of a rural school corresponds to our general understanding of rural areas; they are characterized by geographic isolation and small population size.
All schools are categorized into four locales by their size, population density and location. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) defines these locales by the school’s proximity to a city --- an “urban-centric” classification system. The four locale categories used by the NCES’ urban centric classification system are city, suburb, town and rural. Rural schools are then broken down into three subcategories based on the Census Bureau’s definitions of urbanicity. Rural schools are also all classified as high need schools.
Teaching in a Rural School
As of 2008, the National Center for Education Statistics reported an estimated 7,757 rural school districts across the country, with about 11.3 million students enrolled in primary or secondary rural schools. The NCES offers a table of the percentages of public primary and secondary schools with teaching vacancies in different subjects. The table shows high percentages of job vacancies in rural schools in subjects ranging from special education to vocational education.
Furthermore, after the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, schools were met with new requirements and standards to increase the quality of education. The act required states to, among other educational reforms, guarantee that every teacher is qualified in their subject area. All core classes (science, history, math, English, etc.) are required to be taught by qualified teachers. Qualifications entail the necessary degrees and certifications for teachers mandated by the Department of Education, and for rural schools, this demand proves difficult. The act set deadlines for schools to institute a plan that ensures their teachers are “highly qualified.”
The jobs are there: rural schools need teachers, and if you’re looking to make a tangible difference and have a lasting impact on students’ lives, you should consider teaching at a rural school. It’s true, the average salary of teachers in rural schools is less than in other areas, with base salaries ranging from $44,000 for teachers with a bachelor’s degree, to $51,600 with a doctorate. But then again, the cost of living in these areas is also lower.
Teaching in a rural area may also pose other difficulties for teachers. Rural schools face challenges in attracting and retaining teachers and administrators, limited financial resources and issues with long-distance transportation. However, some of these difficulties are being addressed. The United States Department of Education has instituted two programs to increase federal funding and supplement these shortages: the Small Rural Schools Achievement Program, and the Rural and Low Income Schools Program. In 2008, the Rural and Low Income Schools Program gave $85.9 million to rural schools and the Small Rural Schools Achievement Program gave around $86.7 million.
Wherever you teach, entering into this profession requires talent, dedication, perseverance and a desire to make a difference that transcends localities. Teaching isn’t always easy, but it requires passion, and if you’re serious about teaching, you have a passion for education that is able to stand up to these difficulties. Everybody needs an education, and many teachers find the most satisfaction and gratification in teaching the students who do not have such easy access to the benefits of education.