A lot of the dialogue around teacher shortages revolves around urban areas—and particularly, poor urban areas. But the teacher shortage is affecting rural America, too, especially in the South.

Rural areas face some unique challenges as compared to urban ones, and approaches that work for urban areas may not work to solve the rural teacher shortage.

First of all, small towns usually don’t have a lot of economic opportunities. This means that younger people move to larger cities to start their careers. Thus, many rural school districts have a very small pool of young, educated people who could be teachers and administrators.

Teachers from urban areas aren’t particularly keen to work in the country, either. Social opportunities are typically lacking, and young teachers may fear that they’ll be isolated in a small town. The same problem makes it hard to recruit principals and administrators, too.

Teachers want to feel supported by the administration, and if there isn’t a functional administration, that exacerbates the problems teachers face in rural areas.

Then there’s the wage issue. Many rural areas don’t have a large enough tax base to pay teachers a competitive salary. The typical small-town or ruaral teacher makes almost $12,000 less than their suburban peers.

So, what can rural school districts do to attract teachers?

First, they could address the rural teacher shortage by “growing their own,” so to speak. Districts could encourage kids in their local schools to get an education degree and return “home” to teach. Districts could also partner with universities to offer internships or practicums for education students. Programs like these would allow future teachers to see both the benefits and challenges of teaching in a rural area before they commit to a position.

To help eliminate the rural teacher shortage, school districts need to offer competitive salaries. This is easier said than done because schools are usually paid for by property taxes, and no town wants to see its taxes increase. But that means state governments need to play a role in ensuring that school districts have the resources they need to attract and retain good teachers.

Attracting top talent starts with leadership at the administrative level. Schools with poor administrators are not going to attract qualified teachers, so if there’s dysfunction at the school district level, that needs to be addressed and eliminated.

Finally, we need to actually pay attention to rural areas. Policymakers often focus their research on urban schools, and a lot of the literature on the teacher shortage is based on research done in poor, urban areas. Rural people often feel overlooked, not just in addressing their teacher shortage, but in every way.

What do you think should be done in order to address the rural teacher shortage? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo: Ken Schulze / Shutterstock.com

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