January 2017, Vol. 1

How to overcome recruiting challenges in rural districts

By Zach DiSchiano

Recruiting quality teachers is a challenge every district faces on an ongoing basis, but the difficulty in doing so is amplified for districts in rural areas of the state.

Rural districts face issues that in many cases scarcely cross the minds of administrators in urban districts. On top of lower-than-average teacher salaries, rural districts face other factors not conducive to their recruiting efforts, including small community size, distance from population concentrations, high teacher turnover, and an economic reliance on volatile agricultural and oil and gas industries.

Teachers leave these areas for several reasons, but feeling isolated springs to the top of the list. Many new teachers arriving at rural districts come into contact with existing faculty social networks that have been in place for decades, leaving new teachers feeling socially and professionally left out.

These roadblocks can seem, at times, impermeable, but there are advantages rural districts can leverage in the courting of quality educators. While the social networks may feel unwelcoming to new hires, many teachers in rural districts report a high level of satisfaction with their work environment, and there are a number of possibilities as to why that is, including:
  • Small class size
  • More individualized instruction
  • Greater autonomy
  • Fewer disciplinary problems
  • Greater teacher influence on decision-making
  • More student and parent participation
  • Higher chance for leadership
  • Less red tape
In addition to selling the many unique benefits of teaching in a rural district, recruiters should target teachers with rural backgrounds, which would eliminate any cultural shock a teacher from a more populous area might experience and increase the chances of retaining that teacher.

Grow-your-own programs are another resourceful way to attract teachers with a greater likelihood of remaining in your district. Not only will homegrown teachers be familiar with your area, but they’ll also have some familiarity with district culture and practices, and will have ties to the community.

Many states are placing an emphasis on grow-your-own strategies in rural areas. One promising tactic involves working with paraprofessional aides already employed by the district to develop their skill set as teachers and eventually transition them into that role.

Rural districts can adopt some of the practices used in successful urban grow-your-own programs to open students’ eyes to the idea of becoming an educator and returning home to teach. We wrote about some of the successful practices districts are using to foster grow-your-own programs in the November 2015 edition of the HR Exchange. These tips are universally applicable, regardless of district size and location.

It is important for rural districts to be active on social media, too. There are those who may doubt the technological savvy of staff in rural districts, but establishing a presence on social media can help to discredit those notions. We have written about the benefits districts get from using digital media platforms in the March 2016 edition of the HR Exchange, and that advice strongly applies to districts in rural communities.

The unique challenges facing rural districts are troublesome but not insurmountable. Starting by targeting teachers with rural backgrounds is the most reliable way to ensure higher retention. But leveraging the numerous benefits of rural schools, like small class size and greater teacher autonomy, can be attractive to prospective educators from all backgrounds, and growing a social media presence will only help your district look more appealing.