New AACTE Action Group to Focus on Rural Education

The author is chair of AACTE’s newly formed “Preparing Teachers for Rural Schools and Communities” topical action group. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

Rural schools and communities may appear as little more than blips on a map, known perhaps for their relaxed pace of life but largely anonymous to the rest of the world. In reality, though, these communities are a critical thread that holds our country together, and preparing educators for the unique needs of rural students and schools is a vital task.

Although my father taught me to “never talk religion, sports, or politics with folks you don’t know,” I would venture to say that our current political climate has developed, at least in part, through a lack of understanding of (or attention to) rural America. These forgotten communities provide the nation with food, troops, skilled workers, and so much more – and while they share many similarities with the rest of the country, they also have unique needs. Although education policy at the federal and state levels skews to the needs of urban and suburban areas, advocates such as the National Rural Education Association, which I direct, work to express the rural voice and concerns. For educator preparation providers, it is similarly important to prepare teachers to be ready to serve all types of communities, not just the high-density population centers.

Reciprocal relationships between rural schools and educator preparation programs, founded on trust and mutual goals, benefit both parties. Together, the partners can tailor solutions to local needs by working with local communities and governments to create mentor programs, streamline teacher licensure, and implement creative incentive programs for educators. Educator preparation providers that serve rural areas also benefit from sharing with one another and exploring creative ideas to help their communities address common challenges such as a shrinking population, limited employment opportunities, thinly spread resources, and “brain drain” among their youth. Preservice teachers need to understand that as rural educators, they are likely to wear many hats and to play a key role in developing not only their students but also their communities.

To connect teacher educators around these issues, I recently joined with my colleague Renee Murley and several others around the country to start an AACTE topical action group (TAG). We plan to officially recruit members during the upcoming conference in Tampa, Florida. If you’re interested in joining us, please visit the web page for our TAG, called Preparing Teachers for Rural Schools and Communities.

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Allen Pratt

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga