Rural Schools Struggle to Attract Teachers

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Sep. 24, 2012 12:00 am  

The greatest social anchors of rural towns tend to be the schools, and schools can't exist without teachers.

But they are harder and harder to come by.

"Rural areas are losing jobs and population," said Bill Abernathy, executive director of the Arkansas Rural Education Association in Mena (Polk County). "Making a living is difficult. Out there, attracting teachers is a hard issue to deal with."

Finding doctors and bankers have also been issues in the rural parts of the state.

Schools seeking certified employees must find people who prefer the country, Abernathy said, then need to dress up the position, emphasizing living conditions and salaries.

"Growing your own is important," he said. "Over at Mena, where I live, when I first went over there back in 1972, it was very difficult to get teachers."

Abernathy said there wasn't much opportunity for students to become teachers without leaving town.

"But, I noticed in that community, we had a lot of bright young housewives with no opportunities," he said. "Their husbands worked at the banks, etc."

Those women gained more opportunity, Abernathy said, when Rich Mountain Community College was founded in Mena in 1983.

"That got them a start," he said. "We changed from not having enough students and teachers to having a pool that was pretty adequate."

Eventually, teacher salaries in the area rose from below the state average to, most recently, within the state's top 10.

Still, Mena and other rural districts are faced with convincing talented teachers to move into a remote area.

"Back in some years past, rural schools, many of them, had housing that they would furnish for teachers that would come trying to recruit them," he said. "That would be one incentive."



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