Jessica Gallo, assistant professor of English education at the University of Nevada, Reno, has published a new article: Against the Grain: Narratives of Rural Teachers’ Professional Lives in the journal The Rural Educator.
In the study, Gallo detailed the experiences of multiple professionals across the field of rural education, tackling common overgeneralizations and stereotypes people have about rural communities and the people who choose to make their living by teaching there, from assumptions about small class sizes to low salaries.
“People have these stereotypes about rural schools that are both helpful to rural places and extremely detrimental,” Gallo, who's been in the College of Education & Human Development for several years, said. “Honestly, the truth is somewhere in between for every rural place. Each place is unique.”
Gallo identified a large pool of teachers across different districts in Northern Wisconsin. After cutting the pool down to an appropriate size, Gallo conducted in-depth interviews with multiple teachers for a year, learning about the educators’ unique stories. Gallo found that the connections that teachers had with these students ran deep since, in many cases, they would teach every student from the same family, some for years at a time.
“Urban education has been the central focus of educational research for quite a while, which is not to say that it's not deserving,” Gallo said. “Urban places have their own challenges. The challenge for rural education researchers is that there are fewer of us in general. We're talking about a smaller proportion of the students and schools overall. We don't have as much access to our study populations as people in urban places do. All of those things contribute to the lack of rural education research, and it's a small but really important field.”
Gallo also noted that, in some ways, the response to COVID-19 from some rural schools was better than their urban counterparts. Part of this was accomplished through some rural schools being allowed to remain in-person due to small class sizes, but many schools at the same time overcame unique challenges because of their location, like a complete lack of access to the internet or broadband.
“There are lessons to be learned from rural education and from rural schools in the state,” Gallo said. “If I could have a message, I think that urban places should consider how rural schools are tackling some of the challenges that they have and incorporate that into policy and practice.”
As a former English teacher in rural schools herself, Gallo not only encourages researchers and policymakers to take more successful ideas from rural schools to be implemented in urban settings but also for recent graduates of education programs to seek employment not just in cities, but in rural places as well. For aspiring teachers in the Silver State, most of the land area in the state is considered rural, even if it is a minority of the overall student population.
“Our teacher graduates will have more opportunities for jobs if they look outside of the one urban area where they have graduated,” Gallo said. “There are so many opportunities in education if you look in the entire state, and the rural schools really need good, talented, eager teachers.”