Teaching Mathematics in a Rural Community

Yesterday was my turn to do my presentation and I chose to present on teaching mathematics in a rural community because that is where I want to teach, so I figured I better look into what I was getting myself involved in. I created a Prezi to go along with my presentation (and to keep me on track). I didn’t follow a script, but rather had a discussion about each point, so I will briefly discuss them and what I said.

What classifies a town as rural? 

According to some of the research I did, a community is considered rural if it has a population of less than 2500 people in it.

How does a rural school differ from an urban school?

There are several reasons for how the two differ, but the ones that I found suitable to this presentation were: urban schools are seen as communities inside communities, rather than a rural school where it is involved with the community as a whole. Urban schools have departments, like Enlish and Math departments, where rural schools may only have 1 or 2 math teachers in it.

Impact on rural students’ achievement.

Instructional Resources:  Rural schools typically lack the facilities, physical plants, course materials, and educational programs that typify larger, more resource-rich districts. Sparse population bases often result in geographic and cultural isolation, limited economic development, and restricted educational opportunities (McCombs & Bansberg, 1997). One item from the NAEP teacher surveys, common to the 1992 and 1996 data, was used to measure instructional resources.

– Professional Training: In the context of education reform, many have expressed concern about the quality of teachers in rural schools. One index of quality is the amount of preparation. As widely believed, the Schools and Staffing Survey confirmed that rural teachers generally have less professional preparation (Stem, 1994). Part of the difference may be attributable to rural teachers’ relative youth. Another contributing factor may be the limited access rural teachers in more isolated settings have to continuing education and professional development opportunities. Eleven items from the NAEP teacher surveys, common to the 1992 and 1996 data, were used to measure professional training.

– Algebra Offering: A recent analysis of NAEP data revealed extremely low rates in the availability of advanced courses for 12th graders in schools located in nonmetropolitan counties compared to metropolitan counties (Greenberg; Swaim, & Teixiera, 1992). While the gap may be smaller at the middle grades level with less variability of course offerings, we note that the offering of algebra to eighth grade students for high school credit varies from school to school. One item from the NAEP school principal surveys, common to the 1992 and 1996 data, was used to measure algebra offering.

– Progressive Instruction: Student-centered instructional practices with a strong emphasis on higher-order thinking skills can be considered positive signs of the implementation of many recent recommendations for the reform of teaching mathematics (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1991). Rural schools enable low student-teacher ratios, individualized instruction and attention, and cooperative learning opportunities. The Schools and Staffing Survey data show that rural teachers exercise considerable control over instructional processes in their classrooms (Stem, 1994). Ten items (with four common items) from the 1992 and 1996 NAEP teacher surveys were used to measure progressive instruction.

– Safe/Orderly Climate: The resource limitations rural schools often experience are somehow compensated for by the supportive ethos found in smaller communities and their generally smaller schools (Stem, 1994). According to the Schools and Staffing Survey, rural teachers were less likely than teachers in both urban and suburban schools to consider teacher absenteeism as a problem. Likewise, the survey reported that rural students experience safer learning environments and behave much more appropriately than their urban counterparts in terms of school attendance, classroom behavior, and alcohol and drug use. Seven items (with five common items) from the 1992 and 1996 NAEP school principal survey were used to measure safe/orderly climate.

– Collective Support: Many researchers have found that effective schools are defined in terms of a collective identity (Lee, Bryk, & Smith, 1993; Louis & Kruse, 1995; Newmann & Wehlage, 1995). Rural schools feature close relationships and ties to the community, and strong staff commitment (DeYoung, 1987; McREL, 1990). These conditions are more likely to bring about collective support for student learning. Seven items (with four common items) from the 1992 and 1996 NAEP school principal survey were used to measure collective support.


Struggles in the classroom:

Curriculum Options.

Within a rural community not all courses are offered to students. Some courses can be taken through correspondence or at a different school where students get bused to.

Teaching 5 different courses in one period.

My cousin who teaches math in a small community teaches Workplace and Apprenticeship 10, Workplace and Apprenticeship 20, Foundations and Pre-Calculus 10, and Math 21 all within one classroom, in one period each day. This is not uncommon for some schools in smaller communities where the numbers just do not allow each of the courses to be taught on their own.

Not all math strands are offered to students.

Because numbers are scarce in some schools, there is just not enough teachers to all of the strands. If a student wants to take a course that is not offered, they are left to either do it through correspondence, or they may be able to take it the next year if it is allowed.

Teaching out of your subject area.

The shortage of teachers often leaves some courses left to be taught by teachers who are not as familiar with that particular curriculum. Going back to my cousin, she is trained in Physical Education and Business Education, yet at this particular time in her career she is teaching math, English, and physical education. That is not to say that teachers that are teaching out of their area will not do a good job at it, it just becomes a lot of work for them to have to teach themselves a whole new curriculum on their own.

Attracting and retaining teachers.

Rural communities struggle in keeping teachers within their schools. Often times teachers go there to get their foot in the door and then leave if an opening comes up in an area where they’d rather be. Teacher turnaround is all too common and students are left with inconsistent practices and procedures. Communities do their best in providing activities outside of school to encourage people to move there and stay within the community.

Benefits to teaching in a rural community:

More one-to-one teaching with students.

Though teaching in a rural community does have its drawbacks, there are some benefits to teaching there. Because numbers are small within schools, you are allotted more time to work one-to-one with students and really get to know their strengths and challenges. This can become an extremely enriching experience for both the student and the teacher.

The community fully supports what the school is doing.

One of the amazing things that comes out of being from a rural community is that the community is always supporting you in whatever it is you are doing, whether it be fundraisers, math nights, volunteers, etc. Having the support of the community can take off some of the workload from teachers and staff and let them focus on educating the students.

Conflicts with research:

Achievement in rural vs. urban.

My research came from both Canada and the United States and something that shocked me was that rural students in Canada did significantly poorer on national tests in mathematics, but in the United State rural students did relatively the same or better than urban students on the tests. This left me questioning what are they doing differently in rural communities in the states than in Canada that is allowing the students to achieve higher in the scores.

This was the extent of my presentation, followed with some meaningful discussion in the class about some of my classmates experiences and opinions. If you have any questions or answers to some of my questions feel free to comment!

Here are my resources that I used for this presentation: Teaching in Rural Areas Resources


One thought on “Teaching Mathematics in a Rural Community

  1. Coming from a high school where there are only 250 kids from kindergarten to grade 12, i know what it’s like to be educated in a rural school. I would like to begin by saying you hit the nail right on the head with the challenges and benefits of teaching in a rural environment. i noticed that you didn’t take your internship in a rural school, why was that?
    Any tips for a up in coming rural math educator that you would like to share would be much appreciated!
    Thanks and once again well done on addressing rural education it’s a real passion of mine!

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