Teacher Talk: small rural schools

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This week I interviewed Ms. Marl who is an early career teacher working in a rural NSW public school. She has been teaching for 5 years, and all of her career has been in rural small schools. Ms Marl’s current school has approximately 30 students whose learning nurtured by three teachers, one School Learning Support Officer and one School Administrative Manager. Her class has 8 children across years K and 1.

  • Role: K/1 Classroom Teacher
  • Years in the classroom: 5 years
  • Years in regional/remote education: 5 years
  • Jurisdiction: NSW
  • Sector: Primary Public School
  • Classification of school: Rural
  • Number of students: 30 students in the school
  • Number of teaching staff and support staff in the school: 3 teachers, 1 SLSO and 1 SAM
  • Number of students and year groups in the class: 8 students across years K/1screen-shot-2017-02-25-at-9-48-17-am

There are many perceived benefits of working in a small school. I really appreciated the community aspect, getting to know families, scope for a flexible curriculum, participate in town events and everyone knowing my name (although this also had its downfalls!). Some of the benefits for Ms Marl include:

  • smaller class sizes which help those children with additional needs who may not get accepted by their peers in other mainstream schools.
  • more one on one teaching with all students giving them extra support.
  • working with other small schools in the area for carnival days and educational experiences providing students with more social experience.

Small rural schools do have some unique challenges. I had a workplace accident and there was no-one to cover my placement. The expectation to be on light duties took a completely different meaning to an urban setting. I still taught, but had to be selective about helping out students at their desk, and I also used the community to run curricula that I could not such as physical education. Some of the challenges Ms Marl identified include:

  • need to get on with all members of staff otherwise it can make school life difficult.
  • less support staff for those children who need it.
  • more duties than in a larger school.

I asked Ms Marl to you explain how supporting students with diverse and additional needs is supported in her school and area. Access to specialist medical care is limited in most rural areas ad this can impact students’ accessing a diagnosis and treatment. Ms Marl said that:

The only way to get funding to help these children now is for them to go to the doctor to get a diagnosis and a ‘label’ put on them. They also need to score extremely low in intellectual and behavioural testing. It is getting harder to attain this funding and puts extra pressure on the staff to cope.

The specialist care extends to the kind of support that is a available for young children and people in schools. It is often left up to the teacher, with limited support, to manage a range of diverse needs in the classroom including students with disability, behavioural adjustments or learning needs. The lack of readily available support for these modifications in a small school can add time to the workday, stress for teachers and families as they try to navigate the system.

At Ms Marl’s school there are only 3 teaching staff. Professional learning requirements are a measure by jurisdictions to ensure that teachers are meeting their accreditation requirements. Ms Marl said that:

Even though we teach different year groups usually teaching staff have at one time or another taught a different year group so professional conversation still occurs. Professional learning can be difficult to maintain in small schools sometimes but because of where I am we have a small school network where we come together for professional development days.

Some small schools band together to support a professional learning coordinator or consultant. This appointment might be just for one term in a particular area of need such as literacy development, or well-being education. A common approach coming through for rural teachers is accessing online development opportunities. Ms Marl uses many online resources including the NSW BOSTES website, ScootleLearning.21st Century.Snapshot, Teach This and teachstarter.com.

In March, Australian Education Blogs is running a series on recent professional development opportunities (completed in the last 3 months). You can write about online learning, accredited learning packages or other avenues of professional learning that you use to maintain accreditation. You can also get in touch and I can write an article from your experience. It can be anonymous, or you can link to your own blog or professional profile such as Linked In.

Please send your 500-800 word article to australianeducationblogs@gmail.com

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