Rural students are suffering as a result of an ongoing teacher shortage, preventing them from getting the education and advice they need to succeed in higher education and beyond. In September of 2022, the Hechinger Report highlighted how rural areas, like Campo, Colorado, struggled to provide students with the education they deserve, given a lack of specialized teachers leading advanced courses, such as algebra or pre-calculus. The low pay and remote environment dissuades educators from teaching in areas like Campo that are in serious need of professional educators.
Robert Mitchell, an assistant professor who studies the challenges of such schools and trains teachers to respond to these challenges, found himself invested in the school in Campo. He felt that physically interacting with the students and faculty in these schools would be more effective than monitoring the classrooms virtually. In traveling to Campo on a weekly basis, he developed relationships with the community and ultimately became a part of it. His role evolved into being a teacher and a guide for students during the college application process. His time there has drawn attention to the gross need for educators, in particular for high school students.
In Campo RE-6, a district with only 46 students enrolled in K-12 education, there is a lack of teachers available to bridge the gap in educational attainment between rural districts and urban districts. Although there has been a significant increase in high school graduation in rural districts from 40 percent in 1960 to 87 percent in 2019, there was a 17 percent increase in adults 25 and over who had a bachelor’s degree. This is still low compared to the 35 percent of adults in urban areas with a bachelor’s degree.
This lack of pursuit of higher education from rural students is a result of the lack of academic guidance and rigorous and specialized instruction. Mitchell is bringing this much-needed support to said rural schools in Colorado in lieu of the mass teacher shortage that has plagued the area since before the pandemic. In Campo’s case, Mitchell was one of the only educators to provide an external perspective and help students on their college journey. Without the aid of Mitchell, Malcolm Lovejoy, a Campos senior at the time of the article, would not have known to apply for scholarships and programs to help him attain a college education, such as QuestBridge. These rural students are then left underprepared for college, lacking classes they need, resume builders, and visits from college scouts to entice them into programs that best fit their needs.
Since the pandemic, the teacher shortage has been a topic of interest in mainstream media, but not a topic that is overwhelmingly covered. The New York Times covered the shortage from a general perspective, writing that the shortage mainly pertains to math and special education teachers, only briefly mentioning the need for teachers in rural areas and teachers of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds. An article from Education NC, republished by Yahoo News, highlights the work of a North Carolina teacher to combat the teacher shortage by teaching in real-time, and virtually to another classroom three hours away. NPR focused on the logic behind the teacher shortage and the fight to hire teachers on a larger scale. They even articulated that it is not so much a teacher shortage, but an issue of equal teacher distribution. The Hechinger Report, on the other hand, emphasizes the need for teachers in rural districts on a specific level. The article addresses the lack of specialized education preventing rural students from attaining higher levels of education. Mitchell’s actions highlight the personal nature of this issue and how it impacts students, preventing them from attaining higher levels of success than students in urban settings have, even during a teacher shortage. In a post-COVID society where students are already behind academically, these rural students are already at risk and are in an even more concerning position.
Cheyenne McNeill, “These Rural NC Districts are Tackling the Teacher Shortage in an Innovative Way,” EducationNC, March 13, 2023.
Nichole Dobo, “Waiting For the Traveling Teacher: Remote Rural Schools Need More Hands-on Help,” The Hechinger Report, September 21, 2022.
Student Researcher: Nicole Sydor (Drew University)
Faculty Evaluator: Lisa Lynch (Drew University)