Keeping it country – the struggle to hold on to regional teachers

Young people from regional and rural areas people are finding it harder to enter directly into a teaching degree.

Will I stay or will I go? It’s the question many teachers in regional or rural areas ask themselves as they contemplate a move to the city.

Schools in regional and rural areas have long struggled to attract and retain teachers, with the Victorian Government even offering teachers up to $50,000 to relocate from Melbourne to areas in desperate need of educators.

A project underway is uncovering the barriers which prevent teachers from seeking employment in regional and rural schools, and how these schools can be made more attractive as preferred sites of employment. A team of Federation University researchers will also look at identifying school leadership practices that are effective in recruiting and retaining teachers.

Associate Professor Jenene Burke, from the School of Education, said young people from rural and regional areas were finding it increasingly difficult to break into teacher education.

“People from higher socio-economic backgrounds tend to get better ATAR scores and people from the country are often not in those high socio-economic brackets, so country kids tend not to score as well,” Associate Professor Burke said.

“Now that the Government has set an ATAR of 70 for entry into teacher education, a lot of young regional and rural people are finding it harder to enter directly into a teacher education degree.”

Associate Professor Burke said principals in regional areas were also reporting difficulty in recruiting quality teachers, suggesting the best were going to city schools.

“I don’t think that’s fully true.  We’re getting some really good teachers choosing to work in rural and regional areas, but not enough of them,” Associate Professor Burke said, highlighting maths, science, performing arts, and languages as the subjects which struggled the most with teacher shortages.
“Schools want to try and attract quality teachers, particularly in those subject areas and particularly into more rural and remote locations.”

Compounding the issue is the challenge of attracting graduates away from cities, with those coming from metropolitan areas less likely to move. For the few that do, they typically do not stay for long.

“So what we really need to be doing is attracting more people into teacher education from rural and regional areas — we need to make it appealing and possible,” Associate Professor Burke said.

“When teachers do go from the city to work in the country, they often find that they can’t stay there very long because they don’t have the networks and it doesn’t have the lifestyle that they’re used to — they often find it hard to make the adjustment.” Associate Professor Jenene Burke

“We need to be looking at taking people who are used to living in the country and who embrace the country lifestyle and bring them into teacher education. I think that’s the solution.”

Associate Professor Burke said the university was well placed to carry out the study, with research already completed at the Gippsland campus showing young teachers who come from rural and regional areas tended to go back into them for work.

“Federation University is a regional university embedded in the regional community and what we’re trying to do through this study is identify and provide ways of supporting young teachers who accept employment in regional, rural and remote schools,” Professor Burke said.

This includes working with beginning teachers to develop online social networks and providing targeted professional activities, and giving young teachers access to face-to-face mentoring through seminars and professional learning.

“We’re also going to look at what community engagement opportunities are available within the particular community that the young teachers go to.

These will not be things that we’ve set up, but those that are available for them to become involved in the community,” Associate Professor Burke said.

“It might be events like local race meetings, or it could be sport, or book clubs or coffee groups. So we are keen to know the types of opportunities that are providing support and how they connect the young teachers to their communities.”

The researchers will speak with principals and teachers who are graduates of the university to find out whether they felt they felt well prepared for their careers, and what was helping them to stay connected in their communities.

“Is it because they come from the country originally, or is it because they have come from the city and they just love the lifestyle there?” Associate Professor Burke said.

The researchers were funded $25,000 from the Victorian Government for the study which will be completed by November 2020.

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