After reading White and Corbett (2014) essays on rural and doing research in rural settings, I was thinking back to my first teaching assignment. I had just graduated from college, a BA is social studies 7-12 and history education from Fredonia (Go Blue Devils!), and wanted so badly to teach social studies. I had grown up in a suburban environment near Buffalo NY. I was not sure I could teach in an urban setting, and had applied across the state for teaching positions. As the summer drifted into fall, panic began to set in as no job was on the horizon. Miller (2012) found that many teachers would like to remain close to home. I was one of those teachers. Yet a job offer was on the horizon. In late August, I was given a great opportunity to join the rural students, staff, teachers, and community in a small district which no longer exists.
That year, I became part of the community of a K-12 school, with only 250 students, teaching grades 7,9,11 and 12 economics. I shopped in the local market, ate lunch in the local diner, when I didn’t eat cafeteria food, and went home 40 miles away to spend time with my family. What I realized more than anything else is every child in a community that small is valued. All the teachers know the family and their students. When one of the seniors dropped out, it impacted everyone. Under NCLB, the accountability sting was never more hurtful than the personal feelings of dread, that you had let a family down. The system is not a system in a small, rural community. It is an extended family. I was struck again, and had flash backs to my days at my first teaching job when I read Mara Tieken’s work Why Rural Schools Matter. Her work in the two school districts in Arkansas reminded me of my time in my small rural village. The work has become central as I write my dissertation, on rural school reorganization.
A second, greater reason had me thinking about my first position at that small rural school though. One of my students, married to her high school sweetheart, and a mother of one as a high school senior, always one of the best in class, reappeared last year as I was interviewing for a Director of Curriculum at a larger rural district in New York. As the final three interviews were conducted by the district, this former student of mine was a finalist for the Director position as well. I remember years ago, as the seniors were graduating from my small little district of 245 students, grades K-12, this young scholar went into teaching, and was competing sixteen years later for a Director Position. In a way, this at-risk student had overcome the odds. And became and continues to be successful.
For faults of small, rural schools, there is hope and promise. Education needs to capture the best of curriculum offerings in large suburban schools with the smallness and personal connections of the littlest rural districts. As I advance on my dissertation journey, from literature review, methods section, to findings and conclusions, I hope I may add a small bit of knowledge to the research on the Rural. Having taught in a rural area, having lived in two rural areas, having served rural students while at the state, I am invested in the rural.
Casey Jakubowski taught social studies in two rural communities, served as the NYSED school improvement liaison for dozens more rural districts, and was a district data coordinator for a rural school. His research into rural school reorganization, state policy, distance professional development and social studies education form the basis of work for his dissertation at SUNY Albany EAPS department and CASDA.