“Where Else Would We Teach?”: Portraits of Two Teachers in the Rural South

Oct. 15, 2010

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 61(4): 376-386. (September/October 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors inquire into two novice teachers’ perspectives on teaching in rural schools in the southeastern United States.

The authors address the following questions:
1. What personal experiences have led novice teachers to teach in rural communities? What professional experiences have led novice teachers to remain teaching in rural communities?
2. What roles have personal and professional identities and relationships played in novice teachers’ decisions to teach in rural communities? How can teacher educators draw on identity and relationships as resources for supporting preservice teachers who desire to teach in rural communities?

Method: Portraiture

The authors drew on narrative portraiture (LawrenceLightfoot & Davis, 1997). Portraiture is an ethnographically oriented method of inquiry that seeks to capture and explain the ever-changing complexities of life and experience. These portraits allowed the authors to identify how perceptions of both personal and professional connections with rural communities as well as issues of identity undergirded these teachers’ decisions to teach in rural communities in the southeastern United States.

Emily Williams is a first-year teacher in the town of Walters. Emily was not originally from Walters, but she was born and raised in a community of similar size approximately 90 minutes south. She teaches fourth grade at Walters Elementary School, the only elementary school in Walters.
Melissa Turner is a European American second-year teacher in the town of Pinesville. Melissa was born elsewhere and moved to Pinesville with her parents when she was 6 years old. She teaches first grade at Pinesville Community School (PCS), a PreK-12 school that opened in 2001 and is the only school in Pinesville.

Data Collection
The authors drew on the following data sources to craft their portraits: field notes, life history interviews, and contextual information about the communities.

The Roles of Identity and Relationships in Emily’s and Melissa’s Teaching

Examining Emily’s and Melissa’s experiences as novice teachers has helped the authors see the important roles that identity (i.e., being from rural communities) and relationship (i.e., with people and places) play in Emily’s and Melissa’s decisions to enter and remain teaching in rural communities.
In the cases of Emily and Melissa, the authors see their personal and professional identities and relationships existing synergistically with one another. The authors argue that because Emily and Melissa see themselves as belonging to rural communities, they want to teach in rural schools. This informs the relationships they are able to build with others in their communities and schools.

Implications for Teacher Educators

Based on their interpretations, the authors recommend that preservice teachers need to encounter a teacher education context that values the synergy between identities and relationships.
Concurrently, teacher educators need to examine their own programs and explore how they are supporting both preservice and inservice teachers to be successful rural educators.

Lawrence-Lightfoot, S., & Davis, J. H. (1997). The art and science of portraiture. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Updated: Sep. 27, 2011