Find out more about the I Am A Rural Teacher Campaign.
I Am A Rural Teacher is a national advocacy campaign funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that wrapped up in December 2020. It is a collaboration between the National Rural Education Association and the Rural Schools Collaborative, and AIRSS assisted in facilitating the digital aspects of the campaign. Although it "ended" in December, the work continues, and RSC is still accepting perspectives.
IAART Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/IAARTCampaign/
Read Short Illinois Perspectives
Here we will be including copies of Illinois submissions to the program, including the great response we've had to our COVID-19 Rural Community Impact project.
Jordan Bear – Neoga, IL
My name is Jordan Bear and I am a K-8 Technology Teacher at the Neoga School District in Central Illinois. I have been teaching at a rural school for my whole 11 year career and I love it. Neoga is a small town with a population of 1,600. Our school district has about 550 students K-12. We have 2 principals, a dean of students/athletic director, 47 certified staff and 30 support personnel.
As a teacher many of us get into the field to have a positive impact on students. At a rural school the impact can be felt district-wide and even in the community. I have around 350 students that I see in a year; I see over 150 different students in a week. At a small district it is every student K-8 that I will see in the course of a year. I have a chance to build positive relationships with not only a single student, but their whole family as I often have brothers, sisters, and cousins. I see their parents and grandparents at the student drop off line each morning. I see students transition from elementary to jr. high and I am a familiar face as they make that jump. It creates a much clearer picture for me as a teacher that I can use to help understand where the students are coming from and help them where they are at. Teaching becomes much more individualized and for me it is more meaningful and impactful.
I have two daughters and we moved to Neoga shortly after I was hired here in 2015. It is a small town and my wife and I had some concerns about what life would be like for our children going to school in a small town. After having one of my daughters attend here since kindergarten and now in the second grade, I cannot imagine her going to a larger school and having the same support and opportunities that she has here at a smaller rural school. If my daughter has to go to the nurse it is not uncommon for me to get a text message from the secretary notifying me. Almost every staff member knows who my child is; whether it is cooks, secretaries, custodial staff, or other teachers and as a parent there is a huge comfort knowing that people know and are looking out for your child. At a small school it is the norm for all teachers to know every student to some capacity.
Another advantage that a rural school can provide is resources. It doesn’t seem like it would be true, but we have many resources available to our students here in little Neoga. I am focusing on technology resources, being a technology teacher. We have classroom sets of Chromebooks all the way down to second grade, as well as three computer labs with new desktop computers and Promethean Boards in every classroom. We have three 3D printers and students as young as 3rd grade are using Computer Aided Design (CAD) to create and print 3D models. Students build and code Lego Robots to complete challenges. We have a drone and a GoPro that we use for photo and video editing. Elementary students do a newscast that we put on YouTube (NES News; check it out!) and we use green screen technology, a camcorder and audio and video editing to put together a small newscast for the school. With some of my jr. high students we have built an arcade using a Raspberry Pi; we are working with the Neoga Agriculture Department to build a case for the arcade using their CNC machine. Jr. high students are also coding using Arduino microcontrollers that were purchased for our classroom by the Neoga PTO. Larger schools may have some or even all of these resources to some capacity, but the difference at a rural school with smaller classes is that every student will have these classes in the elementary and jr. high and have exposure and experience with these technologies. It is not an elective, it is part of the curriculum.
Sheila Greenwood - Bement, IL
"Our staff has really risen up to the challenge. They are the calm in the middle of the storm and they are keeping kids as their number one priority. We are providing breakfast, lunch and milks for all of the children who need meals over this break. Putting together 800 meals took an army of volunteers and at the center of it was community members and the Bement staff. We are also providing our students with learning opportunities and communicating with them during this time. We are also paying everyone their normal salary plus benefits, so that added stress is gone! We will get through this, we are strong, we are Bement!"
Deon Hall – Norris City, IL
During this time of E-learning we have all been stretched. We have had to think outside of the box to be able to reach All of our students. What works for one family, may not work for another. We are reaching out to each student via text, email and classroom dojo. Each student has been given hard copies of work that is at their level. We have also been able to Google meet meeting with our students. We have sent postcards letting our kids know how much we miss them. As teachers we are here for our students and their families to help out in any way possible. We love and miss all of our students and we can't wait to see them again!
Victoria Norton – Martinsville, IL
View the video compilation on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/IAARTCampaign/videos/632968440624056/
Or our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-n6P-5l5cQ0&feature=youtu.be
We are feeding every child who wishes to have meals. Currently, we have 2 delivery routes in town and 2 country routes as well as a curbside pick-up service for students wishing to pick up meals. Over 25 % of our student population has no access to internet/electronic forms of communication. We have staff that volunteer to distribute and deliver meals. Staff are contacting families through whatever means they can: phone, email, class communication tools, home visits (socially distant ones). Our counselor is trying to do phone counseling and does assist with meal delivery to touch base with students who need social/emotional support.
Our parents are completely overwhelmed with either having to work and leaving kids home to care for themselves or have experienced job losses and are experiencing social/emotional trauma themselves.
Our school administration asks that staff provide a menu of learning choices for our Pre-k through 6th grade so students can complete whatever tasks they can with the supplies/supports they have. For example, for those without internet/electronics, they can do paper-based activities. For those with means, optional educational websites are recommended. We encourage teachers, support staff, and specialty staff to offer family educational activities since there may be several children living at home in various grade levels.
We understand the complexities and stress placed on our families; therefore, we have asked staff to follow these 4 C's: Connect: relationships are key; Condense: less is more; Choice: provide meaningful opportunities for students to choose from and when they submit their completed work staff provide meaningful feedback; Communicate: inform parents and students of expectations and give clear instructions.
We have tried to use our social media for lots of positive communication from virtual spirit week, student challenges to return work (teachers had to get pie in face or bucket of water on head), partnered with EIU to push out a free coloring sheet for students to color and submit a photo that was highlighted on our social media as well as the University (we get many practicum students and student teachers from EIU so it was a bonus for us and for EIU). Our librarian has sacked up books for every child and we've distributed those as well to keep kids reading at home. Our music teacher made a video of herself playing musical instruments kids can make at home. Our staff members have made 2 videos for our students and put them on social media...the most recent one was to the tune of Rocky.
We have a small staff of less than 35 at Martinsville Elementary school, but they do amazing things each day. For students who have not picked up learning materials, they've delivered. For those who need help with activities, staff have stepped up and offered phone or virtual assistance. They are working harder than ever in a unique way. The hashtag I chose at the beginning of the year was "EVERY child counts--EVERY moment matters," I had no idea that we would find ourselves in this remote learning environment where that # is more poignant than ever.
Tracy Orr - Carmi, IL
"I believe our community is one of the best. Our superintendent, administrators, and teachers have all gone above and beyond to make sure our students stay on track, the best they can. From a parent’s perspective you can, literally, feel the love the teachers sent home with kiddos as they walked out for, quite possibly, the last time. Our community has also stepped up and is providing lunches in different locations for hungry students to pick up. Being a rural community, most of our students depend on the school’s breakfast and lunch program to curb their rumbling stomachs. I’m so proud to be a part of a district that puts those students needs first and make it a priority to make sure they’re provided for.
How is this “stay at home” initiative effecting my family? We are choosing to see it as a gift. We’ve always dreamed of the opportunity to slow down. Now we get the chance. We are using the curriculum that was sent home to “home school”. We are spending time reading the Bible and praying together. We are creating things and playing outside together. We are establishing family game nights and eating at the table together.
Yes, this is a scary time. Yes, I feel like we are in the middle of a movie! But we are seizing the day and using this opportunity to become the family God intended us to be. One who enjoys one another, helps others, and stands firm in our faith."
Timothy Smith - Princeton, IL
"Our district is continuing to offer breakfast and lunch to any and all students during the closure. Bus delivery of the food is available at the request of the recipient. Otherwise, designated pick up locations are the school building the student attends. (Food can be picked up for all children at one site if the family has students in multiple buildings). Teachers are currently working remotely to prepare alternative learning instruction in the event the school closure is extended. Our spring break is the week of March 23rd, so no alternative instruction is planned for that week. The "Buddy Bags" program, which provides food for students over breaks will cover the week of spring break."
Leslie Varble – Carbondale, IL
"I just wanted to take a moment to share some of the amazing acts of kindness that are going on within our Unity Point School. Our staff has been simply incredible throughout the Covid-19 crisis. Every individual within this organization continues to meet the needs of our students. Our kitchen staff is preparing 700-800 meals a day, custodial staff/drivers are delivering food, and our faculty/paraprofessionals continue to reach out and connect with students and families on a daily basis--engaging students but also caring for them. I feel so blessed to be a part of a truly outstanding/caring group of people. They truly are letting their light shine!"
Thad Walker - Meredosia, IL
"We are working very hard to see that all of students are getting lunches and continuous engagement. As of today we have handed out 155 lunches and breakfast bags. We have everyone pick up their packets for learning. Through this hard time is great to see how small town/ rural people ride tot the occasion. We have had an influx of volunteers throughout the day. The staff has brought a lot of laughter and smiles to the parents and students today.
We are 100% free and reduced school with a lot of our families not having access to wi-fi, so we have decided to do packets. The families have been very receptive and appreciative of what we have been able to give. I am the superintendent of one of the smallest rural schools in the state and I could not imagine being any place else, I absolutely love my job and my peers that I work with. We pride ourselves on being a family school with family values."
Steve Wilder - Knoxville, IL
"I'm so proud of our school district for rising to the occasion in many ways. The two that come to mind are providing e-learning opportunities for students for continuous education, and feeding students. Our kitchen staff has come in without hesitation to prepare meals, and our staff filled a volunteer sign up in short order to help distribute the meals. I participated in meal distribution today and was in awe of how much our staff enjoyed helping our families, enjoyed being together, and were touched by the gratitude of our families. Our staff and community have been rockstars!!!"
Ciara Willhite - Franklin, IL
I choose to teach in rural schools because of the small class sizes. When I taught in a large city, I would easily see a class size of more than 35 students. Working in a rural school allows me class sizes on average of about 20 students. This allows me to differentiate instruction much easier, work one-on-one with struggling students, and manage classroom behavior. This is a huge advantage that rural schools can offer teachers.
Our town has a large sense of community. Being an extremely small town, everyone knows everyone. We are constantly doing outreach, whether it's a food drive for the Lions Club or a blood drive for the blood bank, our students are always supporting our community. Franklin is a small farming community, most of our students have ties to farming. This influences my teaching. I try to make connections in my content to something my students do everyday, like farming.
One state-level policy recommendation would be to allocate more funds for professional development. Comparing our PD to that of a large city, we do not have the opportunities that these schools have. Traveling to large conferences would greatly impact rural teachers' pedagogy and instructional methods. It could possibly even strength our content knowledge. We could directly implement things we learned from these conferences to our classes, therefore helping students and bringing their learning to the 21st century.
Erin Zinzilieta-Pennington - Carmi, IL
"Even though school has not been in session in Carmi school district, meals are still being provided. According to Miranda Stimson, head cook at CWCHS, 962 meals have been delivered to students from March 17th – March 20th; in addition to 125 adult meals. Volunteers from the community, as well as teachers, have been bagging up the meals in the high school cafeteria for delivery. The goal is to continue this trend as long as school is dismissed. Food is currently being handed out Monday and Wednesday from 11:30 – 12, at the following locations: Lincoln School, Church of God, Stewart Street Church, Faith Tabernacle, First United Methodist, Crossville UMC, and Maunie Park."
Submit your story here.
Tell us about your experience as a rural teacher, or nominate another outstanding rural teacher. You may choose to one of our above prompts or feel free to write about anything you feel is important.