'Over the hill’ is not so far away: crossing teaching contexts to create benefits for all through rural teaching experiences
Hudson, S, Millwater, J 2009, ''Over the hill’ is not so far away: crossing teaching contexts to create benefits for all through rural teaching experiences', in JA Reid (ed.), Australian Teacher Education Conference Proceedings 2009: Teacher Education Crossing Borders: Cultures, Contexts, Communities, Curriculum, Albury, NSW, 28 June- 1 July, Australian Teacher Education Association, Bathurst, NSW. ISBN: 9780975232446
Attracting and retaining quality teachers to rural and remote areas has been a challenge over the last decade. Many preservice teachers are reluctant to experience a rural and remote practicum and may not consider applying to teach in such areas when they graduate. Education departments and universities need to explore innovative ways that will encourage graduates to consider undertaking a teaching position in the bush. As a way forward, preservice teachers from a regional campus of a Queensland University were invited to participate in a six-day rural experience entitled ‘Over the Hill’ that included being billeted with local families, participating in community activities and observing and teaching in classrooms. Fifteen preservice teachers were accompanied by two university academics who returned to work in a classroom as teacher for their own rural and remote professional experience. The aim of this qualitative study was to explore and describe the perceptions of a rural and remote teaching experience from the perspectives of the preservice teachers, the accompanying academics and the school staff hosting the program. Data were collected from the preservice teachers and accompanying academics in the form of written reflections while fourteen school staff completed a related questionnaire. The results indicated that a six-day rural and remote teaching program can provide professional benefits for all involved. The preservice teachers gained: knowledge of teaching and living in a rural and remote setting; an understanding about how smallschools operate; networks with teachers in rural and remote schools and; information about how schools can work effectively with parents and community members. The responses from the two accompanying academics demonstrated that returning to the classroom provided them with a greater current understanding of the preservice field experience and an awareness of how to better prepare preservice teachers for teaching in rural and remote areas. Furthermore, school staff hosting the program noted, the experience provided teachers with opportunities to reflect on their own practice and discuss current educational trends with academics. Classroom teachers also commented that their students enjoyed the varied teaching strategies and enthusiasm provided by the preservice teachers. Indeed, this study indicates that short experiences such as “Over the Hill” not only assist preservice teachers to make informed decisions about teaching in rural and remote areas but can provide professional benefits for accompanying academics and the schools.