Rural teachers' perceptions: The influence of the local community on their teaching practice
Perini, Marie Hill
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Teacher perceptions regarding their communities and their views of their relationships to the community are significant to this study. The literature acknowledges the influence of community opinion and mores on teacher practice. However, the voices are generally those of researchers and not of teachers, and this study will attempt to bridge that gap by acknowledging the voices of rural practitioners as primary sources. The literature review examines four main topics: community, schools and community, teachers and community, and teacher narrations regarding their understandings of the relationship of community to their practice. An examination of community includes considerations of communitarianism and community engagement as well as place-based education initiatives. A rationale for school-community interaction gestures to a community's perceptions of its schools and a school's perceptions of its community. Teacher engagement with the local community scrutinizes both the professional and personal advantages and challenges for such involvement. Finally, teacher narratives are examined as both means of personal expression and as constructivist instruments in the practice of teaching. The qualitative research design utilizes semi-structured interviews of ten rural educators. These teachers represent a variety of demographic and content area specialties, and live both in and outside of the communities in which they teach. Data from the interviews was open coded with attention given to common themes for categorization and analysis. Findings suggest that the teachers in this study do not purposefully engage with the local community, specifically regarding curriculum and pedagogical practice. While acknowledging the community's values and expectations, these teachers do not welcome its input and participation in the educational process, as would be evidenced in place-conscious educational efforts. Mutually beneficial partnerships are neither pursued nor encouraged by the culture of the school or the historical customs of the community. The teachers appear to have constructed a "community within the community", building a professional community around personal experiences and professional preferences which extends limited regard to the local community and to those associations which could be of benefit to both the school and the community.