Stepping stone or career move? A case study of rural K–12 music educators and their job attrition
Kuntzelman, Richard Ian
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Teachers of rural K–12 music education are subject to attrition rates that are higher than many other professions or teaching specialties (Goldring, Taie & Riddles, 2014; Harmon, 2001; Ingersoll, 2001). Because of this, a large number of music teachers who are hired to teach in rural schools are inexperienced educators who are often unaware of the specific demands that are unique to these jobs. Upon earning a teaching certification, many new graduates get hired in rural locations with unfamiliar teaching conditions that could potentially lead to dissatisfaction in the workplace which could be a contributing factor to the higher than average attrition rates (Bates, 2013; Hancock, 2008; Monk, 2007; Isbell, 2005). This dissertation is a case study of in-service music educators in the rural Western United States designed to help understand the trend of higher than average attrition rates. With a theoretical framework of utility maximization to find a satisfactory person-job fit, I observed, interviewed, and collected journals from 5 participants with current or previous rural K–12 music teaching experience to determine: 1) what reasons do educators consider influential in a decision to stay in or move from a teaching position?, 2) what changes do teachers report in their perception of job utility maximization over their careers?, and 3) what are some benefits and challenges of teaching in a rural music teaching setting? Reasons for attrition specific to rural music education and generic to teaching were discussed in terms of a participant’s perception of job satisfaction and their decisions to stay in or leave rural K–12 music teaching jobs. Participants listed five themes as influential to their decisions for attrition: 1) disproportionate emphasis on athletics and pep band, 2) teacher and student absenteeism, 3) spillover work time 4) family, and 5) administrative rapport. No individual theme was a singular indicator of attrition, nor was any theme more prominent than others in influencing a participant to keep or leave a job. Rather, the perception of each reason for attrition had a cumulative effect and jobs were maintained or sought anew based on a combination of views of each theme. Also, participants reported steady inclinations of preferred musical specialty, but the perception of each theme as a reason for attrition changed with time and teaching experience. Ultimately, participants revealed that rural K–12 music teaching jobs can be highly rewarding if a person is professionally flexible, willing to regularly travel long distances (with students and alone), and can appreciate the idiosyncrasies of living in remote communities.