Like many states, there is a shortage of teachers in Oregon school districts especially in schools that are underfunded or have a high proportion of minority students. This is a particular problem in rural and isolated rural areas, especially for recruiting a diverse teaching staff.
One issue teachers face is the rising cost of education (certain degrees are a requirement for most positions) as well as unpaid teaching internships before applicants can get an official job. Oregon Rural Teacher Corps (ORTC) seeks to address both of those issues through a program that provides grants of $10,000 along with peer support and professional development to Eastern Oregon University Master of Arts candidates teaching in rural and underserved Oregon communities.
For Dennise Blevins, who has taught in two Oregon communities with populations of less than two-thousand people, the decision to become a teacher came after she had children of her own and mounting financial responsibilities. Blevins first taught at Hines Middle School in the City of Hines, which serves approximately 200 students in grades 6-8, and now teaches at Grant Union Junior/Senior High School in John Day, which serves approximately 250 students.
“I applied to ORTC because my financial situation is not super stable… and the unpaid [teaching] internship was a huge struggle,” Blevins explained in an ORTC Attendee Spotlight video. “I knew ORTC would be a big help in getting me through the year.” Program funding has allowed participants to connect with each other despite teaching in geographically isolated schools.
“Being a teacher in a rural area sometimes feels like you are on an island,” said teacher and ORTC participant, Jose Ortiz, who teaches at Irrigon Junior Senior High School, where there are approximately four-hundred students in a community of roughly 1800 people. “I applied to the ORegon Rural Teachers Corp because it was an opportunity to collaborate with people locally, people who are dealing with the same issues as me and have different ideas on how to overcome those issues that they are facing.”
For some teachers ORTC allowed them to lessen their workload outside of teaching and their studies and make ends meet. Of twenty-two teachers who have been part of the ORTC, all have continued to work in rural schools throughout the state. Funding from The Roundhouse Foundation in 2022 and 2023 have helped support the ORTC program and its teaching grants.