Hannah Bryant, 4th Grade, John Thomas School of Discovery, Nixa Public Schools
Since 2010, scores of young educators have graduated from the Ozarks Teacher Corps, with a rural school teacher-placement rate of better than 90 percent. This summer we will profile 13 of these teachers who are making a difference for rural Ozarks students and schools. These interviews were conducted and profiles written by English and Writing students at Drury University.
In a small town just off of Highway 60, Hannah Bryant learned what it meant to grow up in a rural school. Her graduating class from Mountain Grove had just under 100 students, and she could name every single one of them. There is a strong sense of community that comes from living and learning in a town like that, and, according to Bryant, it makes all of the struggle worth it. It is for that reason that Hannah Bryant decided to find her place in the Ozark Teacher Corps.
Making the Leap from Nurse to Teacher
Bryant came to Missouri State University in the fall of 2012 to study elementary education, but that hadn’t always been her dream.
“I used to want to be a nurse when I was little. It sounded so cool, but I can't even handle loose teeth,” Bryant said.
It wasn’t until her junior year of high school that Bryant decided that what she really wanted to do was help people, especially children. She took a teaching assistant position and she knew she had found her calling.
“I loved the curiosity of the kids, and it made me excited. I always loved reading, and I loved being able to teach kids to discover new things. That was my initial inspiration to become a teacher,” Bryant said.
Bryant joined the Ozarks Teacher Corps when she was a sophomore at Missouri State, after hearing about it from her sister, who is an art teacher in Branson.
“I knew that I wanted to teach in a rural district anyway, it was a great financial opportunity, and I heard good things about the program, so why not?” Bryant said.
Before she ever received her diploma to become a teacher, Bryant knew exactly where she wanted to be.
“My student teaching experience was in Nixa, and it had my heart from the very beginning. We have a very unique, close community of teachers, staff, and students who are willing to try new things and give it their best shot...that's huge,” Bryant said.
Working in a Community (A Little) Like Home
As luck would have it, Bryant found her dream job in her first year of teaching working at the school she had fallen in love with. She was happy to go back to working in a rural community, however, Bryant says Nixa is just as different as it is similar to the town she grew up in.
“Nixa’s sort of meshed into Springfield. I think it’s really cool that Nixa has a sense of community. They really value their hometown and their culture, and a big part of their culture is their education,” Bryant said.
With a population of over 20,000, Bryant has discovered that there is a certain advantage to working in a larger rural district.
“Nixa is large enough to offer great resources for their students but small enough to build community across the district,” Bryant said.
One of the strongest advantages to working in a rural school is the ability for the teachers to really become a part of the community. Because of this, they feel more connected to their students, and are better able to understand what issues and outside events they are bringing into the classroom that might affect their learning. Even though Bryant still lives in Springfield, she feels as though she is still being welcomed into the Nixa community.
“I want to be more involved in the community events, especially the ones that are sponsored by the school,” Bryant said.
According to Bryant, the biggest threat that rural schools face is a lack of funding and resources. This can have a major impact on the learning opportunities of students, and the ability of these schools to attract high quality teachers.
“I feel that smaller, rural schools are often underestimated and this can result in lack of funding from federal and/or state sources,” Bryant said.
Despite this threat, Bryant feels confident that Nixa schools are doing the best they can to create a high quality education for their students, so that they never miss an opportunity. She feels supported by the district, which allows her to teach to the best of her ability.
“I feel that my needs as a teacher have been met this year without a doubt. Going in to teaching, I was afraid that I would not feel supported by my district, but it has not been a reality at all,” Bryant said.
According to Bryant, her first year teaching at Nixa has been both a struggle and a blessing, and she plans to remain with the district for the foreseeable future. While there are many challenges that come with working in such a small district, her experience has been more than rewarding.
“What I think it means to be a teacher in a rural school is that it can’t be just a job. You have to be willing to jump into a community and a family, and it has to be exciting to you. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my students from the close knit community of the school and Nixa. I’ve learned a lot more about what is important to me,” Bryant said.
The Ozarks Teacher Corps develops a cadre of talented teaching candidates who will explore rural education issues, serve as teacher interns in small schools, and commit to teaching in their respective home communities for at least three years. The overarching purpose of the Ozarks Teacher Corps is to encourage extremely capable and passionate young people to become educators and return to their rural hometowns as teacher-leaders. This program is made possible by the Chesley and Flora Lea Wallis Trust, a $1.7 million Community Foundation of the Ozarks charitable fund. In 2016, the Rural Schools Collaborative established the Rural Teacher Corps to promote similar programs across the country with the help of a dedicated network of rural education advocates and funders.
Profile by Hannah Beckmann, Arts Administration major at Drury University