What Changes Communities? Spatial Implications for Teachers in the Rural Rust Belt

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Geographic locales characterized by both rurality and industrial abandonment must be understood beyond a discourse of divides. Grenfell (2005) argues for bridging a traditional urban-rural divide found in metrocentrism by attending to transformation. At this socio-political moment in time, with issues of globalization, nationalism, and populism driving conversations around the globe, I am interested in how teacher-participants in my study are constructing the idea of change in a time of upheaval for their community due to industrial abandonment that might be typically described along a divide, and erased by their identities as rural teachers working and living in the rural-rustbelt. Over three years I have worked with teachers in the rural-rustbelt community of Stewartsville, Midwest on pedagogical and contextual challenges many of which have grown out of industrial abandonment and attendant social impacts of poverty. Massey (2005) pushes me to consider not just ‘local coordinates’ as participants make sense of their changing community, but against what boundaries teachers erect their notions of change to help develop a language beyond one of static stagnation that brings such contexts into sharper relief. While the language for such places feels elusive, the experience of erasure due to professional accountability discourses, spatial dismissals, and historic coeval constructions of class and place seems to be devastating and invokes anger. There is a lot at stake in researching such places with an eye toward sustainable futures for communities, schools, and dialogue. In this paper, I will share analysis of video data from a professional development session with teachers and one administrator in which we grappled with the questions: what changes communities and, more importantly, what is our role in response to change? Through this analysis I explore how a group of educators construct opportunity and inequity for their praxis and for their students in terms of their complicated and shifting geographic locale.

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Presented at the American Education Research Association Annual Convention on April 30, 2017 in San Antonio, TX