I grew up in a small town, and the rules in a small town are so much different from when you teach in the city. The most important rule to know is that EVERYONE KNOWS EVERYTHING ABOUT EVERYONE ELSE. Other rules to think about are:
- Students have unbelievable patience, and stubbornness.
This comes from being from a farming community. You develop the ability to wait, you wait for the storm to pass, for the crop to grow, for calving to finish, and with a lot of waiting, you develop patience. Stubbornness is developed from the determination that once waiting will finish, the job will get done. Both of these are strong in a classroom, which can make it easy and difficult to deal with students in different circumstances.
- The community will support each other.
No matter what is going on, when it seems like the world is against you, you will have community support. People care, this is extremely apparent in a small town. The saying “it takes a village to raise a child”, is demonstrated perfectly in a small town. People come together, whether it is a fundraiser, a death in the family, a sudden illness, the community is always there for you. When you have trouble with that one parent who just does not care to help their child succeed, or that one family who never sends there child with enough food, it becomes apparent how much the community cares. It is not uncommon to have parents stand up for what you are teaching, to stand up for how you are teaching and it is very common for all parents in the community to stand up for the children in the community. Since everyone knows everything about everyone else, you never need to state when something is wrong, people already know, and they want to help.
3. You will teach siblings.
A younger sibling does not like being compared to their older sibling. More importantly, just because the older sibling was one way does not mean the younger siblings are anything like them. Keep this in mind, having certain expectations of a student before knowing them can result in having unreasonable expectations of them. Try to avoid calling one by the other’s name this just upsets the student, and by connection their friends, which means suddenly half the class is mad at you, all because you cannot remember which sibling goes by which name.
4. Farming comes first.
If a family needs to finish seeding, or needs to finish harvest, it does not matter that you are teaching grade 6-8 students, they will likely miss class, because that extra person makes a huge difference when it is crunch time. Prepare for this, also there is no point in scheduling any class meetings, assigning major-parents need to help with homework during this time, because this will upset the parents .When you upset parents you suddenly have every person in the community mad at you about something.
5. Sports come first; sports will always come first, unless farming is an option.
Do not bother putting an important assignment, presentation, or test on the day of a major sporting event at the school, even if your students are not playing, there will be a pep rally, you will be expected to attend, you will also be expected to come and cheer your school team on. Younger grades are often responsible for creating the posters, signs and anything else the teachers see fit, plan for this.
6. Fishing and hunting comes before school.
Fishing and hunting comes before school.The truth is everything comes before school in a small town. The skills you learn while fishing and hunting are viewed as more important than the skills learned in school. This is not always true for every person in a small town, but usually the students are able to take their real life skills, apply them to school and in turn they are very successful in school.
7. Do not complain about a student to anyone else ever.
I cannot stress this enough, everyone knows everything about everyone else. When you say one thing to someone, it will be twisted, manipulated and spread all over town within a week. DO NOT COMPLAIN ABOUT STUDENTS.
8. Your students will date each other.
It is a small town, which means there are only so males, and so many females. Especially in middle years when the students cannot drive to other towns, they have a theory that it is a good idea to date their classmates. Not once did I ever witness a relationship in my school end happily, and worse the teachers made the situation so much more awkward. It is not the teacher’s responsibility to know every detail about their students’ personal lives, but let us be realistic, as a teacher you know when your students are dating, this would be because you live in a small town and everyone knows everything about everyone else. Dating in a small town is horrible, but breaking up in a small town is so much worse. When you know your students are dating, do not put them in a group together, they will fight, they will break up, it will all be your fault, and the whole class will take sides. Also do not partner one half of the couple with someone the other one hates, this will cause a fight, they will break up, it will be your fault, the whole class will take sides, also you will spend more time being a counselor, mediator, and referee than actually having the students finish their assignments. This is the same if your students have broken up, do not put them together, there will be fights and crying, you do not want to deal with this. I also recommended avoiding putting exes with each other’s best friends. This will cause one of two things to happen; they will fight, not do the work and you will spend the majority of class dealing with the drama, or option two, somehow feelings will develop between the best friend and the ex, and fighting, and crying and anger will happen. The best way to avoid this is to encourage your students TO NOT DATE.
9. The girl drama is 100x’s worse.
The constant saying that is used in the city “just make friends with some of the other girls” does not work, there are often no other girls to make friends with. In a small town there is a limited number of people, your friends are based on age, not on common interests. In middle school, and high school it seems as if the most important thing to have friends, and with everything that is, going on in a teen’s life it is important.
10. Treaty education has a different meaning.
Imagine explaining to a bunch of people who depend heavily on the land for income that the land, according to treaties, does not belong to them. This is a terrifying thought to students whose family has farmed, and depended on farming their whole lives. When you talk about treaty education, and how identity was impacted, it is on a whole other level when you tell a group of students that one of the biggest pieces of their identity happened because their ancestors bought land that they were not supposed to be able to buy. Some students feel guilt, but most of them feel angry, because they were not at fault, because it seems as if people might try to take their farm land away. While that is not what treaty education is about, it is what the community hears, this is even truer when either you have no fnmi students in the community, or you have fnmi students whose families fit the stereotype. They will get it eventually; you cannot force it down their throats. They are not bad students; they are just learning a different view on a group of people different then their previous knowledge.
11. You will experience a different understanding of environment education.
Students depend on the environment for so many things. They respect it in a way where they do not litter (usually), or do deliberate damage to it. However, it is understood from a young age that diesel, gas, oil, and pollution is all necessary for farming to happen. Tractors have to idle for a while when it is cold, chemicals are going to be used on most farms; this improves the amount of crop that is grown. Students already understand this, trying to tell them that farming is bad, or pollution or those they need to find better ways to do it will result in a lot of frustration, and suddenly you will be the enemy of the town. Farming is important, we need the food that is farmed, and how can we judge people for accomplishing something that not everyone is capable of doing. Rather than teaching students, what they and their families do is harmful to the environment, focus on what they do that is positive because you can guarantee that all of them understand composting, and gardening.
12. Sex education is so easy to teach.
Students often have livestock, which means that they have likely been part of the breeding, birthing and caring process. Very few things gross them out, and the words vagina, penis, ovaries, and testicles, have little impact on the students. They know what they are, at least on an animal. The connection between an animal and a human is quickly made.
13. Your students will tell you stories that make you cringe, get used to it.
The students have delivered and butchered animals, but those are not the stories that will make you cringe. The stories of having students wreck a truck (when they are 13), fall off their dirt bikes, get in fights, cut themselves on barbwire, get stuck in a field where they do not have cell service (yes, this happens) and had to walk back to the farm which was over a mile away. People in small towns have the stories that they view as epic, but you as someone who cares about them, view as a nightmare.
14. Do not voice a strong opinion about any controversial issue; this includes religion, politics and anything that could have multiple opinions.
You will upset a student, and that student will tell their parent. This will cause their parent to be upset, which means any friend or relative of that parent to be upset with you. Suddenly you have the town split in two, fighting with each other. There is no winning when you voice your opinion on any controversial topic, so leave it out of the classroom.
15. Students will be EVERYWHERE. This includes the bar, the backyard, the camping grounds, literally anywhere you can be, a student will be there.
It is up to you to make a decision about if you want to drink in public, but be aware of who is around. There is also a huge difference in have a drink or two, and getting stupid drunk in front of your students, or your students’ parents. Be prepared for this.
Teaching in a small town can be challenging, but it is exactly where I want to be. The busyness of the city represents chaos and frustration for me, but a small town is tranquil and allows for growth. There is an understanding that people can screw up, and it is O.K., but more importantly, there is an understanding that you have the community to back you up when you need it. And remember, EVERYONE KNOWS EVERYTHING ABOUT EVERYONE ELSE.