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Rural schools have a teacher shortage. Why don't people who live there, teach there?

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Teacher Shari Daniels helps her kindergarten students identify shapes in her classroom. Daniels, 48, never considered teaching as a career when she attended Poplar schools as a kid growing up on the Fort Peck Reservation.

For the past six years, Shari Daniels has tried to be the person she wishes she had in her life as a student.

Daniels grew up on the Fort Peck Reservation, home to about 6,000 members of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes, in northeast Montana. Now 48, she struggles to remember the name of even one of her teachers, and she has no memory of making a personal connection with any of them.

“They always treated us like we were another number, especially the Native American students,” said Daniels, who was raised by her grandmother and is Dakota Sioux. “It felt almost like they passed you (to the next grade) to get you out of their eyesight before they packed their bags.”

Teacher Shari Daniels, right, walks with her kindergarten class at Poplar Elementary School in mid-March. Daniels attended the school herself as a kid growing up on the neighboring Fort Peck Reservation.

More than two decades later, a third of Poplar School District’s teachers identify as Native American. That’s still less than the 96% of the district’s 900 students who are Native.

And high turnover remains a problem. Poplar schools lose about a fifth of their teachers each year – more than double the national attrition rate – and principals have struggled to fill vacancies across most grade levels and subjects. For about 1 in 10 positions there, the district last year reported hiring people with no formal training who needed an emergency waiver from the state to teach.

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