Tips from New Teachers for an Improved Teacher Hiring Process
There is no denying that a school’s greatest resource is its teachers. Good teachers who deliver quality instruction help produce greater educational outcomes for their students.1 A school or district that can recruit many of these highly effective teachers can create a climate of success, providing students with lasting learning.2 That’s why it’s so important to optimize your hiring and onboarding processes to be able to recruit the best talent and welcome educators into your district in a way they feel great about.
What makes for a great hiring and teacher onboarding experience?
Although researchers have spent more than a century trying to answer this question3, there is still no universal consensus on how to define or measure effective teaching. In the world of teacher recruitment, the focus most often centers on applicant vetting or identifying qualities that effective teachers often possess, like organization, prerequisite skills and qualifications, multi-tasking, and reflective thinking.4 While hiring committees should know what traits to look for during recruitment, it’s just as important to know how to attract the candidates who possess those traits to sign on the dotted line and start a career at your school district.
Here are two questions to get started:
- What makes the hiring process a positive experience for teachers?
- How can hiring committees create positive experiences to hire the best teacher candidates?
To answer these questions, we interviewed ten brand new teachers about their hiring experiences. All went through the application process and were hired during the COVID-19 pandemic, after just completing their teacher preparation programs. In their experiences, the most desirable schools and districts were those that used hiring practices to project a positive image and showcase the kind of environment in which candidates would want to work.
Here’s what we learned.
How to update your HR processes to attract and hire the best candidates
Tip #1: Show candidates that teachers’ voices are valued at your school district
• • • During interviews, DO invite them to make real decisions • • •
Haley, a recently hired art teacher beamed while sharing her hiring experience. The principal invited her into the art room to show her the program’s new pottery wheels, which had garnered so much interest that the school couldn’t accommodate all students who wanted to elect ceramics. She presented the problem to Haley and asked, “How do you feel about increasing the number of students in pottery?” Haley offered a quick scheduling solution, which excited the principal and made Haley feel like her insights would matter at the school.
Colleen, a new English language arts teacher, had a similar experience. She shared that her most memorable interview question involved a data chart that displayed a student’s grades and some notes from the school psychologist about the student’s behavioral progress. The committee asked her to examine all the data and then explain how she would grade him at the end of the year. Colleen recalled, “That was kind of cool, to be able to interpret real data and talk about social-emotional learning and how it all comes into play.”
• • • DO give newly hired teachers a platform to share their ideas • • •
Sasha, a first-year elementary teacher, raved about a new teacher orientation that her district held. She said, “At orientation, [the school] asked, ‘What are some resources that people have?’ And I was able to speak about the different technologies I knew and had used in the past. They actually gave me a platform to speak, which was kind of weird because I was new – but they seemed to be saying, ‘Hey, we already value you here and we want to hear what you have to say.’”
“They seemed to be saying, ‘We already value you here and we want to hear what you have to say.’”
Trish, a first-year English language arts teacher, had a similar experience. She felt as though her hiring committee was looking to hire an early career teacher, like her. She explained, “After they hired me, they told me, ‘We really liked your energy and we wanted someone excited to come into the profession.’ They knew that I was experienced with a lot of different online programs, too, and I think they sought that out. They wanted to hire someone younger, someone who could teach them a lot. And while they’ve taught me a lot about the curriculum, I’ve already made a big impact in changing how that curriculum is delivered and made more accessible to students through technology.”
• • • DON’T play games with candidates • • •
Kristy, a newly hired social studies teacher, explained that even though summer was almost over, and she was beginning to get desperate to land a job, she went on one interview that was conducted so poorly she would have declined an offer. She explained, “The committee asked me a lot of questions that didn’t seem to connect to my instruction at all, like how I rest and relax. There were too many odd jokes between members of the hiring committee that created tension in the room. I almost didn’t feel like they were taking it seriously. At first, I was told that the principal wasn’t at the school that day. But after my interview, they brought me into his office and said, ‘You can talk to him now.’ I was so confused. The principal told me that he had his faculty vet candidates and if they liked them enough, they were to bring them to him. But it almost felt like a trick. I didn’t like it. It made me very uncomfortable.”
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Tip #2: Show candidates that your school district views teachers as experts of their crafts
• • • DO ask candidates about their disciplinary knowledge, skills, and pedagogy • • •
Rose knew that she was interviewing with a special school when they asked about her craft. She explained, “The principal and vice principal looked at my artwork and told me that I was extremely talented. No other school had asked to see examples of my artwork. Others asked what kind of art I did, personally, but no other schools asked to see it – so I knew that this was my school. I would be seen as an artist and a teacher and that’s important to me.” When asked if that was that moment that made her certain that she wanted to work at that school, Haley said, “I guess it was just their excitement of, ‘We finally found someone we’re comfortable with throwing in classrooms with cameras and pottery wheels. Someone who knows how to use all of it and use it well.’”
Newly hired math teacher, Sarah, said that she brought a binder filled with samples of her work, including detailed outlines of lesson and unit plans, to all of her interviews. In her experience, most committees never asked to see it, and those that did flipped through quickly before returning to their planned questioning. She explained that the hiring committee at her current school examined it carefully. Three members of the committee were also math teachers. They asked Sarah questions about her lesson design before commenting, “Whoa, this is awesome!”
“The most desirable districts were those that used hiring practices to project a positive image.”
Colleen wrote a thesis as the culminating project of her Master’s program. The hiring committee at her current school asked her to tell them about it. She remembered them asking, “What is some actual research that you’ve done that you can bring into the school and into the classroom?” This question was so different from those she had been asked during her other interviews. She explained, “I always feel like they’re so focused on your relationship with students, and that’s great, but for them to ask about what I was knowledgeable about and what research I did in my Master’s year made me feel very heard and seen.”
• • • DON’T assume that candidates and new teachers know it all, including the inner workings of your school district • • •
Though not all of the teacher candidates were required to perform demonstration lessons during the interview process, the ones who did wanted more information ahead of time. Kristy explained, “I had to teach a demo lesson, but I didn’t know what protocols the school followed for COVID-19. Could I even pass out papers? Books? I also didn’t know what the students had already learned or what they were expected to know. I was expected to teach a hybrid class. Some students were at home and others were physically in the classroom, but I didn’t know what tech platform the school used. I found out about five minutes before starting my lesson and had to get familiar with it on the fly. Knowing all of that would have definitely helped.”
Tip #3: Show teacher candidates that your district acknowledges and accommodates students’ and candidates’ learning differences
• • • DO provide interview questions in different modalities • • •
Mike, a new science teacher, said that only one of the districts that interviewed him shared their interview questions visually, on slides. Although he would have really liked to see them before the interview to prepare more thoughtful answers, he said that it was still helpful to see them on a screen. He explained, “Instead of saying, ‘Can you ask this again?’ or ‘Can I write this down really quickly?’ I could just look at the keywords on each slide which helped me focus my answers and make sure I was actually addressing what they wanted me to instead of just talking in circles.”
• • • DO provide candidates with the option to interview in person or online • • •
Trish admitted, “I’m a terrible online learner and, because of COVID-19, my orientation was completely online. I was trying to pay attention but there was just so much information, and because I wasn’t familiar with the physical layout of the school and I didn’t know any members of the staff, a lot of it just didn’t make sense. I needed to see the space and these people in person. I just couldn’t visualize it.”
Kristy felt similarly about online interviews. Although a necessity during the COVID-19 shutdown, she said, “Sometimes when committees tried to squeeze all of the interviewers onto one screen, all I would see was an arm and half of a face. It was hard. I didn’t know who I was talking to. I couldn’t think because I was so confused by that, and I just couldn’t feel that personal spark. There’s such a difference in going into the building for interviews. Especially at the end of the year when students are still in school, and you can feel that energy.”
Tip #4: Ensure that teachers are given access to critical systems
Rachel, a newly hired sixth-grade teacher shared her biggest anxiety as her new school’s start date rapidly approached. Her district waited until the first day of school to activate new teachers’ email accounts. She explained, “That felt too late. [I wondered] how am I supposed to plan or access any of my plans if I don’t have an email?”
Trish echoed Rachel’s sentiment. She said, “There’s a lot to figure out and I don’t want to wait until the last minute. Like, supplies, who do I talk to about that? If I have tech issues, who do I talk to about that? Orientation was more about selecting health insurance and less about navigating this new workplace. I think a balance would have been better for me.”
Teacher candidates want to work in schools that recognize and value their knowledge, skills, and experiences. At the same time, they seek workplaces that acknowledge their inexperience related to school culture, norms, and the day-to-day logistics that will help them navigate their new work environments. Apply these tips to your hiring practices to show teacher candidates that your district is that workplace.
1 Stronge, J. H., & Tucker, P. D. (2000). Teacher evaluation and student achievement. Washington, DC: National Education Association.
2 Stronge, J. H., & Hindman, J. L. (2003). Hiring the best teachers. Educational Leadership, 60(8), 48-52.
3 Kratz, H. E. (1896). Characteristics of the best teachers as identified by children. Pedagogical Seminary, 3, 318-418.
4 Stronge, J. H. (2002). Qualities of effective teachers. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.