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Superb Idea: Hire Teachers for Public Schools the Way We Hire Them for Private Schools Superb Idea: Hire Teachers for Public Schools the Way We Hire Them for Private Schools

Superb Idea: Hire Teachers for Public Schools the Way We Hire Them for Private Schools

by Liz Dwyer

June 7, 2011

Teacher hiring might be moving beyond just ensuring applicants have a few transcripts and a Department of Justice background check. Districts like Denver and Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. are shifting their focus away from whether an applicant has a complete file in a central office to determining if prospective teachers truly have the knowledge and skills to be effective in the classroom. It's a change that's reminiscent of the thorough approach many elite private schools take when it comes to hiring, and the districts hope it'll ensure that only the most talented and promising teachers are actually hired. 

Most people assume that public school principals control who they hire, that they see applicants teach a sample lesson and are able to assess their skills before bringing them on board. But it's actually pretty common for principals to be assigned a teacher from a central office, someone they can only hope will be a good fit for their school and effective with students. Only one third of principals who hire a teacher ever see that person in action, either live on on video, prior offering them a position. This kind of bare bones hiring process would never fly at an elite school where teachers are often required to submit full portfolios of their work, are interviewed by administrators and other teachers, and almost always teach sample lessons.

Washington D.C.'s new four-step model comes pretty close to the private school approach. Step one has a traditional online information form, but there are also two essay questions designed to gauge an applicant's quality. Applicants that advance to step two must analyze a student work sample and write a response that shows they can "determine where the student is falling short, and devise a strategy for improving the necessary skills." Step three features an interview, a short in-person model lesson, or a 10-minute teaching video. If the applicant makes it to step four, they have to teach a 30-minute lesson in one of D.C.'s public schools on a topic chosen by the regular classroom teacher. The lesson is filmed and made available to principals for review.

Benjamin Lindy, head of teacher-selection design for DCPS told Education Week that the shift "signals to candidates that DCPS is a special place to work and takes teaching very seriously." But will this new model actually ensure only truly talented teachers end up in front of kids, or will it just become another series of hoops for applicants to jump through? It's success will probably depend on how well the district actually trains its HR staff and administrators in what to look for in an applicant.

That's not as simple as it sounds since there's no conclusive research on which traits make an effective teacher, but it's not impossible. Organizations like Teach For American and the New Teacher Project have long honed their admissions processes based on the common traits they've observed in the classroom of their most effective teachers. One thing's for sure, if models like the one in D.C. actually do result in increased student achievement, districts nationwide would be smart to adopt their methods. 

photo via Historyforkids.org

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