Hiring New Teachers Is An Opportunity We Must Fully Embrace

Heidie Ciesielski's picture

Written by Heidie Ciesielski, Principal at Andrew G. Schmidt Middle School in Fenton and ML East Representative on the MASSP Board of Directors. Heidie was also honored as the 2013 Michigan Middle Level Principal of the Year.

Something occurred this year in my role as building principal that hasn't happened in quite a few years, I had the opportunity to hire four new teachers! Sure I have hired one or two here and there, but this is the largest crop of teachers I have hired in quite some time as the building principal of 820 students. During the hiring process many things became evident. Most noticeably, it was clear that finding quality candidates in a small applicant pool was going to be more difficult than ever. I am happy to say that we successfully found quality applicants and hired inspiring candidates, but it took all summer and long hours to do so. Because of my loss of summer beach days, I vowed one thing - I am going to invest as much as I can in these new hires to ensure that they not only stick around my building, but the profession in general.

We've heard our colleagues complain, as well as politicians and think tanks paint dire pictures of not having enough teachers to meet the demands in our country, let alone our beloved mitten state. Learning Policy Institute published this research article last year, citing the teaching shortage as a crisis unparalleled to anything we've seen before. I have also heard from many colleagues pronouncing that we don't have control over areas such as higher ed requirements for education degrees, legislators making the profession unattractive by reducing retirement options, or even the continuing struggle to increase educational funding to allow for more attractive salaries. Quite honestly those conversations are valid to a certain extent, but there are things that we as educational leaders do have some control over.

First, let's make sure we get the right people in the jobs to begin with. When hiring a teacher let's make sure they truly love the profession, because the work is too hard to reward monetarily, as was just discussed. When teachers truly love the profession, they will endure some of the things we can't control. Hiring practices should include not only questions on content knowledge and pedagogy, but also a strong component of socio-emotional intelligences. Studies have shown that professionals with higher social intelligences do better than those that do not. Angela Duckworth's work on Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance examines the specifics regarding teachers who make it and those who do not in high stress, urban areas. Duckworth gives partial credit to teachers who have learned how to be gritty prior to getting into the profession, leading ultimately to being gritty in the profession. While grit is just one example of a social intelligence to seek out in new hires, it's a valid one. Building principals should look for candidates that have demonstrated grit in their preparation, both professionally and personally.

Next, we need to take the time to interview, and do it well. Consider having candidates teach a lesson as part of the process. Including students too will give you valuable information and give the students a sense of belonging and invested interest in their learning. Missing those awesome summer beach days allowed for me to thoroughly vet our candidates and get the right people who are quality teachers.

Once we have the right people in place how do we keep them? The next step is showing our teachers just how important they are by helping them to continually learn and hone their professional skills. It's especially important for new teachers to know that even though they have gotten a position and have a degree the learning doesn't stop, EVER. Education in itself is continually changing and we should all be trying new ways to efficiently help learners become successful. Teachers need to understand their profession is inherently embedded in a cycle of inquiry and learning. When we, as building leaders, help our teachers continually learn, we in turn learn with them. That process is very powerful in the terms of sustaining a culture of learning. Utilizing teacher leaders as mentors also solidifies a culture of learning, as well as validating a new teacher's worth.

Celebrate all teachers successes, but especially those just entering into the profession. Teaching is a hard and a complex profession. When someone is doing it well let's celebrate that, whether it be nominating them for a state or local award or even create building awards. Recognizing and honoring the accomplishments of our teachers will hopefully let them know how much they are valued, and provide a type of extrinsic reward we can control.

Lastly, we must remember that our teachers are people first and foremost. Giving them the grace to be a daughter/son, parent or other family member comes first. Also, remember that because they are people they are going to make mistakes and these learning opportunities will allow them to grow from their mistakes.

While we can always voice our concerns, get involved with policy and create relationships with our legislators to help turn around the teacher shortage - many of these efforts may go unreciprocated, or may not have instant impact on our profession. However, what we can control is taking care of the people we find through the hiring process and the teachers we have in our buildings doing the work on a daily basis. If we take care of them by providing a culture of learning that gives them the intrinsic rewards of the work, then we can buy ourselves some time in solving this problem in the long term.