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What to Look for When Hiring a Teacher

"A classroom teacher is probably the single most powerful influence on student achievement that is within the control of the educational system." - Marzano. On Excellence in Teaching, 2009

There is no doubt that teachers impact their students. This force can be for good or bad. Most of us have teachers that stick out in our mind. Perhaps there was a teacher who singled us out when we couldn't answer a question, and embarrassed us in front of the class. Those feelings are hard to forget. On the other hand, maybe we remember a teacher who believed in our ability to improve, who encouraged and commended us when they saw effort and progress. Teachers like that can have an even greater impact on our lives, in some cases even help shape us into the person we are today. That is the kind of teacher that schools are looking for. Because ultimately, it comes down to what is best for students. But how does a district find a teacher like that? What can they look for?

Ask the Right Questions

Most school districts have a list of questions they will ask a prospective teacher. Questions about why they became a teacher, what their philosophy is, etc. And many schools get a flood of resumes with well-qualified individuals. 

But besides what you see on paper, how do you know if an individual will really be a good fit? Schools differ, districts differ, in approach and philosophy. So if you're in a school district's HR department, or perhaps a Principal, you want to know your own school or district well. What makes your school tic? What is your school's standards for academics and support? But, regardless of these specifics, it really comes down to one thing -- does this person really demonstrate that they care about students?

How have some administrators ascertained this? Usually, by the use of questions that will really allow the prospective teacher to express themselves, and what is important to them. Asking a question about why someone decided to start teaching, how they plan to support kids, their overall teaching philosophy and goals. To get some out-of-the-box ideas, check out Education Week's post here on '30 Favorite Questions for Future Teachers.' Included are things like 'What have you read lately that that led you to change the way you teach?' and 'I've read your application and resume, but what are the most important things I should know about you, your life, your experiences? Who is the real [insert applicant's name]?' This article contains some very insightful ideas for going through the hiring process, form administrators all over the country.

The goal is to really get to know the person. Teachers have a tremendous impact on students -- a good teacher can inspire, ignite a passion for learning, and support students. Does this person plan to engage students in what they are learning in active and creative ways? Will they not only help students academically but also be willing to support whole-child learning as well? How do they plan to do this? Evaluate the individual not just based on qualifications, but character as well.

Another essential characteristic in a good teacher is the ability to collaborate. Whether it's working with administration, students in the classroom, or perhaps on teams with other teachers, it will be beneficial to find someone who works well with others. Try to discern their attitude about this, are they reluctant about it, or are they excited to work with others and share ideas? If possible, think of scenarios to present to them, that would require a collaboration of some kind. 

Undoubtedly, as you consider hiring a new teacher, there is much to consider. Does your school have a hiring plan? What specifically are you looking for, as a district? What qualifications are necessary? What traits matter most? Figuring out what you're looking for, and being specific about it will help you find a person who meets those criteria. In addition, how will you hire? Many schools start with an initial screening in the HR department. From there may come a second, and then even third on-site interview for those selected. How will your school handle this? Do you have a hiring team? How will it be agreed upon when the right candidate comes along?

Other considerations:

  • Writing. Is this a person who can express themselves well on paper? Can they form coherent, cohesive thoughts? Especially if this is to be expected of their students. 
  • Being put on the spot. Teachers walk into a classroom and don't know how the day will really go, how kids will respond to them that day, what problems may arise. And some students -- especially at the middle or high school level -- may not always be the easiest crowd. So how does this person handle being put on the spot? You might ask them to demonstrate how they would teach a lesson, perhaps having them take a video of themselves, or in front of you and perhaps a few other colleagues. 
  • Don't interview alone. If you've found a good candidate, and are perhaps to the stage of your second interview, why not ask a colleague to join you? Two heads truly are often better than one. They may see things about this potential new teacher that you didn't, or could possibly confirm or challenge your opinion. In some schools, 
  • Don't ignore the references. Call every one of their references, and perhaps, if this is a teacher who previously taught at another school, contact the principal at their last school as well.

 

It's essential to really get to know a prospective teacher before hiring them. Hopefully, some of these questions will help make that process a little easier. Again, it comes down to the students. For them to be truly successful, emotionally and academically, they need teachers who really care about them and will support them in their journey.