Hiring Teachers is a Challenge Right Now
Here's my most recent experience.
When I learned a teacher would resign in January, my heart sank. Had The Great Resignation (good Economist article on whether it actually exists) had finally come to my school?
We have been fortunate to be
fully-staffed(I prefer to say “all our positions are filled, because we’re actually staffed at the “barely adequate” level, meaning that whenever one person is out, and someone is always out, we really feel the pain.) this year, despite the continued strain of sub shortages.
Hiring teachers in a normal year is challenging. Despite hundreds of applicants in our district’s talent pool, we don’t get many who directly apply to us.
That’s because my school sits obscurely among hundreds in a large city and, we’re not located in a wealthy or gentrifying neighborhood. Colleagues who are principals of schools in those neighborhoods often get so many applicants they can’t even review them all. Not at my school. I have work overtime to recruit great teachers.
It’s nearly impossible to keep some schools fully-staffed, and it’s a downward spiral once they’re not. Classes need to be covered, and with no subs, teachers are forced to cover. The more they cover, the more tired, exhausted, and disillusioned they get. Some resign, leading to even more vacancies and coverages.
The Inquirer recently reported on a school like that. At Edison High School, located in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city, they have ten — 10! — special education teacher vacancies. And the principal is out on extended medical leave.
So I was not looking forward to the hiring process. And when I went to sift through the available candidates for this position, surprise! There were none.
So I got creative (desperate): I sorted the entire pool of teacher applicants by most recent, reviewed resumes for all qualified candidates — in this case a teacher could apply for an emergency certification and teach the subject for at least one year — and started writing them semi-personalized emails. I really have to sell my school on the qualities you can’t see from the outside: our strong staff culture, our effective climate systems, our amazing students, beautiful facilities, and my incredible sense of humor and humility.
Let’s pause for a second and consider what the existence of emergency certifications tells us about how society values teachers. Do these exist in other critical fields? Can doctors, police officers, lawyers or even barbers get an emergency certification and start fighting crime or serving clients? That said, I’m grateful for emergency certifications (right now).
I sent out over a dozen emails and got two responses, one of which led to a phone call and an interview. Both went really well, and we hired that candidate. I’m really excited for the energy, experience, and enthusiasm she will bring.
If all goes well, the new teacher should be able to start on January 3rd, the day we return from winter break. That means they’ll have just one day to familiarize themself with the curriculum for a grade and subject they’ve never taught. And this is still much better than a full-time vacancy with a rotating series of exhausted teachers covering the class during their preparation periods.
This story has a bittersweet end, though. A day after the candidate accepted the job, I got a text from an awesome principal colleague of mine who works at a school with many vacancies. “I hear you hired X. You’re on my $hitlist.” She was only joking, but the pain was real. Unbeknownst to me, my principal colleague had found this teacher candidate on Indeed.com and recruited them to apply to one of her vacancies. The candidate ended up accepting our offer, though.
This is an example of systemic inequities that need to be addressed. All students, teachers, and principals deserve a fully-staffed school. Right now, only 47 of some 300+ schools in Philadelphia have that basic need met. And while we’re one of them, it’s hard for me to feel good about that when my colleague’s school, which is less than 2 miles from mine, has 12 vacancies.
Thanks for reading. Have a great week.