Hiring the Best and Retaining Them

by Harvey P. Polansky and Martin Semmel

As administrators, we know the quality of the teacher in the classroom is highly correlated with student learning and achievement. At the same time, the country is experiencing a teacher shortage in certain content areas that will make it nearly impossible for some schools to place a highest-quality teacher in front of students.

Under provisions of No Child Left Behind, this issue will exacerbate the need to define highly qualified teachers. Administrators have no choice but to place considerable time and effort into recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers. We must hire the best and retain our best. We cannot afford to train top talent and then watch them leave with their expertise after just a few years for other school districts.

We have four ideas for how to address this need.

Pre-Screening Candidates
Step I: Meet and judge.
In their rush to fill a position, school administrators often overlook the importance of this step. Selecting the correct personnel is one of our most important jobs. However, simple paper screening is insufficient.

In our district, we meet each candidate for a brief interview. Research shows this process takes about the same amount of time as a paper screening and conventional interview. However, by pre-screening candidates, we have found a direct correlation between the candidates’ ability to communicate during an interview and their positive performance in the classroom.

Our hiring process includes disseminating information about employment needs, creating a database of candidates, pre-screening through interviewing, pre-screening via the paper process, screening, a demonstration lesson at the building level and presenting candidates to the superintendent.

The 10-minute interviews will lead to the quick identification of the “keepers.” Do not prejudge candidates’ transcripts. A course grade of ‘D’ as a freshman should not influence a hiring decision. Once you have narrowed the candidate pool, watch them teach. If it is summer, we bring together a cadre of students for a demonstration lesson.

We also pay experienced teachers the hourly curriculum rate to help evaluate the prospective teacher’s demonstration lesson during the summer. We do not accept video or online demonstrations. We use the same rubric and standards for a demonstration lesson as we do in the district.

Step 2: Develop and communicate high-quality teaching standards.
The teaching standards for the school district should act as a rubric for new teachers. Standards should align to local, state or national criteria and be consistent with the common core of acceptable practices defined in your district.

A common language and set of expectations will result from using the same set of standards for all teachers. These standards often align with your district’s teacher evaluation instrument and correlate significantly with professional development and content standards.

Portfolio collections that include the lesson plan, the assessment and a sample of student work should be provided as evidence for use in the evaluation process. Hold new teachers accountable to the same standards. Measure the new teachers’ effectiveness based on student work. Most states have effective teacher induction programs. In Connecticut, it’s known as B.E.S.T. (Beginning Educator Support and Training Program). Local efforts must align to state and national standards.

Collegial Support
Step 3: Provide opportunities for success.
Administrators need to develop avenues for dialogue and reflection in meeting these standards. Peer classroom visitations, after-school reflection seminars and structured mentoring programs must be at the core of the communication opportunities.

Mentoring opportunities often are perceived as costly, yet it is not necessary to provide additional stipends. Most mentor training is done at the state level to certify the competence of the mentor. The state often provides a small stipend, but we have found it is not about the money. It is all about creating a mentoring relationship.
We find creative ways to provide time and opportunities for mentors and new teachers to meet. Frequently a team of mentors works with one new teacher. One mentor provides content support and the other provides structure, pedagogical and collegial support.

Step 4: Fish or cut bait!
How do you assess a new teacher’s performance? How long do you wait for the individual to mature and blossom?

Every December, we ask each principal to determine the growth of all untenured teachers and how they are doing. We measure each teacher’s effectiveness and growth against the teaching standards. We ask each administrator this question: Has the non-tenured (4 years or fewer of experience in our state) teacher demonstrated the skills and ability of superior performance or the potential to demonstrate superior performance?

We use the local and state standards for teacher competencies. These stand-ards include student work, pedagogy, planning skills, student assessment, professional involvement and leadership ability. These standards are reinforced consistently throughout the process. The collection of this data is used in our decision to retain or non-renew.

In our district, the superintendent discusses every non-tenured teacher with the assistant superintendent and reporting administrator. The bottom line is hiring smart and retaining smart.

Harvey Polansky is superintendent of the Southington Public Schools, 49 Beecher St., Southington, CT 06489. E-mail: Martin Semmel is assistant principal of Bristol Central High School in Bristol, Conn.