Interviews are a poor indicator of success. Why not abandon this expensive, old-fashioned practice and just hire the next person who walks in the door?
Wow! Can that really be true when we are talking about teachers?
After posting my previous blog post, The Status Quo, I received an email from a long time reader of the blog with some challenging follow up. He’s that kind of guy who like to keep me on my toes. In his email he questioned the effectiveness of the interview in hiring new teachers. A great point and something that I have struggled with for several years.
As I responded to him, I have had mixed success with the interview process. I have been on teams that hired candidates who did exceptionally well in the interview and the faltered in the classroom. I was on a team as an assistant principal when we made the decision to hire a candidate based on her classroom experience although she had a terrible interview. That teacher eventually resigned rather that be let go. I also was on a team that brought in a candidate to teach a lesson to a live class. She was ten minutes late, her lesson was barely adequate and the principal decided to offer her the position anyway. For the next year she took a tremendous amount of our time and eventually her position was eliminated y the superintendent.
If you are going out to the web to look for ways to make the interview more relevant to hiring teachers, good luck. Most everything out there is based on business models which aren’t always the same. In business there is more upward mobility and a first year candidate doesn’t necessarily need the same skill set as a 25 year employee. In teaching everyone needs the same set of basic skills. In business your turnover rate is probably hire than in education. At least in my district, we hire with the intent that this is a long term relationship. Those two differences bring about some challenges in education that we don’t always see somewhere else.
Looking through the web I have managed to mine a couple of ideas that could improve the hiring of teachers. First, applicants will be at their best in the interview. They will anticipate your question and have a prepackaged response. I try to cut through that by asking some questions that will take them out of their comfort zone. I thought of that idea after reading through some supposed Google interview questions. I wouldn’t get away with those questions but I have come up with some questions that make the candidate think on their feet: Tell us something that we wouldn’t know about you from reading your resume, What book do you think everyone on the staff should read?, What are your three favorite books/movies/TV shows of all time? These types of questions allow the team to know if the candidate is a fit personality and culture wise. In my opinion, 60-70 percent of the selection process is based on whether the candidate is someone with whom the staff and I will want to work.
Secondly it is important to look at performance over promises. This is probably more difficult in hiring teachers than it is in the business world. When you are hiring someone to fill the same position over a long period of time, you may be looking at very young candidates and trying to compare them to candidates who have several years of teaching experience. How do we level the playing field? How do we determine performance data for candidates who really haven’t performed yet? I approach this in two ways. First, talk to anyone that you or the team knows that may have some experience or knowledge about the candidate. Sometimes candidates will come with glowing resumes but there is a question about why they don’t have references from important resources. At times we will have connections with other districts that can give us some off the record insight. Second, in the second interview we like to do a performance based activity. In my tenure, the teacher candidate teaching the panel scenario has never gone well. In the last few interviews we have done we have asked teachers either to prepare a presentation to the board or a group of teachers to promote an idea that they have or we have asked candidates to develop a lesson plan including certain components based on a category that we give them. For our last interviews for a fifth grade teacher we gave the following scenario prior to the interview:
1. Create a plan for a fifth grade lesson on some component of figurative language. The lesson plan should be thorough and include a technology component using BYOT. A typical ELA period would be one hour. It is also important to note that only 1 in 3 students typically has their own device.
2. Typical class size in the District is 20 students. Since our ELA classes are homogeneously grouped, prepare the lesson as if you are teaching the middle group. The PSSA scores in this class usually range from low Advanced to low Proficient and include both students with IEPs and 504s as well as students in the Title 1 program. Special Education students may be experiencing Learning Disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorders or Emotional Disturbance. Title I students are either experiencing difficulties in fluency or comprehension.
3. Submit the lesson plan by Tuesday, July 15th via Google Drive and share firstname.lastname@example.org. Please do not share a link.
4. You will not be teaching the lesson but be prepared to defend the lesson plan based on Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching.
5. You will be expected to lead the panel through the BYOT component. Panel will have various devices with internet access.
6. The interview should last no more that 45 minutes. Questions about your lesson plan should take 15-20 minutes as should the technology walkthrough. The remainder of the time may include additional questions or discussions.
The team felt that this scenario allowed us to see whether a candidate had the skills to create an appropriately rigorous lesson, the ability to integrate technology, and knowledge of using differentiation. Those were all things that the team felt were important.
All of this being said, We won’t know maybe for a couple of years how successful we were. Sometimes I wonder if we put too much time into this process when we may be better off choosing at random or flipping a coin. I don’t know.
I’d love to hear from others about how they handle the hiring process with teachers. What kind of questions do you ask? Have you considered alternatives to the traditional interview?