By Carolyn Schaeffer, Director Schaeffer’s Pre-School Academy
Much has changed in our lives in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic as it continues to drag on into 2022. This seems to be most obvious within our education system and the effect it has had on staffing teachers who can return to teaching in person, while administrating new directives (like masking).
As the director of a private, inner-city school, I have been faced with a teacher shortage for the first time in over 12 years. As students return to classroom learning from emergency remote teaching (ERT), some of our teachers have elected to find safer or less exposed positions, others remained but have lost momentum in motivation. A few, who are academic parents, find it hard to regain the discipline they once had in their classrooms before the interruption of the lockdown. Their confidence in teaching was suddenly tested by their own children with ERT at the same time they took the challenge of teaching their students virtually.
WANTED: Passionate, Result-Driven Teachers
Prior to the coronavirus upending the natural order — when it came to personnel recruitment, we valued our employment retention. Turnover is costly (not simply in financial terms), since new employees are likely to be either slow to produce results, unaccustomed to surrounding, or even overcompensation at the cost of student enrichment. It can affect the quality, the morale, and the teamwork that is already in place. Obviously, many factors affect employee retention, one of which is effectiveness at their craft. Another is the ability to get onboard immediately, become oriented with time-limited projects – being able to get their hands dirty, even without guidance.
Consequently, an important measure of the effectiveness of a school’s recruitment and selection is demonstrated by the extent to which we are able to attract committed and high-performing employees who remain (and who we want to retain) with us for as long as they effectively perform their duties. Though these factors are interdependent, I deal with them separately, sequentially, and procedurally. Mine and my principal’s indicators for our learning establishment is based more on experience, instinct, and interpersonal skills (as well as much prayer to a higher power who rarely if ever lets us down).
Policies and procedures cannot replace listening, emotional connection, competency, past achievements and asking open-ended questions during an interview such as “Do you see yourself in this school, spending 40 or more hours a week?”My staff and I look for teacher applicants who are passionate about their teaching craft and not a salary, upward mobility or possible promotion. Of course, I take on the leadership responsibility of applying “effective staff evaluation models and procedures necessary to efficiently evaluate” the candidates (as would any director or superintendent) that I feel worthy of selection, development, training, introduction to the team and stakeholders, and gauge how effectively they relate to the students. This candidate’s success and retention in our school would depend on how she/he interrelates with the rest of the staff, how adaptive, disciplined, or creative to the curriculum they are, and that there are signs of continued growth and improvement.
Obviously, the selection process (which is a critical issue) is to fill the position with the best person – vetting is done by recruitment facilities (similar to dating sights) like Career Source, Linked-In, Indeed, and recommendations from reputable sources. My administrator and I do not hire by interview only, but we assemble a mock classroom on a second day of the “interview” to see how the teacher performs under scrutiny and a full classroom. Throughout the 90-day probation, we keep a stealthy eye on our new employee until they fit the bill and all indicators line up – then we know that we have the best person from a very competitive market.
Those indicators have remained steadfast during my years with our school – with more than 70% of the staff remaining loyal to our mission all these years, continuing to this day. The dismissals (either through lay-offs, firings, or even retirements), were few but each was a learning experience of what warning signs to look out for (mostly for the one’s fired). The tell-tale signs focused on consistency, outspoken honesty, and the ability to be true to their (and our) values, goals and ethics of the school they were contracted to be dedicated to. The challenge now is to acknowledge the new not-so-normal, embrace it, learn from it, and choose a path incorporating what we’ve taken away from it.