The Right Stuff: Recruiting Tomorrow’s Teachers

In today’s economy, landing a job immediately following graduation is becoming increasingly tough.  It appears that landing a position with Teach for America is no exception.  What may be surprising, however, is just how selective TFA’s hiring process has become.  As the New York Times reports,

 “…Getting into the nation’s top law schools and grad programs could be easier than being accepted for a starting teaching job with Teach for America.  [Many would] count themselves lucky to be among the 4,500 selected by the nonprofit to work at high-poverty public schools from a record 46,359 applicants (up 32 percent over 2009).”

 Here’s The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein commenting on Teach for America’s recruitment success:

 “Teach for America, as this article makes clear, is ferociously selective. They’re more like an Ivy League graduate program than a volunteer organization. And that’s a feature, not a bug. The difficulty of getting accepted makes acceptance an accomplishment. It’s a job you can brag about, and it’s managed to achieve that status without offering much in the way of money. Whatever else Teach for America is — or is not — it’s a good reminder that money isn’t everything, the only thing, or even the most important thing. Status matters too, and maybe even more.”

 Teach for America has been recruiting college graduates to teach in low-income schools for a minimum of two years since 1990.  In the years since its inception, the organization has made efforts to test their theories and evolve their practices in order to maintain efficacy in their hiring, training and evaluation processes.  The success of this approach appears to begin with the organization’s ability to be uncompromisingly rigorous in its recruitment efforts.  With an applicant pool overrun with qualified, passionate and capable individuals, it is little wonder that Teach for America has the ability to remain so selective in its candidate selection process.   Here’s Amanda Ripley from The Atlantic:

 “…We have never identified excellent teachers in any reliable, objective way.  Instead, we tend to ascribe their gifts to some mystical quality that we can recognize and revere-but not replicate.  The great teacher serves as a hero but never, ironically, as a lesson.  [However,] one outfit in America has been systematically pursuing that mystery for more than a decade-tracking hundreds of thousands of kids, and analyzing why some teachers can move those [underperforming] kids three grade levels ahead in one year, and others can’t.”

 In an effort to address this issue, TFA began using students’ test scores to place teachers in categories in order to identify exceptional teachers.  After observing this group of ‘exceptional’ teachers, TFA began to cite emerging patterns as critical indicators of a teacher’s capacity to effectively convey information to their students. Upon evaluation, TFA concluded that great teachers tend to set big goals for their students, perpetually reevaluate what they are doing, and consistently look for ways to improve their effectiveness.

 “Superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: they avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully-for the next day or the year ahead-by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls.”

 Additionally, Teach for America proceeds on the premise that teachers who score high in “life satisfaction” measures, in addition to displaying perseverance in a quantifiable manner are most likely to develop into the “superstar teachers” described above.  They maintain that past performance is the best indicator of future performance.

 Although it may be helpful in the hiring process for administrators to know what attributes are common among great teachers, finding potential hires from mainstream applicants with those attributes may prove easier said than done.  While TFA has the luxury of zealously maintaining exceptionally high standards in recruitment and employment, many school systems may lack this same opportunity.  Still, despite these obvious obstacles, TFA’s recruitment model is worth noting and may offer an important contribution to the recruitment of exceptional teachers.

Tags: ,

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.