Hiring teachers is the absolutely most important thing I can do for my students and school as an administrator. My top hopes:
- Kind disposition: Teachers need to embody the truth that students, their families, and their futures are our work. Our job is much more than building relationships with students, but very few students learn at their best from a teacher with whom they have no relationship. Being kind is where those relationships begin.
- Content knowledge: Teachers need to be well versed in their content area’s body of knowledge and skills. Historically, 6-12 ELA has used book lists as a form of curriculum, writing in course catalogues that students will be learning titles such as Great Expectations and The Things They Carried among other titles during a year. This approach is fading, though, because the Common Core makes it clearer than ever that the foundation of our work is based on literacy skills more so than knowledge of specific literature. Of course there are some books and authors that many teachers have found students really enjoy and are excellent fodder for teaching certain skills (think: The Outsiders or Romeo and Juliet), but if it’s the literacy skills on which we’re focusing, students need to read a lot of books and texts that they’re going to be invested in and investigate deeply. Our idea of “content knowledge,” then, has to include not only a breadth of literary knowledge that both fills the cultural canon and touches and inspires the hearts and minds of modern students, but also the pedagogical toolkit needed to masterfully craft the literacy lessons. After all, I’m hiring a teacher to connect with students, not a poet, a critic or an editor of literary anthologies.
- Top notch collaborators: Educating students is very difficult, uncertain work, and the best way to surmount its trials, which we all experience at some point, is to work together towards solutions. My preferred teachers will collaborate with colleagues and administrators about everything they do, asking for advice and sharing resources as much as possible. They also must be interested in accepting families as school partners, which these days means opening up multiple lines of communication, including websites, blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, and message boards on our SIS as well as connecting with phone calls, emails, face-to-face meetings and volunteer opportunities. Students with families behind them have the best chance of success, so we must work with them. Finally, modern teachers ought to be collaborating with students. An increased amount of choice around content, process and product can bolster engagement, foster perseverance and increase students’ capacity with critical thinking skills. Creating a class in which the teacher collaborates with the students and then allows them to productively collaborate with other students means that this teacher’s students will more likely be active participants in the course instead of passive recipients of material.
- Humble, reflective practitioners: Nobody is absolutely perfect all of the time, and any perfection we enjoy tends to slip away quickly if we try to rest on it. Educators all want their students to continually get better, and I want the same from the faculty. In today’s world, where everything is so new all of the time, nothing is as fruitless as working with professionals who want to complain that their “tried and true” methods aren’t working anymore. I actually like to ask interviewees about the last thing they’ve learned about teaching, what it is that prompted them to learn it, and what they intend to learn next.