It’s hiring season in schools around the country. Time for some lucky administrator to sift through piles of applications and credentials, extricate the most viable candidates, call references, and look for volunteers (or draftees) to serve on interview committees.
If you an administrator fortunate enough to get all your hiring done before school is out, you will have a busy spring but an uncluttered summer. Hardly anyone manages to have all the new hires in place before the end of the school year, however, and there are always surprise retirements or resignations around August of each year. The end of summer often brings a round of musical chairs as experienced teachers move to neighboring districts that offer higher salaries.
Being able to interview in the spring rather than in late August usually gives an administrator a better selection of candidates. Another big advantage to interviewing candidates while school is still in session is that you can have finalists do a demo lesson while kids are still in school.
In his Education Week blog David Ginsburg asks, “Should the demo lesson be a deal breaker or deal maker?” Ginsburg insists that taken alone it should be neither although he admits that a candidate who is clearly unprepared or unable to connect with kids should be eliminated. Still, he says, a great lesson doesn’t necessarily mean you have a great hire. I agree, but neither does a great interview.
In my experience a demonstration lesson can be very revealing in terms of a candidate’s eventual classroom performance. It’s hard to draw any real conclusions about classroom management from these command performances because typically kids are respectful and cooperative – maybe even sympathetic – with the candidate auditioning for the job. In addition, typically in the back of the room is a row of other teachers and maybe an administrator. Despite these unusual circumstances, I think you can tell a lot about the candidate’s knowledge of her subject, her organization skills, and her rapport with kids.
When candidates begin their demo lesson by giving kids nametags or name cards, it’s clear that they’ve thought about interacting with students. I’m impressed when a candidate identifies for kids the goal of the lesson, explains what they’re going to do, and saves time for closure at the end. Materials should be organized and easy to distribute. Despite their nervousness, candidates should be friendly, ask thoughtful questions, and check for understanding. Experienced observers aren’t easily fooled, so we like it when candidates are honest when they’re asked a question they can’t answer. A sense of humor helps, of course, but frequently the candidates are too nervous to be funny.
Does a good demo guarantee an excellent hire? No, of course not. But it does reveal whether the candidate has nailed down the basics and whether he or she has potential. It also reveals whether the candidate has thought about what he’s going to do and put some effort into making it work. As a principal, I want to be able to imagine what it would be like to have this person on my faculty.
So if you’re lucky, you may be able to get a look at what candidates can do in the classroom before you actually hire them. If not, now is the time to set aside time in the fall to get into the classrooms of the new hires to see how things are progressing.