HOUSTON — Twenty years of human resources experience and eight years as a school superintendent taught University of Houston-Clear Lake School of Education Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership Gary Schumacher that when it comes to hiring teachers, most school principals believe they know how to do it and that they are very good at it. But Schumacher, a former principal himself, says most have had no training in how to hire effective teachers.
“I never met a principal yet, including myself, that didn’t think that they were great hirers,” he says.
However, he continues, they are not trained in what questions to ask, or even what the “right responses” are to questions asked which ensure a candidate is an effective classroom teacher. The interview process, which is the primary hiring technique, most often boils down to a subjective decision.
The problem is that since implementation of No Child Left Behind the accountability factor in education has skyrocketed, Schumacher explains. Both schools and teachers are rated individually on how well they do. In fairness to the kids and student learning, as well as the accountability factor, principals today need to know that the individuals they hire are going to be effective teachers right away.
“We can’t take three or four years to develop them into good teachers anymore,” he adds.
While it is a well-established fact that the classroom teacher is the single most important factor in student learning, Schumacher says when it comes to the hiring process no one knows what that means.
Currently more than 2,000 school districts across the nation utilize a structured response screening tool such as Insight, developed by Gallup. While Insight helps to identify applicants with key teacher characteristics, it is missing a big piece of the effective teacher equation – that is, teaching characteristics. Teacher characteristics and teaching characteristics are two very different things, and both are critical for student learning.
“The one is the teacher as a person; the other is a teacher as a teacher – that is, how he or she performs in his job. What we are looking for is someone who is good in both,” Schumacher explains.
Teacher characteristics are things like how well a teacher relates to kids, if they are empathetic, how they develop relationships, etc. Key teaching characteristics include how a teacher organizes and manages the classroom, organizes the instruction, implements instruction, and how the teacher monitors student progress and potential.
Schumacher and School of Education co-researchers Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership Bettye Grigsby and Assistant Professor of Foundations and Professional Studies Winona Burt are developing a screening mechanism that will help principals identify teachers that possess effective teaching characteristics.
The team recently completed its initial phase, which included identifying the critical teaching characteristics and developing a series of questions pertinent to those categories. More than 225 teachers in Clear Creek Independent School District have assisted the researchers by voluntarily answering the questions. Pasadena ISD will join them in the next phase of the research, along with two schools districts in the state of Wisconsin.
“We’re in the process now of taking common themes from the teachers’ responses and putting them into a fixed-response scale format,” Schumacher says.
There are several more iterations planned as the team refines the questions and responses and completes additional research as they work to identify the best indicators of teachers with the necessary teaching characteristics. Then the school districts can begin using the tool as a screening device to help in the hiring process.
If there are say 200 applicants for one elementary teaching position, Schumacher explains, the school district can use the screening mechanism to par it down to the 50 who answer correctly according to their research. The predictability of any one of those 50 having high student learning is high based on the research. Now, the principal can concentrate on teacher characteristics in the remaining applicant pool.
Schumacher admits they’ve had some push back from principals who understand the need, but still confess “we like doing it the way we do it.”
“Our response to them is, ‘And you can continue doing that. This gives you another tool, and some data – some hard core objective data that now you can add into that mix of other things you do.’ When we get to that point, you can see the sense of relief on them.”
“The difference is it’s an objective not a subjective screening, because it’s based on the objective research that we’ve done,” explains Schumacher. “So now you mix in the objective with the subjective and you find someone who’s going to be a good teacher from day one.”