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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How Charter Schools Handle Hiring Teachers

Bob Lenz

Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA

Finding high quality, mission- and vision-aligned teachers is critical for any school or school system. Since Envision Schools have redesigned the high school experience for students and teachers, the process of finding the right match is even more important and complex.

Teacher candidates presenting their project design.

Credit: Bob Lenz

Over the years, we have struggled to find the appropriate balance between deep vetting of candidates and creating efficiency in the hiring of about 20-30 teachers each year for our growing network of schools. In addition, we have established a few non-negotiable values into our hiring process:

  • Principals hire the teachers
  • Teacher and students need to have input in the hiring process
  • The support, or central, office coordinates and does the initial vetting of candidates through application and certification and phone interviews

We researched several innovative approaches. Two stood out as exemplary: the New Leaders for New Schools (NLNS) selection process and the High Tech High (HTH) Bonanza Days. Both organizations have highly collaborative and rigorous initial vetting processes that lead to a pool of strong finalists. Both organizations have innovative and similar processes for evaluating the finalist. Since HTH is a very similar network of schools to Envision, we decided to model our process on the HTH model.

After going through an initial screening process, teacher candidates spend a day at HTH: interviewing with students, faculty, and administration, as well as teaching a demonstration lesson, and developing a project in a group of candidates.

With that model in mind, we developed our hiring process and call it Envisioner Day. About 15 candidates participate at a time, and the day lasts about three hours. We have found in follow up surveys that the process has excited candidates about working at an Envision School, and they feel that they have a clear picture of what it means to be an Envision teacher. On the hiring end, we have been able to get a full picture of their potential for success at one of our schools.

Ben Daly, at HTH, gave us great advice before we launched our first Envisioner Day. From this and our own thinking and experiences, here are some points for why we do what we do:

  • Hiring is the most important job we all do. If you don't have time to hire great people, think about how much time you're going to spend working with not great people.
  • Think about how to get students involved in the hiring process (the more, the better).
  • Students develop maturity, thoughtfulness, and an understanding of what the school is "all about" by participating in hiring.
  • Students do not need to be coached at how to interview. They can develop this together and on their own. Some adults have a tendency to hover over student interviewers and should be dissuaded from doing so.

We are excited about our new, innovative process for hiring great teachers. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our friends at NLNS and HTH for their willingness to share their process. We continue to explore options for our hiring process.

What processes does your school or school system use to hire excellent teachers? How do you think Envision might improve on our process? We look forward to your ideas on this!

Bob Lenz

Founder and Chief of Innovation, Envision Education, Oakland CA
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Comments (15)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Helen Johnson's picture

I've worked at three different charter schools and none of them lived up to the standard that they supposedly had. The first charter school I worked at hired me to teach completely out of my subject area. I taught three classes of langauage arts and two classes of science. I'm a liscensed social studies teacher. The second and third charter schools I worked for decided to do online social studies for middle schools. I have issues with charter schools and I hope I will not have to work for another one.

Linda Delgado's picture
Linda Delgado
Doctoral Student

I have co-founded a charter middle school, served as teacher, principal, director of two charter schools, and on the boards of four other charter schools. My challenge most recently has been to move into the "straight" world of traditional public schools. I find that there are so many misconceptions about charter schools that district personnel are reluctant to hire individuals with experience from that realm-- this despite the wide and deep experience charter service frequently confers (see Perry, 2008). The challenge of finding work is sufficiently significant that I have taken to counseling younger colleagues to look for work elsewhere and early in their career, as charter experience truncates professional growth beyond the limited charter community.

Bonnie Yelverton's picture
Bonnie Yelverton
Still looking for a way to use my credential in secondary math & science

I just had a very short stint at a charter school. Despite an application process that involved an introduction by one of the staff and a very well received practice lesson, I was fired after 4 weeks of teaching under an "At Will" contract. They had decided to give double periods for all math subjects, but the same number of classes to teach, so math teachers have no preparation time, and no time to collaborate with each other. I was the third teacher my students had experienced so far (the first quit for a public school job, the second was a sub with only elementary school experience) and now the students will have a fourth teacher this year - if they find one. It is a rural school an hour from the larger population center where I live. They figured they could do better than me, even though there were only 2 of us who applied.

Bonnie Yelverton's picture
Bonnie Yelverton
Still looking for a way to use my credential in secondary math & science

Another charter school I interviewed at wanted me to teach 7 classes, with 5 preparations (and no prep time) - the only math teacher for both middle and high school! Now the same school is looking for a teacher who can teach both elementary and high school science. A school can be too small!

Helen Johnson's picture

I have worked at three charter schools and they have all been something else. Each school had hired non-certified teachers to teach certained subjects. The last two schools I was able to teach completely in my area. The first charter school had me teaching totally out of area. I taught language arts and science - five preps none of which repeated. I am certified to teach social studies grades 6-12. When I told the principal that I'm not licesend for what they need, he said don't worry about that, as a charter school we can get around that.

Stephanie Lee's picture

It is inaccurate and ignorant to say that those who receive their credentials through alternative means are less capable than someone who has gone through a traditional teacher education program.

As a professional behavioral interventionist, I have already completed my BS in Psychology, and have 7300 documented one-on-one hours with special needs children with severe social/emotional and developmental disabilities. These are some of the toughest children to educate, and in my experiences in public charter and district schools, many of the special ed and general ed teachers who work with them are lacking in fundamental areas- and by the way, they were all credentialed through traditional teacher education programs. It was the gross incompetence with IEP's, legal requirements, pedagogy, along with abuse I witnessed by these teachers that prompted me to complete an alternative route to credentialing, which I did while working toward my MSED in special education. Just because someone does not carry the label of "teacher" does not mean that they do not meet or exceed the skills of those that have that label.

For those teachers that participate in this type of education snobbery, it is unfounded. Certainly there are some candidates for alternative credentialing that are unqualified to teach, just as there are many certified teachers that are equally unqualified to teach no matter how much education or number of laurels there are behind their name. It is the skill set of the individual that makes a good teacher, and many of those who have participated in alternative programs have something to offer other than being able to say that they completed a six month or year long practicum.

I should also mention that I sit on the Board of Directors for a local public charter school that ranks in the top 10% for the state. There are many teachers employed there that have completed alternative routes to teaching, and each of them is exceptional. It is unfortunate that there are certified teachers that are passed over for those that may not have as much experience; but it isn't always about seniority. It is about the individual; personalities and professionalism are factors in any career field. Take some personal accountability for making sure that you are the very best teacher, because at the end of the day, no one really cares how you got your credential so long as your performance is excellent and you can teach every child.

Dianne Stemen's picture

I am a teacher at a charter school and it is frustrating to hear all the negative comments that people say about charter schools. To lump all charter schools together is as wrong as lumping all public schools together. Some are very good and others don't live up to expectations. The hiring process at our school is handled like other public school hirings. Our dean interviews the pool of candidates, selects the top candidates who are highly qualified teachers, and then they come in to demonstrate a lesson of our choosing before a panel of teachers, parents, and students. We all discuss what we saw and how well we think the various candidates performed, whether or not they fit in with the mission of our school, and if they are a good match for the team of teachers of the selected grade level. Our school has had very high reviews and it would be appreciated if every one would be a bit more understanding, excepting, and more positive of America's school systems. All schools should be researched and visited to see if they are a match for the parents and students. Know what you're getting into and then support your school. Negative talk does nothing for a school or it's young students.

Felicia Ponder's picture

I work at an elementary chartere school. I have heard that there are some things that charter schools are able to get around. But I have not experience anything negative directly associated with charter schools. I think schools in general are cutting alot of corners. The problem is with education at this point. The charter school I work at does have the right to make alot of its on decisions in regards to employment, scheduled meetings and calendar days.

A Great Teacher's picture

Parents be careful where you place your children when it comes to charter schools. There are some great ones and some not so great. We have had some families leave our district to go to a charter school only to return a year later to the public school. There comment was " Charter schools are not better than public schools. They just have better advertising." Interesting!

Eden Rose's picture
Eden Rose
Pre-service Elementary with a Montessori background

This may be off topic, but I would love some guidance on possible avenues to take in researching the processes of birthing a charter school, or other independent schools. Preferably from someone who has done it!

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