Administrator Interview: The Personal Touch

February 01, 2003 3 min read

Ron Alatorre is the principal of South High School in Torrance, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles. A veteran teacher and administrator, he has passionate views on the teaching profession (which he demonstrated clearly in an e-mail response to one our recent articles). In a recent interview conducted by e-mail, we asked him about recruiting today’s teachers.

Teacher Recruiter: How would you assess your current staffing situation? How successful have you been in filling vacant teaching positions with qualified teachers? What methods are you using to recruit teachers?

Ron Alatorre: Our staff is about 95 strong to date. We are fortunate to be a school that is considered ‘desirable’ to work in. There are schools nearby that are having a difficult time finding applicants, much less filling a position. Filling positions--and particularly finding “qualified” applicants--is still a challenge for us. Many of the applicants today are still in teacher-training programs or have emergency credentials. That inexperience can create a strain on the school and the new teacher.

The Torrance school district has made great use of the traditional recruiting mechanisms: Teacher fairs, colleges career-placement centers, schools of education, and even newspaper ads are ways we attract applicants. I have found that the personal touch is what makes or breaks the recruiting process. Many new teachers have a choice of jobs, and most are looking for the best working conditions possible. My emphasis is that working conditions are found within the staff, not just the locale. The cohesiveness of a faculty will determine the level of satisfaction in your job. Do teachers collaborate? Are they friendly? Is there a nice mix of veteran and new staff? Is the administration supportive? Is the culture one of high expectation? These are the questions I focus on when recruiting new staff.

TR: What do you think is the biggest challenge for schools in hiring and retaining teachers today? How are you addressing this challenge?

RA: I think one of the major challenges is finding someone dedicated to a career. Times have changed from the days where an employee stayed with an employer their entire life. Administrators need to recognize that we are looking at new teachers and second-career teachers with agendas that are not as long-term as in previous years. In order to bring quality to the school and retain these teachers, I work hard to create an environment in which teachers look forward to working. Once this environment is created, I encourage applicants to talk to the staff. Again, the personalization of the school is a great selling point to potential teachers.

TR: What sort of personal qualities do you look for in teacher candidates? How do you determine if someone is right for the job?

RA: At the very least, applicants should be aware of the salary, benefits, and working conditions before they come in for an interview. Some programs have special characteristics or needs that the candidate should be familiar with. I find that those who have done the research generally have a genuine interest and aptitude for the job. Another area I look at carefully is how the candidate feels about the ability to reach all students. In high school, we tend to have specialists, but I am looking for that optimist that feels any child not only can succeed, but will succeed. After more than 20 years in the business I still have an enthusiasm for students that is generated from students. I want my staff to have the same feeling.

TR: Do you find that teacher candidates have changed over the years? For example, are today’s young teachers more or less qualified than when you started? How do you prepare them for the realities of the classroom?

RA: I think the candidates of this generation are brilliant. The academic training and technology backgrounds these teachers have give them more tools than we ever had. At the same time, I see that many candidates have chosen to participate in training programs as interns or on a ‘fast track,’ which can place them in the classroom prematurely. This is particularly true of second- career teachers, who have life experience but little classroom background. I believe it’s worth the effort to find a quality teacher-training program.

The realities of the classroom are learned in the classroom. Support from outside programs, and especially from their new colleagues, can help carry new teachers through the all-important first year. A teacher who can honestly reflect on past practices and make positive changes will be successful. I have great hope for the future, as our new teachers have demonstrated outstanding desire and skill. Budgets come and budgets go (like administrators!), but our teachers will always be needed, and always be there for our children.