Jeff Mayo has worked at Shelby County Schools in Tennessee for 20 years and has been the schools’ Human Resources Specialist for the past eight years. The district, located outside of Memphis, has more than 45,000 students and approximately 6,500 employees, and is the fasest growing school district in the state. Money Magazine has recognized Shelby County schools as one of the top 100 systems in the United States, and for nine consecutive years the district has received the School Match Inc. “What Parents Want Award.” We recently asked Mr. Mayo about his teacher-recruitment strategies.
What are some of the difficulties you face when trying to fill hard-to-staff teaching positions such as math, science, and special education? What can schools do to recruit for these positions?
I think it is a constant in school human resources no matter where you are. These are always difficult areas to staff. We continually keep these areas posted to help build our teacher pool. We have also asked universities to appeal to these particular departments to encourage students to possibly minor in education if they have a major in math or some type of engineering. Often, entry-level jobs in these areas are not available but with an education minor, these individuals would be great candidates for an alternative-licensure program. Who knows, they may like teaching enough to become fully certified and stay with it.
What questions should be asked during an interview to get an idea of a teacher’s competence, reliability, and overall performance? Do sample lesson plans work?
We do ask our teacher applicants to walk us through a typical lesson plan, rather than showing us one. This helps us to determine how effectively they can organize a lesson plan and communicate this information to students while including the necessary components of an effective plan. We also ask teachers about classroom-management experiences and their plans to determine their capacity for effective classroom management. We also ask questions about how to involve parents as well as how students will be assessed. One of the questions that new teachers seem to have the weakest response to is how to work with varying learning styles. We recognize that expertise in this area is learned and often comes with experience.
When calling references, what should schools ask? What is the ultimate goal of calling these references? How can schools formulate a plan to make calls worth it?
We use a combination of reference checking. Applicants are required to have a response from two appropriate references before an interview is granted. If, upon examination, it is discovered that the references are not from appropriate individuals, then the applicant cannot be considered for employment until new references are submitted. We require applicants to complete reference forms while acknowledging that the information revealed between the reference and the school district is kept confidential. We also make phone calls to references when written references are not available or if the references reveal discrepant information. Our application outlines what constitutes an appropriate reference when applying for a teaching position.
What incentives can be used to recruit and retain teachers?
Salary and signing bonuses can certainly get an applicant’s attention. However, I find that the district’s reputation for academic excellence as well as administrative support outweighs salary incentives, especially with experienced teachers.
What plans would you suggest for providing teachers with professional growth and development?
New teachers need to be immediately connected to effective mentors. If new teachers feel that they belong and are a part of the group, professional development opportunities will be more effective and better received. New teachers need assistance with developing effective classroom management plans and strategies to effectively work with students who are not compliant with general classroom rules. New teachers also need tips for working with parents such as how to keep parents “in the loop” while maintaining control of the classroom. This, of course, only applies to districts with heavy parent participation.
What are the most important things to include in a staff-development plan for schools that have a lot of teacher turnover?
We see teachers leaving the profession for a number of reasons. More and more teachers are family-oriented rather than the career-oriented teachers of the past. Often, when a teacher takes a maternity leave, they do not return. They find ways to make financial arrangements to allow for extended time at home with new children. Once the children become school age, we see a return to the profession for these teachers. Again, I believe that job satisfaction and administrative support in discipline and parent complaints are key factors when examining teacher turnover as opposed to teacher salary. I think once teachers feel that they are not supported, the salary is a secondary factor that helps to make the decision to search for a new profession.