Hiring a Teacher to a 35 Year Contract Makes Me Nervous.

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As a school administrator I have lots of challenges.

Which tie to wear.

How to keep lunch off my tie.

Getting the stain off my tie after lunch.

It never ends.

Tomorrow is another day and I will need another tie (today’s has something on it). 

And if history tells us anything, it’s very likely I’ll be eating lunch.

It’s a vicious cycle.

But you will be glad to know this isn’t my biggest challenge.

There’s one thing that makes me more nervous than eating spaghetti in the cafeteria wearing a white tie while sitting between two 5th graders with sharp elbows and attention problems.

It’s hiring people.

Any time you have an opening within your staff, it’s an opportunity for your school to get better.

This isn’t to say whoever is leaving the position is bad, but as an administrator, the goal is to find someone who is at least a little better.

Because if you think about it, none of us are looking to take a giant step backward (if you are… you might be in the wrong profession).

But this is where it gets tricky.

Interviewing isn’t a science, it’s an art.

Which is a nice way of saying, sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t (feel free to quote me on this).

This isn’t what makes me nervous.  I know I’m not going to hit a home run on every new hire (I think I just invented a baseball analogy).

The mediocre hires don’t worry me as much as the pretty good hires. 

This is because a brand new pretty good teacher may be employed by the district for the next 35 years (a mediocre one hopefully won’t).

35 years.

That’s three and a half decades.

That’s 8.75 Presidents.

Or think of it this way.  In 35 years, I will be 73 (if I’m lucky).

Even more disturbing, 35 years ago it was 1976.  I was in the 4th grade (for the first and only time… as far as you know).

This means a teacher who was hired during my 4th grade year is still teaching.

Meanwhile the world has changed ever so slightly (you’ve probably heard of the internet… since you are on it right now).

But have they?

I would say most have changed, but the ability to be progressive in your career is a hard thing to project in a 30 minute interview.

To sum up, a new teacher who is hired this year could be with the school district for a very long time (check my math… but I’m guessing until approximately 2046).

And that makes me nervous.

Not nervous enough to skip lunch, but nervous.

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26 Responses to “Hiring a Teacher to a 35 Year Contract Makes Me Nervous.”

  1. Dianne Murray
    on Aug 6th, 2011
    @ 1:45 pm

    You nailed it again. Well, for the lunch thing, any way.
    Of course, in this day and age, it isn’t as likely that a teacher will remain in one spot, or even one profession. The way things are going, it is becoming more unlikely that they will. When each of my daughter became middle school science teachers, I was so proud…and also nervous…how will they live on those salaries with those ungrateful administrators, parents, students, fellow teachers……etc. Haha.
    In Atlanta, they are moving the librarians (they call them media specialists but I don’t like that term….too much responsibilty. Buffy Hamilton is a media specialist; I was a librarian.) to classrooms. A 20-year high school librarian suddenly became a first grade teacher…like overnight and school has already started. I see a chance for a professional change….Walmart greeter??….in the future for some of those folks. (Hopefully not….librarians were trained to be flexible.)
    Have a great new school year….and don’t buy any more white ties!

  2. Barry Munro
    on Aug 6th, 2011
    @ 4:07 pm

    I am a working, classroom teacher in New Zealand who started teaching when you were in the 4th grade!
    I am disturbed to think that we ‘good teachers’ cannot still be performing at the good to best end of the range after all these years. After all development, personal and professional has allowed me to keep ahead of the 20 something teachers over the years.
    My students don’t roll their eyes when I teach, they scrath their heads and say, “how did you do that?”.
    I have had many roles as a teacher since you were in the 4th grade, including Principal.
    The only thing I have recently found I cannot do as well as the 16 year olds I teach is run! I can still beat all but the top 1% on a mountain bike, much to their annoyance!
    What a thought! Yeah of little faith and vision. Good teachers are good teachers. It is your job to pick the best. Get on with it!
    My latest IT venture is Edmodo to see if blogging will work with the slowest mountain bikers.
    Cheers – Barry Munro – Eclectic Teacher NZ

  3. Ross Mannell
    on Aug 6th, 2011
    @ 4:14 pm

    Wonderful post. Amusing and to the point of concerns.

    I am a teacher from NSW Australia who started teaching in 1978 and as a full time teacher in 1981 so I have been involved in education for in excess of 30 years, although now retired from full time teaching. I suppose that means I am pretty close to the 35 years.

    In that time, I have been a member of promotion panels assessing applicants for positions in schools. It was always a concern when hiring people because of the restrictions placed on the interview process in my state. We were limited on what we could ask.

    NSW offers tenure to teachers so it is a concern when hiring. Barring some major mishap, a teacher is there till retirement.

    Ross Mannell (teacher – retired)

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Ross Mannell, Thank you. I love to hear from my friends in Australia.

  4. Timothy McKean
    on Aug 6th, 2011
    @ 5:12 pm

    Great post! Thanks for bringing up the big issues.

    I agree with one of your previous commenters that it is very unlikely in this age that one of your hires will remain in the same job or the same district for their career. In my ten years of teaching I have worked at 7 different schools. (Not counting the year that I worked as an itinerant music teacher hitting 10 schools a week on a rotating schedule.)
    This is not because I am a poor teacher, but mostly because of budget cuts, moving, and changing areas of interest. (Electives teachers- can’t live with them, can’t live without them.)

    Now I’m in my tenth year teaching and I am beginning to work on my Administrative Services Credential, so chances are I will be changing jobs at least once more in my career. Long story to say that I feel that the days of the 35 year career based on one hire are long gone.

    Your article also puts light on the importance of professional development throughout a successful career. As we can see in our 35 year vetrans commenting above, probably the most important trait to be looking for in the interview is the ability and willingness to learn and grow as they teach.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Timothy McKean, 7 different schools???

    That’s an interesting career.

    How many good administrators have you run into?

  5. Allanah King
    on Aug 6th, 2011
    @ 5:46 pm

    So can we say from that post that you are only going to employ teachers who are fifty so they only have 15 years of teaching experience ahead of them. Young things need not apply. You should that in your job advertisement so the young ones don’t waste their time.

    Does moving schools make you an inherently better teacher. I think not.

    I recently visited a 90 year old full of vigour, life and energy.

    Here in New Zealand, we have a thing called Professional Development, either in school or provided externally, where teachers add new skills and tools to their tool kit for teaching.

    I am nothing like the teacher I was thirty years ago. Very little remains of how I taught then. Hopefully I have been able to keep the best bits and discard the fads and things that don’t work.

    Sometimes I think the hiring of new staff is a bit of a lottery.

    I hop you win it.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Allanah King, I’m also hoping to win the regular lottery. :)

  6. Linda Aragoni
    on Aug 6th, 2011
    @ 6:24 pm

    One factor I think makes a difference in whether that new hire is going to keep on learning is her (or less commonly, his) out-of-school interests and experiences. People I see keeping up are primarily people with some “extra-curricular” interests that pull them out of their teacher roles into situations that are novel for them.

    One thing I’d ask prospective teachers is about their work experience outside education. It all someone has done is wait tables, chances are that person has not had much reason to see what skills and knowledge and needed outside the classroom, let alone to realize how important continual updating of skills is.

  7. John Lawrence
    on Aug 6th, 2011
    @ 8:22 pm

    This may sound irrelevant and ignorant, coming from a non-educator but previous commentators, back of the guy a little!

    Michael “tells it like it is” and very often presents a “human” side to education. This is one of the reasons I like and follow this blog and this post is no different. I don’t think he is saying that, because you have taught for 35 yrs you are no longer a good teacher, nor is he saying that there are not very good teachers coming through the system at present. He is saying that decisions that we make today will affect us, and our children, long into the future.

    No of us can predict the future except to say that there will be successes and failures as the future unfolds. I am certainly, and justifiably so, nervous about the future for my three children ages 4, 8 and 10 and I definitely want the best for them, but I am not prepared to treat them in an identical manner, cookie cutter style. Education is no different, nor should it be.

    Sadly, education today doesn’t seem to “get the message” with an emphasis on teaching to doing well on the “achievement tests” rather than “helping students to learn”. As well, teacher training seems less about promoting/developing learners and curiousity and more about “classroom management techniques”.

    Thank-you Michael for being nervous – you give me hope! The students under your administrative scope are very lucky indeed.

    John Lawrence MMT, MTA
    Music therapist, Part-time educator, and Life-long learner

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @John Lawrence, Thanks for standing up for me!!!

  8. Linda
    on Aug 6th, 2011
    @ 9:04 pm

    It is hard to say where you will be in 35 years. I remember when I thought teaching for 7 years seemed like a lifetime! However, many of us make the 35 year mark. You have hit the nail on head. It all depends on the teacher and choices he/she has made for their classroom. I am one of those that embraced change working with teachers and students on integrating technology onto their classrooms. However, I see the “other” 35 teachers losing children or letting them cut the cord from the computer to the mouse. The toughest job is the one as an administrator like you face. Really wanting what is best for your students and not playing favorites with faculty members is difficult. You know the ones you can count on. The best principal I ever had believed in the professional development of teachers. Others I have had were building facility managers. If you dread going to work; then you are in the wrong profession!

  9. kelly
    on Aug 6th, 2011
    @ 10:20 pm

    i really enjoyed your post, but wondered how that is different from any other job, at least in the “old” days, when most people expected to stay with their employer until they retired. you will have to worry if your applicant is someone who thinks that because he has officially finished “school” his education is complete. one open to change, adaptation and personal growth will suit you for years to come. i think that’s true across different fields, not just education.

    your tie, on the other hand, probably needs to be replaced a lot more often!

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @kelly, Good comment. It is probably more like other jobs than we realize.

    I must admit, I’ve replace quite a few ties in my career.

  10. P
    on Aug 7th, 2011
    @ 2:35 am

    You are giving some teacher a chance- whether a new teacher, a teacher with a few years under their belt, perhaps a teacher who got LIFO’d out somewhere else despite all their hard work. I’m pro-seniority, but it also means that newer teachers need some second and sometimes third chances. And teachers don’t opt to or get to stay in the same position year after year any more either, and you really hope they gravitate to what they do best along the way as much as things are assigned to them.

    You would be a great principal to work for. If a teacher was doing well by her/his students and your school, you would say so, with specific feedback so they’d know what they were doing right. If not, they’d hear from you as well, with an offer to help, and you’d be sincere about it. That’s the guy who comes across on this blog of yours.

    Would you want to do the paperwork to fire a teacher with seniority who is not performing to the level your school and district expect? No. Would you? I know it’s not impossible to fire teachers, it’s just that someone can’t be fired on a “hunch” or a personality class. Many teachers w/o tenure in their first 2-3 years are let go as well, encouraged to give it a go somewhere else or perhaps a nod that teaching isn’t for them. It happens. But when you give someone a chance, you aren’t “stuck” with them. Teachers bloom or wither based on support and opportunities or being shut out just like students and every other human being. If there’s no PD at school, if teachers sign up for PD outside that might require missing a school day and they get called back to class that morning because the district put some artificial cap on the number of subs, well, it may not matter how good the teacher is or wants to be. Your hands may be tied with NCLB and so many other rules, but consider how you water that enthusiasm across the interview table, and a decent teacher somewhere could be great under your care.

    My advice? Look for someone who has pursued some professional development outside what might be required, and someone who might have some sub experience in their background. Both may be indicators of adaptability. Who knows what 2030 or 2046 is going to bring!!

  11. Maggie Hos-McGrane
    on Aug 7th, 2011
    @ 2:58 am

    This is my 30th year of teaching. In that time I have taught all ages from Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12. I have taught children in the UK, Holland, Thailand and Switzerland and adults in India. I’ve taught English, Geography, Health Education, primary homeroom and IT. I have presented at top educational conferences in the US, South America, Europe and Asia. I would say that I’ve moved forward a lot in my teaching the last 30 years but probably those moves would not have been apparent at my first teacher interviews back in the early 80s. Despite many opportunities to climb up the career ladder, I’ve always chosen to lead from the classroom rather than from an office. The thing that has moved me forward over the past 30 years is the wonderful support and mentoring I’ve had from others. I would say your “pretty good” hires would be able to make these moves too – but a lot depends on the leaders in their schools. Are they encouraging them to move forward in new directions, are they sending them on quality professional development, are they encouraging them to take risks and perhaps to fail, but to learn from these experiences? Are they encouraging them to reach high and become the best teachers they can be? Do you have the same misgivings about your “pretty good” students too?

  12. Dheeraj
    on Aug 7th, 2011
    @ 8:17 am

    Dear Michael

    I agree with you. Interviewing people is an art.
    Today I hired two teachers but we do contract only for one academic session.
    They teach for one or two sessions. Then we regularize them.
    35 years … dear you have a BIG RESPONSIBILITY on your shoulders.


  13. Laurie
    on Aug 7th, 2011
    @ 11:34 am

    As a principal, hiring always makes me nervous. I agonize over it. Not only do I want someone with good basic skills, they need to be coachable – willing to take advice and learn and grow. Their personality also needs to be a good “fit” for the building. New hires get a lot of attention from me and their mentor teacher. I want them to succeed and do well as evidenced by their students’ development – both academically and socially.
    All through any new teacher’s first year, I am constantly evaluating if he/she is a good “fit”. If I believe it is not working, I let them go after one year. I have only had to do that once – and I felt awful and she cried. But elementary intervention just wasn’t working for her. I felt her skills would be better for jr. high or high school, and I told her that. She left teaching for a year after me (that was another thing I beat myself over), but the following year she landed a high school intervention specialist job and has been there ever since and loving it (9 years now).
    Administrators have to keep their eye on the big picture for the benefit of everyone. It is hard work! John hit the nail on the head when he said, “decisions that we make today will affect us, and our children, long into the future”.

  14. Luke
    on Aug 7th, 2011
    @ 8:36 pm

    I’m never nervous about them staying too long, because if you wished you didn’t have them then they must be no good. And if thats the case you should have done something about their performance, either moved them on or fixed their shortcomings, doing nothing is the only thing you cant do.
    Having a good one who stays forever is awesome because good ones change and move with the times, usually so fast that time flies. Having a bad one is like getting a tooth pulled every day of your life. Don’t be nervous, have the courage and confidence and if it doesn’t work out do something and learn from it.
    good post. loving your work.

  15. Barry Munro
    on Aug 7th, 2011
    @ 9:37 pm

    Well Michael, your post has made me think carefully and re-read. Which is good.
    I agree, your staff selection is a very important task. Best of luck to you and all other commentators as they do it and/or experience the process.
    Cheers – Barry Munro – Ectectic Teacher NZ

  16. Dan McGuire
    on Aug 7th, 2011
    @ 9:48 pm

    Here’s the thing to remember, Mr. Smith. It’s not about you or your tie. You’re working in a system that was set up to not be about individual decisions. Your job is to prevent the obvious mistakes; the learning community of which you are but one small component will pick up your slack. If you don’t believe that, take your tie somewhere else, quickly.

    Michael Smith Reply:

    @Dan McGuire, I have a lot of ties to moves… so I guess I’m stuck. :)

  17. Mr. W
    on Aug 10th, 2011
    @ 8:48 am

    This seems to be a one sided argument that is commonly heard. I don’t know how long it takes to grant tenure in Illinois, but in CA it’s two years. Now while that may seem short for some, I think if there is enough observations during those two years an administrator can determine if a teacher will be successful or not.

    Also this misnomer that it is a “job for life”. It’s not impossible to fire a teacher. There is a due process attached to it, but it is still possible. We had a teacher that should have been fired and the union rep told the administrators that the union couldn’t/wouldn’t stop it. What happened? Nothing, the administrators didn’t do anything.

    It’s easy to jump on the backs of teachers and pile it on, but teachers are but one part of the education puzzle. Don’t forget about administrators, parents, and most of all students.

  18. Shauna
    on Aug 10th, 2011
    @ 2:28 pm

    Wow – isn’t it great when you put something out there that garners so much response?!?
    The interesting thing is that these types of discussions, promoting reflection and consideration, are what helps to keep teachers and administrators on top of their game, thus continually improving.
    I am a principal in a high school, and I agree with you – hiring makes me nervous! I have made some great hires and a couple I should have passed on. The thing is though, it was my decision, and so becomes my problem to fix. All the teachers I’ve hired deserve mine, and every other staff member’s support, encouragement, and guidance. I strongly believe that every teacher wants to be great – some just need more help getting there than others, and some need to be encouraged to try something different. A mediocre high school teacher I know has become an excellent grade 5 teacher. The best teachers I’ve known continued to strive for excellence and maintained their creativity and enthusiasm right up until they retired (one after exactly 35 years).
    School principals need to take hiring and supporting their teachers extremely seriously- it is through their ongoing work with teachers that the best student learning can occur in classrooms (support and encourage so teachers can do what they do best).
    - My 2 cents…

  19. Ryan
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 6:27 am

    This was a funny and honest post about an aspect of education that has become quite controversial. You’re quite brave to share your thoughts.

    I think being hired makes most teachers nervous as well. I worry that maintaining that anxiety in your teachers by expressing your concerns about them publicly will hinder their performance as well. Speaking personally, I feel that I am a better teacher when I feel as though I have my administrator’s confidence. I know if you’d hired me and then I’d read this post, I’d feel devastated.

    If you are indeed stuck in this system and feel as though due process is something you can’t manage, then I think your best option right now is to establish a rapport with your new hires, develop mentoring programs for them, and focus on the positive.

  20. Sandy Beck
    on Aug 22nd, 2011
    @ 9:39 am

    Two Cents: I just retired after 40 years of being a teacher, media specialist and instructional technology specialist. My main reason for retirement was the incessant focus on standardized testing, making it virtually impossible for teachers to pursue project-based learning or in-depth study of curriculum content. My experience with teachers, and their ability to grow, continue to learn and keep pace with the world, was not one of age, but mindset and an inate curiousity. Many young teachers may enter teaching being avid FB and Twitter fans, but have no idea how to utilize technology tools to promote and enhance a student’s learning-a requirement in today’s world! Without visionary admin leadership, as well as clear expectations and accountability, a school may retain ‘status quo’ !

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While this site operates with the knowledge and awareness of the Tuscola CUSD #301 School Board, Tuscola, Illinois, the content and opinions posted here may or may not represent their views personally or collectively, nor does it attempt to represent the official viewpoint of Tuscola CUSD #301 administrators or employees.