When I was a kid, we took many vacations, most of which were on a plane, but I distinctly remember one vacation we took in our family car. My mom and her best friend, Carolyn, decided that both of our families would pile into one vehicle to travel from Dallas to Laredo during the hottest part of the summer. So both of our families loaded into our green Toyota station wagon with the kids piled in the back and the luggage strapped on top.
We didn’t have a DVD player or an iPad so we found creative ways to pass the time. When we asked one too many times if we were there yet, my dad passed back the highway map folded like an accordion and had us trace our route and try to locate the next city to stop for a break. My mom, who planned the trip, told us about the caverns we would visit in Sonora and the things we would see once we finally arrived in Laredo.
As an adult, I think back trying to put my finger on what made family vacations so much fun and this trip in particular so memorable. The car was a tight fit, but we knew we were in for an adventure. The adults showed us a few brochures of what was to come, but there was still the mystery of the unknown that kept things exciting. I got to spend lots of time with my friend Clint who was like a brother and was always up for finding ways to get into trouble. And we got to bring home a souvenir to remind us of our trip long after it was over.
It takes a great deal of planning and imagination to pull off a successful family vacation and the same can be said of filling vacancies in a campus science department. This is the time of year that principals are making plans for hiring science teachers for the following school year. Many of us in science leadership positions do not directly hire teachers, but we can play a key role in making the process as smooth as possible. What can we do to make the hiring journey a memorable one for all the right reasons while working with principals to arrive at the start of a school year with the highest quality candidates?
Know the Final Destination
On our driving vacation, my parents knew exactly where we were headed and all of the possible routes in between. Do all the key stakeholders in your district agree on the top qualities for teachers to fill science positions? Knowing content, possessing strategies, and having communication skills are incredibly important, but sometimes one characteristic is more vital than others to help round out a science team. Talk with principals to describe the portrait of an ideal candidate so you are both looking for the same qualities during the interview process. You may not find the ideal candidate, but you are likely to be closer to agreement on who should be hired.
Narrow the Options
There were many places we could have visited for a vacation and numerous locations to stop along the way, but the adults narrowed the options before we left home. One strategy that can provide assistance to principals is to prescreen candidates in the applicant pool. Take a look at the teachers who have applied for teaching positions and pull the names of those who most closely fit what your school and district need. This step saves time for building principals during a busy time of the school year and gives you an idea of the types of teachers who have applied in your district. If there are few candidates that meet your desired criteria, it’s at least helpful to be aware before interviews begin.
Be Aware of Possible Barriers
The road to filling science positions sometimes has a few potholes along the way. You might have a last-minute resignation, so spend time during interviews looking for a fit for the position that is posted and also collecting names of additional candidates who could be a fit in the future. For some specific fields such as high school physics, there may not be any teacher applicants who meet the needed requirements. Investigate alternative certification programs in your area or consider encouraging one of your current teachers to take an additional certification exam to fill high-need areas. Don’t allow hiring committees to settle for less than the quality that your students deserve.
During the hiring process you might spend hours tucked into a small room with an interview committee, much like our tight quarters in the station wagon. When the destination seems far away, remember that this is an important and necessary leg of the journey to reach the ultimate objective of an amazing science program in your school and your district. At the end of the day, stretch your legs, collect your bags, and know that your efforts reach further than any destination on a folding map.