What Better Hiring Means for Boston Classrooms

At Excel High School, where I teach English as a second language, Spanish classes are often our largest and most diverse classrooms. In previous years, many of our instructors struggled with classroom management and student engagement, and our administrative staff struggled just as much to find—and hire—Spanish teachers well equipped for the challenge.

Last year, in an effort to improve the quality of their teacher pipelines and recruit a crop of more effective and diverse teachers across all schools, Boston Public Schools (BPS) revamped its hiring process to require administrators and teachers to work together throughout the entire process, hire earlier, and completely align hires to our teacher effectiveness evaluation rubric. They also updated the process for recommending candidates: BPS now requires personnel committees to provide evidence from a candidate’s resume, interview, and sample lessons that proves he or she has a track record of success.

As one of the teacher representatives of my own school’s hiring committee, I’ve seen firsthand how rigorous, collaborative, and data-driven this new system is. I've also seen the positive effect it’s had on our staffing process.  

For one, rather than waiting until the end of the school year (when many talented teachers have already been snapped up), our hiring team last year was able to post open Spanish positions online in March and screen through many highly qualified applicants. For our interviews, BPS provided us with particular questions relevant to teaching in an urban district, in order to find out each candidate’s thoughts on topics like differentiated instruction for diverse students, the importance of cultural competency, and the use of data to track student progress.

Our candidates’ answers to these questions helped us better understand their teaching philosophies. They also allowed us to answer some essential questions to consider when searching for candidates to teach in a high-poverty school and meet the needs of English language learners and students with special needs. Questions like: Does this candidate believe in properly scaffolding instruction so all students are challenged? Do they have the strategies to create a culture of respect and tolerance in the classroom? Do they understand how to track and measure student achievement?

While answering these questions helped us understand whether or not applicants were a good fit, the most important addition to the hiring process was the sample lesson. These took place at our school, with our students, and gave us a clear indication of a candidate’s content knowledge, tone, and management style. During these lessons, we paid close attention to how candidates interacted with students. We asked ourselves: Did they explain the purpose of the lesson? Did they only call on the students who raised their hands? How did they involve disengaged students?

In my favorite sample lesson, one candidate attracted our attention with her strong teacher voice, warm disposition, and ability to make all students feel comfortable enough to participate in class. Rather than jump into her lesson, she introduced herself to the class, then taught them to introduce themselves in Spanish, asking them their names—“Cómo te llamas?”—and having them respond with “Me llamo…,” “My name is….”

This seemingly small activity put students at ease, and afterward, when the candidate delivered her highly scaffolded, challenging, and hands-on lesson, she achieved 100 percent student participation in a class known for behavior and engagement issues. It was a no-brainer to hire her. This past year she made significant improvements to our Spanish curriculum and organized our school’s very first multicultural night.       

While the new BPS hiring process was daunting at first, and required training and extensive documentation, hires like our new Spanish teacher give me confidence to say the changes have ultimately helped our school community and culture tremendously. In the three years I’ve worked at Excel, we have had 30 to 40 percent staff turnover rates every year due—in large part—to poor hires. But that is different now. Today is the first day of school, and I am proud to say that we have had the time, training, and resources to hire the right teachers to fill our previous vacancies—teachers who will fit our school, cater to our students’ needs, and provide our community with the stability it deserves.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

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