May 02, 2014

Hiring English Teachers for Young Learners

"Time spent on hiring is time well spent."
Robert Half

During my Masters in Education at the University of Toronto I researched about a topic that had made me not sleep well for many nights: teacher turnover. I wondered why teachers would leave my school and I had to start all over again. It seemed that the interviewing, hiring, training, and developing process would never end!  Students lost their teachers, parents were not happy, and it seemed that we were just not going forward.

In my research I read countless articles and I discovered many factors that are conducive to teacher retention and I will discuss them in a series of posts as the theme is just too broad for only one piece of writing. The first area that I am tackling here is teacher selection. One of the reasons why teachers leave language schools is because they were not properly selected according to the best profile that marches the audience, expected competences, and the offered working conditions.

Some of the reasons teachers are usually not properly selected might have to do with the following facts:
we needs them urgently,
we do not invest the proper time to select teachers,
we are not aware of the real competences needed to teach young learners,
we don't know how to measure the competences we need to hire the right people.
or most probably some kind of combination of the reasons above.

The time that is spent knowing the people who you are going to work with makes all the difference in the long run as assertive selection can break the vicious cycle of turnover.

The first thing is knowing what kind of professional you want to hire. Would you prefer somebody experienced or somebody you can educate? A younger or an older person? Native or non-native? Or you might say that these features above do not really matter because you are looking for a teacher with a totally different skill set. But make sure you know what you are looking for right from the start, otherwise anybody will seem to be ok and you will be left to luck.

There are however some aspects that I believe every teacher of young learners should have:

they should be fluent and proficient in the language (at least 100 points at TOEFL)
they should enjoy being with children,
they should enjoy education.

Here I share some of the steps I take while selecting teachers for young learners. Choose the ones that you think that are suitable for the reality you are living.

Once knowing what professional you are looking for, I suggest putting out ads and circulating the word around through social media asking people to send you their resumés. Remember that you are not the only one selecting teachers and that teachers will select you as their employers as well. I created this page (in Portuguese)  explaining how the process works, what we offer, and how the work happens at our school. Giving as much information as you can shows that you are organized and will allow people to make the decision if they think your position matches their profile.

Always make the first contact electronically as you can manage when you will answer them and you can give candidates undivided attention. Avoid scheduling interviews with people you have just received their resumé as this is time consuming and might lead you to select the wrong profile for your school. I usually ask candidates to answer 5 questions and already check availability and other essential aspects that are important. These questions can not evaluate who has the profile but can clearly tell you who does not (English quality, experience, goal, availability) You do not want to interview somebody for 40 minutes to discover that they do not have the availability you are looking for! Believe me, I have done it more than a few times.

After we select the candidates who might have the desired profile, we conduct a 3- hour group dynamics with the objective of really noticing how people interact with each other in an educational environment.  We have developed different cooperative scenarios in which candidates have to solve problems that allow us to observe the quality of initiative, listening, flexibility, and rapport that people show. I also have here a controversial pedagogical case involving young learners and their parents that they have to respond in writing as a way of analyzing their thinking process. After they write what they would do, I collect their pieces and ask them to discuss the issue as a group.

Take into account that usually between 30% and 40% of the people invited to the group dynamics do not come, so I would say it is fine for you to invite between 10 and 12 people to have between 6 and 8 during the session.

I know a school that offers extensive development courses for teachers of young learners and they just invite the very best teachers to be part of their team. You don't need the dynamics as you have already lived with these teachers throughout the course! If you choose to do so, make your courses really affordable in order to attract a big number of teachers.

Before the interview, I usually show the person around the school  as a way of observing how interested the person is in the school materials and method and also as a way of checking how much the person already knows about the school. If one person already starts asking about the salary and does not ask about the method that is probably not a good signal. During the interview I like to check if the prospective teacher has a rich life in cultural and social aspects. Does this person read? Does this person go to museums? How active is this person overall?

Once candidates made it after the interview, make sure you always check their references before letting them join your pre-service program. You do not want to learn that a person appeared drunk  at their last job after you have either trained or hired them.

I suggest having your pre-service program as part of your selection process, as both of you are evaluating each other. At school we give pre-service participants money to cover their transportation and food costs during the period they are in training. In this sense, hiring should be like getting married, you slowly get to know each other before making the final commitment.

During the pre-service educational sessions you can notice:
who is punctual,
who is responsible,
who is flexible,
who is energetic,
who has initiative,
who is creative,
and mainly who gets along with students.

Having a teaching practice as a component of your pre-service course allows you to observe teachers in action with the children.   During feedback you can notice how open and comfortable these teachers are to criticism.

Last but not least, make sure you start with a number that is higher than the people you actually need. You do not want to hire somebody (knowing that this person is not adequate) just because you started the process with the number of people you need. In my experience there is always a participant who gives up or another who does not have the desired profile.

Chances are that after you followed these steps you will have somebody who is close to the profile you are looking for. This actions will certainly reduce the initial turnover that happens when people start working and quit because they notice working with young learners wasn't really what they were expecting or your surprise to learn that some teachers weren't really that interested in teaching after all.

Sorry to say, but this is just the beginning! In the next posts I will address other issues that I discovered in my research and that are important in keeping talents at your school!

I wish you a lot of success in creating your dream team!!!

What about you?
Have you also had difficulties selecting the right teachers?
Did you use any other strategies that worked in your setting?

Send you a big hug!


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1 comment:

  1. Thanks Juan!
    Very informative and practical. I hired two part-time teachers and they are working out just fine. However, I will have to hire one or two full-time teachers next year. I'm a little nervous about it.
    I'm looking forward to the next post.
    Thanks again.


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