I Do Not Care For This Sign

As is the case for many if not most white collar professionals, our job is not too tough. The vast majority of us work in a nice office with a cool AC system or heater; still, the above sign is a bit insulting. I was surprised to see this and multiple signs like this posted throughout the city of Houston. Houston Independent School District is a district in need of teachers. As one who has never taught in a public school, it is hard if not impossible for me to speak about their needs and their plight. Here is an example of my experience:

For those of you who have real jobs (non-academic jobs), the process is very interesting. From my own experiences, private schools like to test a candidate’s endurance. For example, on my last campus visit for a job, the agenda had me interviewing with 6 – 7 people between 8:00 – 3:30: Speaking to the dean of faculty, dean of students, department chair, headmaster, and having lunch with the department is common. We, as do many schools, ask candidates to observe a class then teach a class later that day. Of course, candidates know in advance what they are teaching; the course is usually in their area of expertise. I do not know about the experiences of others, but I always hated the last part of the interview — meeting the headmaster. This takes place during the last hour of the endurance test. By this point, you have no more questions to ask. You are thinking about your flight or drive home as well as the number of bad questions you asked.

As one who teaches history courses, I believe my colleagues in other history departments will attest to the extensive amount of reading and critical understanding of historiography needed to teach a good course. Yes folks, history is far more complex than simple facts. Being a history buff is not enough to do my job.

Some schools should rethink how they recruit teachers. For one, national seraches should always be conducted. Independent schools spend a significant amount of time and resources  recruiting the best and brightest teachers from across the country; I have participated in a number of national searches and find them to be worth the time and investment. Schools cannot afford to make bad hires; it works more against the cultural and academic identity of the school as well as creates some financial restraints, too. Plus, teachers such as myself become suspicious of schools with a high turnover rate. The National Association of Independent Schools(NAIS) is the premier association for academics looking to join the job market. Though I enjoy my  current post at HCHS, it is not unusual for me to receive 3 – 4  offers per year from other private schools. The notion of mass recruitment clearly takes on a different type of identity vis-à-vis  street postings. Furthermore, schools that consistently recruit from the same college campuses might want to rethink their approach. I have found that denominational religious schools tend to do this. The problem with this approach is one of academic weakness. Not so much the faculty member, but more the lack of intellectual diversity and vitality a school might offer. I am very critical of these schools. Many are satisfied with being 3rd tier.

Here is how NAIS describes the nature of independent schools:

A Snapshot of Independent School Teachers

Independent schools boast well-balanced faculties with an even distribution of experience – from recent college graduates to very experienced master-teachers. Of the teachers employed at NAIS member schools in 2007-08, 22 percent had five or fewer years of teaching experience; 21 percent had six to 10 years of experience; 16 percent had 11 to 15 years of experience; 12 percent had 16 to 20 years of experience; and 28 percent had 21 or more years of experience. This range of tenures on independent school faculties provides a healthy balance of fresh, new perspectives and classroom-tested experience.

In 2007-08, 66 percent of independent school teachers were women and 34 percent were men. In coeducational schools, women outnumbered men two to one, but in boys’ schools, that ratio was reversed, with men making up almost 62 percent of the faculty. In girls’ schools, 79 percent of the teachers were female. 

Independent schools actively seek candidates from diverse backgrounds. In 2007-08, 12 percent of all teachers in independent schools were people of color.

Teacher Salaries

Salaries for teachers at independent schools vary dramatically, depending on years of experience, school type (day/boarding, coed/single-sex, elementary/secondary), school size, and region. NAIS data compiled for the 2007-08 school year show that the median salary for all teachers at independent schools was $46,914. For beginning teachers, the median salary was $32,935, and the median for the highest paid teachers was $68,933. Factors that influence salaries for independent school teachers include: total years of teaching experience, the number of years employed at the current school, merit and performance, teaching load, and degrees and credits.

Why Teachers Choose Independent Schools

Researchers at the Klingenstein Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, identified four factors that draw teachers to independent schools: the autonomy and empowerment associated with independent schools, the unique atmosphere of an independent school, the quality of students, and the school facilities. Teachers value their curricular freedom; small class size; and close-knit relationships with students, faculty, and administrators.

Some independent schools have internal teacher associations but there is no independent school teachers’ union. In a few rare instances, however, independent school faculties belong to national public school teacher unions.

Independent schools range from very small campuses (some with fewer than 100 students) to fairly large schools (a few with more than 3,000 students), with an average enrollment in NAIS member schools of 479 students and a median enrollment of 378 in 2007-08.

NAIS statistics for the 2007-08 school year show that the median student/teacher ratio at member schools was 8.5:1. Independent school teachers are often responsible for counseling students, coaching athletics, and/or advising extracurricular groups, in addition to planning lessons, grading papers, and serving on school committees. In boarding schools, faculty members often live in dormitories as resident advisors.

Teacher Candidates

Independent schools develop their own criteria for hiring teachers. At the elementary level, independent schools seek teachers with solid grounding in early childhood education and those teaching middle school are expected to understand the developmental issues critical to this age group. At the secondary level, there is a strong preference for teachers with undergraduate and graduate degrees in the liberal arts and sciences, and for teachers who have demonstrated academic achievement by succeeding at colleges with competitive admissions standards. These teachers are recognized as specialists in their major fields. Independent schools also value the professional work experience offered by candidates turning to teaching as a second career.

State certification is not usually required of independent school teachers. Independent schools hold themselves publicly accountable through accreditation – a process of peer evaluation that certifies that schools meet certain standards of educational quality, fiscal operation, and staff competence as defined by an independent entity. All independent schools accepted for membership at NAIS must be accredited by an approved state or regional association.

Independent schools welcome applications from recent college graduates (at both the bachelor’s and graduate levels), experienced teachers (from independent schools, public schools, and colleges), and people changing careers. Typically, independent schools begin interviewing and hiring teachers earlier in the year than public schools, with most of the action occurring between February and May in preparation for the next school term.

22 thoughts on “I Do Not Care For This Sign

  1. This is going to show my ignorance of the field of secondary education, but is there a way to be nationally certified? I mean, if at least hypothetically speaking, education is supposed to be the same across America (and yes, I know it’s not), shouldn’t there be some way to be nationally certified? I just mostly want to know if there is a way.

  2. Yes you can be, Kristi. Keep in mind that education is not even the same across the city of Houston. I will see if I can find the link.

  3. Oh, I know it’s not the same. I just meant that it’s supposed to be at least the same quality nationwide, if not the same in practice. I also know that it’s not the same quality even citywide. I’m not sure if I made that clear. I might still not be making that clear.

  4. Kristi, try this: http://www.nbpts.org/

    Edward, you operate in a rarefied atmosphere. The school in which I spent most of my career had no AC. I stayed there because my classroom had windows that actually opened! (Granted, I live in the temperate Tualatin Valley.)

    None of us had offices. You, sir, are somewhat spoiled. 😀 (BTW, I love your library. What’s in it?)

    Our pay is similar.

    Maybe I should have been a private school teacher! But hey, I’m ideologically committed to public education, so never mind. Still, the insights into private education that you provide are hot stuff!

  5. Thank you for the insight, Edward.

    Independent schools vary, just like any other workplace environment. The workplace environment at a given independent school depends on that school’s resources. I have found that there are public schools which are truly state-of-the-art, and independent schools which have not hit the 21st century. I don’t have an office; never have. If I am fortunate, the AC gets installed in May.

    Yes, Edward. You are living a charmed existence, even in the world of independent schools.:)

    I agree that many independent schools need to re-examine their approach to recruitment, and therefore cast a wider proverbial net. That said, I don’t agree that a national search is always necessary, or even important. They are expensive and cumbersome, and do not necessarily garner the best candidates. An independent school with a national or even an international reach may need to recruit in this manner. Most independent schools, at best, recruit regionally. I do admonish the independent schools who are too lazy and too cheap to go beyond the local area.

    In some ways, when one has taught at one independent school, she’s taught at five. The culture, i.e. privileged White male culture, is a common denominator which ties the independent school world together. Many independent schools are trying to change this culture, and I give them mad props.

    As a career teacher with 15 years in independent schools, I consider myself something of an authority on them.

  6. I do think it is a shame that you have to be certified to teach. There are many professionals who would make great teachers. I would much rather be taught by a retired CEO on business than a “business” teacher. Of course, this would not neccesarily apply when there is not a teacher shortage.

  7. Believe it or not Roland, I’m inclined to agree with you. I’ve had math teachers for every math class I have ever taken and with the exception of one woman at CAC, none of them have been as good as my dad who is an engineer. I’ve also been told by people that I’ve tutored that I’m better at teaching them math than their math professors because I know what math is used for in real life and in other subjects outside of math courses. Of course, this really the only example I have because I’ve spent my entire life in math and science courses.

  8. Tutoring one person (or a small group of people) in math and teaching a whole classroom full of people math are two completely different tasks. Over my career of teaching math I have witnessed some former engineers transition into wonderful teachers and I have seen other engineers crash and burn because being good at math, being able to explain math to individuals, and being able to teach a classroom full of diverse learners with different levels of ability and interest are three different skill sets. Engineers typically have the math background. Some can work with students individually or in small groups but find that whole package of what comes with public school (which is where my experience prior to this year lies) teaching overwhelming. Other engineers were teachers all along and they just didn’t know it … and they do great.

    Unfortunately, I have also worked with math teachers who were missing one or more of the key elements that make an excellent math teacher. It is not easy to find people who are great at math, extremely organized, understand teenagers, effective communicators, and humble enough to be told on a regular basis that engineers, businessmen, the average person on Beltway 8, could be doing his or her job just as well or better …and still want to get up the next day and keep doing it.

    Krisit, I am fairly certain that there is a need for math teachers where you live. You seem fairly convinced that you are something pretty special when it comes to teaching math. Perhaps you should consider becoming a math teacher. The profession always has room another person who is strong enough and humble enough to put her life and energy where her mouth is.

    ~Staci Brown

  9. I’ve seen that sign too. The thing that ran through my mind was of course money. If the demand is that high, the price for teachers should be going up.
    Teaching isn’t easy. Just like anything that requires skill, some people can just make it LOOK easy. Tiger Woods makes golf LOOK easy.
    I’m sure thereis still a great demand for teachers and just paying more won’t necessarily ensure better teachers. Administrators need to ask themselves the hard questions about WHY they can’t keep teachers in the classroom. The answers might be hard to face and probably more than a little politically incorrect.

  10. Staci, that’s not what I said. I said that people that have had me tutor them have thought I was better than their teacher and that the reason they gave me was that I, based on my science background, have a better understanding of real life math. That says nothing about what I think about myself. Thank you though, for putting words in my mouth. My apologies if you read something else.

  11. Kristi,

    My intention was not to quote you, but rather to reflect back to you the overall message of your comment which was … based on your experience with your father, the engineer, and you, the person with the science background, he was a better math teacher than your math teachers because he was an engineer (and implicitly not a math teacher by training and by choice) and that you were, as evidenced by the comments of your friends, a better math teacher BECAUSE of your understanding of its applications to science. Your father may have been (and still be) a better math teacher than your former math teachers and you may be an excellent math teacher and better at explaining math concepts than many math teachers/profs etc. … but if you both are, it is not based on your engineering and science backgrounds alone … and if you wanted to transfer the skills from one-on-one to classroom instruction there are many things yet to learn …. like Eddie said … it takes more than being a history buff to do his job … and it takes more than being an engineer to do mine …

    I am honest when I say that if you are really good at explaining mathematical or scientific concepts you should consider teaching. The world is in great need for people who are … and who are committed to sticking it out … because, although many careers get slammed, it is rare that anyone gets slammed like teachers … especially public school teachers.

    For the record, I have rarely been told personally that somebody could do my job better. I was departmental teacher of the year for the last year in my last position. I have taught every type of math student from 18-year-old gang-member freshmen to sophomores taking AP Statistics and I have experienced great success because I am a passionate, committed educator by choice. I could have been an engineer or actuary or any other number of things. I had a Dow Chemical sponsored National Merit Scholarship that came with summer internships … I took advantage of that to an extent … had I chosen a career in engineering or chemistry my life would have been fairly easy … but I was called by God to teach … and I obeyed. I looked at industry and tried it out … I actually found a niche in programming and training (go figure … I am above all things a teacher) and was told by my evaluators that I was really good at it. Back at school, however, I started tutoring, and noticed how many people were considering changing majors because they were afraid that they couldn’t pass their math class … and it was in helping them make it through what they previously thought was an impossible class that I found my calling … to help empower young people so that each one can pursue his/her calliing without letting some math requirement get in his/her way (in some cases) … and to love math and pursue it in whatever way possible … as was evidenced when one year 6 out of the top 10 seniors of Brazoswood HS planned to major in math (thanks also to Ms. Deborah Sitka … the AMAZING AP Calc teacher) and the other 4 in engineering and science … they have all graduated from college now … and most stayed in math/science/computer science if not in math. So … teaching does rock … it can just be really tough.

    So, yes, I do get upset when it seems that, once again, somebody puts forth anectodotal evidence that he/she or somebody else is a better teacher because he/she did not choose to be one initially but chose to go into industry first.

    Anyway, Kristi, I did go look at your blog and saw that you recently decided that you have decided to become a science teacher. I really do think that is great. I AM sorry that my orignial comment to you was so harsh. Your overall message did strike a very raw nerve but I should have just explained to you how it comes across to me without saying anything harsh … and, for that, I apologize. As you can tell, I am passionate about teaching and sometimes I tend to let that passion run too free. I am sorry and i do wish you the best as you pursue your certification and your teaching career. Public school teaching is very challenging and very rewarding and always interesting!


  12. I must agree with Staci here. She clearly has had far more experiences than I in the realm of education. Her background is far more diverse as well.

    Staci, I really like this point here: “The world is in great need for people who are … and who are committed to sticking it out … because, although many careers get slammed, it is rare that anyone gets slammed like teachers … especially public school teachers.”

    I am not sure why that is the case; I suspect it has to do with material goods and our need to base things according to wealth.

  13. I just think it is sad that a school cannot hire a good person simply because of a license. As Staci said, I have seen horrible teachers who have years of expereince, education and a couple of state licenses. I have seen great teachers in the business world with no educational education and no license.

    There are many businesses out there who hired awesome people who have been very successful…and they don’t have a college degree. Heck, I am successful in business and have a teaching degree so go figure. 🙂

  14. Roland,

    The nice thing about a number of really good private schools is that they do not require a license to teach. When you do things like that, it makes it difficult for schools to conduct national searches. I have often heard that the business world has a number of good communicators. Communication of content is what it is all about.

  15. Hey, Carson,
    I always enjoy the occasions when folks state their mind that “those can’t do, teach.” Ha, ha, ha, it is to laugh I say in my most outrageous French accent (and is there really any other French accent other than outrageous?). When I work as a paraprofessionals in the local high school I wonder how many insurance agents, lawyers, bankers and other such responsible, professional folk could make it until lunch. It’s thankless, teaching to the test makes it a dull swim some days and there is always the thought nagging them that the kids are saying rude things behind the teachers’ backs–or on their MySpace pages, at any rate. Now put away your phones, kids, no texting during class.

  16. Just think…if we had competition in schools how much our education would increase, how many good people we could hire. Alas, the unions have such a strangle hold that this will never happen.

    I remember when I was a teacher and having to pretty much lie about my political allignment..that is, if I wanted to keep my job.

  17. Ed al, [sic], I do not dislike the sign, because it might motivate a potential Mentor to take a risk and consider this crazy vocation. On the other hand, we know how the sieve works… big opening, narrows later…over time most don’t make it through. My issue (on a bad day) regards the perception by those who have never tried to manage 100 preadolescents while accomplishing a measurable task… that somehow what we do is easy.
    Actually… it is easy if you are a really bad teacher… you just show up, photocopy some pre-scripted worksheet (Ferris Bueller) and read your emails as you awaited union-guarded pension.
    For the rest of slobs that try to make a difference, try to stay sharp and relevant, learn our student’s names, and teach them life-skills… it’s not easy, but there’s nothing we’d rather do with the limited hours we have left of our short lives.

  18. I believe the reason for the shortage of teachers in our school districts is because, of the social idea that being a teacher is not a n extravagant job, or in other words a third degree job compared to engineers, lawyers, accountants, etc. But what i believe, is that being a teacher is one of the best jobs out there, you get to teach intelligent minds while helping them build their whole life.

    Teachers are truly life changers
    examples of teachers
    and so on

  19. I agree with sam that in this day in age there has been a kind of “American Dream” that to be succesful you have to make a lot of money. Yes that is a succes but in when it is all said in done the people who made the most difference are the teachers or the preachers or youth pastors, maybe not the job that rolls in the money but the ideas the teach are the life changing ones. In short terms succes can be measured in other than how much money someone dies with.

  20. I don’t think that its measured by how much money someone dies with. It seems more like if someone dies with billions of dollars, but they didn’t show it by having extravagant personal possessions, then other people don’t really see them as being successful. I do agree that being teachers, preachers, or youth pastors are the people that make the most difference even though some people overlook those jobs. I agree with Sam, they really are life changers. There wouldn’t be many of these big businesses, if not for teachers because the teachers were the ones who taught those people.

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