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.
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.
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.