Working in schools destroyed first by poverty and then Katrina, teachers struggle with increasing class sizes, small budgets, high dropout rates and state control. Neighborhoods and housing markets are just beginning to rebuild, posing additional challenges for districts seeking qualified candidates for their classrooms.
That’s why I was surprised by the recruitment strategies described in a recent article found in Raleigh’s News and Observer. It seems that appealing to the altruism of educators tops the list. "There’s been an incredible outpouring of sympathy toward New Orleans. We feel we’re trying to say, ‘Here’s a clear path to go down if you want to act on that emotion’," writes Matthew Candler of a nonprofit recruitment agency called New Schools for New Orleans.
The article goes on to describe a recruiting campaign reaching out to teachers online: "In hopes of finding at least 150 new teachers for the state-run district in the 2007-08 school year, when more schools are expected to open, education officials are trying to recruit candidates at job fairs, on the Web or through newspaper ads that show the raised hands of students and read plaintively, "We need you … so do they."
While dozens of noble educators will feel the call to help to rebuild the New Orleans public school system and join those already working to reach the children who need them the most, I worry about the long-term viability of policies that rely simply on the kindheartedness of teachers to staff classrooms in high needs neighborhoods. In reality, the challenge of staffing schools of great need is a complex issue that has no simple answers.
My first thought is that we should focus on improving the working conditions in struggling schools, making them places where accomplished teachers want to work. Like any professional, accomplished teachers seek settings where they can be successful. They quickly recognize situations that will support their growth and continued development—and those where challenges are overwhelming and burnout is likely. It’s not a matter of "avoiding" tough situations. It is a practicality driven by experience.
Instead of designing emotionally loaded advertising campaigns, let’s restructure high needs schools in meaningful ways. What would it take to recruit you to one of the openings available in New Orleans?
List your top three requirements in my comments section, and we’ll compile a collection of ideas that can drive long term conversations about high needs buildings.