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Urban District Recruiting Network

In Ohio, a minority recruitment consortium pursues strong minority candidates

June, 2016 Andrea Celico

The conversation continues about the lack of minority teachers instructing students of color in our nation’s schools. Many questions have been raised as to the reasons why there are so few teachers who mirror the faces of those taught. The dearth of diversity in the teaching profession could indicate that fewer minorities are interested in teaching or the fact that there are many more job choices, but this is just speculation. Either way, something must be done to recruit minorities into the teaching profession or to recruit individuals who are equipped and passionate about teaching in urban or majority-minority school districts.

A report released by the Center for American Progress (2011) indicated minority students made up more than 40 percent of the national public school population, while only 17 percent of the nation’s teachers are teachers of color. It is clear that the mismatch between teacher and student is startling. The same report reveals the disparity is also on the rise. This heightens the sense of urgency for districts to increase their recruitment efforts and to ensure that they are providing a welcoming environment for minority teachers. Retaining teachers is equally as important as recruiting them.

Plans into action

With that said, the dismal reality is that it is difficult to recruit and retain minority candidates in many urban school districts. One suggestion for doing so is for school districts to build a strong network of colleagues that actively pursues strong minority candidates. In the northeast section of Ohio, a minority recruitment consortium, Cleveland Area Minority Educators Recruitment Association (CAMERA), does just that.

The association is comprised of human resource administrators and other central office or building-level administrators who are passionate about recruiting and retaining outstanding minority candidates. This group of professionals meets quarterly to plan events and create strategies to assist in their recruitment efforts. Annually, the association hosts a reception for minority candidates. During this time, the 20 member districts provide light refreshments, a short presentation, and a time in which each candidate could visit individual districts for informal interviews, networking, or to simply learn more about the individual districts.

In addition, the association financially supports districts who offer Future Educators of America clubs for students. They also arrange for students to visit one of the association’s school districts to discuss the strategies each district is using to grow one’s program and to showcase the work the students are doing to prepare themselves to become educators. As a result of its work, another great product results in up to 10 aspiring minority teachers obtaining $1,000 scholarships to help offset tuition costs. Eligible applicants include student teachers, high school seniors, and paraprofessionals who are interested in pursuing a career in education. The scholarships are funded by the membership fee each district must pay to join the association.

While establishing a network or association is a great way to broaden a district's chances of recruiting minority teachers, it can’t be the sole instrument for recruitment. Being strategic about the recruitment process and being well-prepared to sell the district and community to prospective candidates are also keys to enticing potential minority candidates. Though many districts work hard to recruit minority teachers; their efforts often fall short. When this happens, recruitment of non-minority teachers who are prepared and qualified to teach minority students must be a priority.

Finding the best fit

The most important role of human resource professionals is to find highly qualified teachers who are equipped to advance all students, but who are especially equipped to advance minority students. With that said, those administrators who are in majority-minority school districts must be attentive, sensitive, and committed to putting the right people in front of their students. There are many steps human resource professionals can take to ensure that they are finding the best candidates.

To reiterate, if all recruitment efforts have been exhausted and minority candidates are not an option for districts, then the enlistment of culturally competent teachers should become the focus of the administration. Criteria for newly hired urban teachers should include their ability to connect to students of color and adopt the schooling experience and energy which may not align with the traditional way of educating students. Teachers who can create cultural awareness, in spite of the color of one’s skin, and who can use culturally congruent and responsive classroom practices need to be recruited. Teachers must make school a welcoming place for our youth.

There are many ways to identify teachers who can fulfill the needs of students and who can be identified as being the “right fit” for minority students. A number of hiring practices are exhibited across districts, states, and the country. While there is no perfect answer to finding the right candidate, districts can create or add to their candidate pools through a number of means including:

  • Attending recruitment fairs;
  • Creating partnerships with universities;
  • Fostering a strong Future Educators of America (FEA) cadre; and
  • Creating a strong base of internal candidates as a result of “grow your own” mentoring programs of student teachers, educational assistants or others who been identified as having potential as classroom teachers.

Selection process

Once a strong group of applicants has been identified, the process for selecting candidates is set to begin. The screening process is an important step in seeking highly qualified teachers. Some districts will look for applicants with experience in urban settings or use research-based tools to help identify potential teachers who would be successful in an urban setting.

There are a number of research-based screening tools and structured interviews that are proven to be successful. In the current climate, no educator would entertain using materials and/or resources that are not research-based. So why not exercise the same principle when hiring the best teachers for students by using a research-based method for screening and interviewing candidates?

In addition to the initial screening, the interview is one of the most important parts of the hiring process. Districts should ask questions that help identify candidates who: (a) can understand the students’ experiences and realities; (b) can act as a positive role model for students and promote a positive school community; and (c) will challenge and set high expectations for ALL students.

Rather than the routine questions that one might expect and prepare for in an interview, consider asking questions that get to the candidate’s core beliefs. What is important to the candidate as it relates to teaching and learning? What does the candidate identify as reasons for students being at-risk? How hard will the teacher fight for his or her students? Is he or she willing to admit to making a mistake in the classroom?

After the interview, the next step of some districts is to ask the candidate to teach a lesson to a small group of students. If this can be done easily, then I believe it is a strategy that can only strengthen the selection process. Depending on the time of the year, prospective candidates could be asked to teach a lesson for a class that is still in session or conduct a lesson during summer school.

Finally, references should be contacted. Oftentimes districts will use the names provided by the applicant. It is my belief that contacting the references listed by the applicant will only confirm what the candidate shared about himself or herself. Who would provide a reference that would say otherwise? As a result, I have found two things to be helpful. If it is comfortable and found to be an acceptable practice in your area, call people who are not listed on the candidate’s application. Secondly, create a strong network of support you can count on to provide you with honest accounts of applicants.

The right people for the job

We must do our best to hire candidates who are dedicated to reaching all students, but particularly students of color. Educators are often entrenched in instructional practices that limit our students. There are times when students are subjected to inhospitable environments and where curriculum and instructional practices fail to engage students of color. We must keep the importance of hiring the right people for the job in the forefront of our minds. Our society demands it, our community and parents want it, and most importantly, our students deserve it. If we want to improve public schools, we must address the educational issues in concert with the environmental and societal issues we face, never underestimating the importance of the quality of teachers.

Andrea Celico

Andrea Celico (acelico@bedford.k12.oh.us) served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and assistant superintendent in two inner-ring suburbs of Cleveland for the past 19 years. She was appointed as the superintendent of Bedford City Schools in August 2015. She received her doctorate of philosophy from Cleveland State University in 2008.

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