What You Can Learn from Successful Teacher Recruiting

It’s a given that thinking outside the box is essential in recruiting for hard-to-fill jobs. Few employers know that better than the nation’s K-12 school systems. Although many of them borrow strategies from the corporate world, the best of the best in education HR can teach the private sector a thing or two.

Promoting internal staff, retaining near-retirees, and planting seeds of interest as early as high school are among schools’ successful teacher-recruiting strategies. The use of financial incentives such as signing bonuses has dwindled as budgets have been tightened by the recession.

Be aggressive
The key to successful recruiting and retention — in education or any other field — is to develop a clear, comprehensive strategy that is proactive rather than reactive, says David Haselkorn, president of Recruiting New Teachers, Inc., a nonprofit in Belmont, Massachusetts.

Public or private, employees commit to jobs for the same reasons: good pay and benefits, a quality work environment, and career opportunities, adds Tom Casey, a Boston-based principal of Buck Consultants.

School systems have relied on a combination of short- and long-term strategies to hire the nation’s 3.2 million public- and private-school teachers. At least 2.2 million more teachers will be needed during the next decade to keep pace with rising student enrollment and an expected wave of retiring baby boomers, say experts in teacher recruiting.

Exacerbating the challenge are school systems’ politicized budgets and slow-moving bureaucracies, which do not favor innovative hiring programs with all the necessary resources. Yet schools can’t leave children without teachers, so they press on. 

The Clark County School District in Las Vegas hired nearly 2,000, or about 14 percent, of its 14,000 teachers this academic year. “Grow your own” initiatives and Internet-based technology did the trick, says George Anne Rice, an associate superintendent in charge of HR for the nation’s fastest-growing school district.

The 246,000-student school system can’t afford to raise teachers’ pay beyond the inflation rate, is barred from hiring emergency, non-credentialed teachers, and draws only 30 percent of its teaching staff from inside Nevada. Still, it manages to fill its ranks. 

“We will match what we’re doing against any business,” Rice says. “Most of what we’re doing is transferable” to the private sector, she adds.

To fill positions in special education, Clark asks “paraprofessionals” — school employees such as long-term substitutes and teacher’s aides — to enroll in college full-time for one year to gain the needed training and certification to become teachers. Clark pays their regular salary and benefits for one year as if they were working. So far, the district has hired five teachers this way.

Underlying this and other hiring strategies is a customized computer system for all internal HR functions. A few clicks of a mouse reveal all manner of data, including how many science teachers are needed next year and a list of pre-approved teaching candidates for principals of at-risk schools to review.

In addition, the entire application process is online — a critical tool for a school system that recruits from about 30 states every year — and 90 percent of all applications are received via the Web, says Rice. She even knows who started to fill out an application and stopped, so she can e-mail potential candidates to offer help.

School systems, corporate recruiters, and nonprofits that assist with teacher recruiting use several strategies to keep the ranks of teachers and other hard-to-fill jobs full. Here are their winners.

Grow your own. Look inside the organization for employees who could change jobs with some training. Sometimes all you have to do is ask. Last fall Clark County recruited 25 bilingual teachers by helping part-time substitute teachers become certified, Rice says.

“It’s cheaper than getting people off the street,” Haselkorn says of internal hiring. “It’s often more cost-effective in the long run.”

Current employees are familiar with the employer and its culture, and they tend to be loyal, recruiters say. Case in point: Jannis Glover, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Mercer Middle School in Savannah, Georgia.

Glover worked for 11 years as a teacher’s aide before going back to college to earn an education degree. The Pathways to Teaching program, which recruits minority teachers, helped pay for tuition and books; the school system and college provided professional support such as mentoring and feedback on classwork. She continued to work full-time as an aide.

Glover says she got a teaching job “right away” after becoming state-certified. “All of us [in the program] were practically hired before we were finished,” she adds.

Be good to retirees. Some states allow re-employed teachers to draw their pensions and salaries at the same time. However, “money is often mistakenly used as an incentive,” says Kevin Wheeler, president of Global Learning Resources, Inc., a recruiting consulting firm in Fremont, California.

What really motivates older workers, he says, is the continued challenge of work — on their own terms. “Two elements have to be there. One is flexibility in terms of the workplace. That means telecommuting and the ability to work in a remote way. The other is giving control over time. It’s the work style of a consultant,” he explains.

The first step is to stay in touch with “alumni” through newsletters, seminars, and other means, a strategy underutilized by the corporate world, says Brent Longnecker, a Houston-based executive vice president of Resources Connection, Inc., a professional-services firm.

Seek outside career-changers. When HR can’t find experienced workers or even recent college graduates with pertinent degrees, it’s time to recruit from outside the field. Turn an artist into a Webmaster. Or a soldier into a teacher.

Troops-to-Teachers is one of many “alternative certification” programs that schools use to find qualified individuals for math, science, and other hard-to-fill teaching jobs. The eight-year-old federal program pays retired military personnel up to $5,000 toward certification as a public-school teacher and a $10,000 bonus to those who accept jobs in high-needs schools.

The program has produced more than 4,200 teachers, most of whom began their new jobs in their 40s, after 20 years of military service, says Troops-to-Teachers chief John Gantz in Pensacola, Florida. It expects to place 1,500 to 2,000 more in 2002-03.

“The military provides a wealth of people with a wide range of experience and job skills,” he notes. About 240,000 soldiers retire each year, adds Ollie Smith, who heads the U.S. Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program. For more information on hiring from the military, see http://www.dodtransportal.org and http://dod.jobsearch.org.

The career-changer strategy works for employers that devote the time and resources to properly train outside hires, but too often HR uses this approach reactively, when labor is tight, rather than as a planned, ongoing tactic, Wheeler says.

Talk money. Higher salaries and better benefits won’t compensate for poor working conditions in the long run, recruiting experts say, but they do help in the short run to remain competitive.

Many school systems offer signing bonuses, housing subsidies, and college-loan forgiveness to lure teachers, especially to areas with a high cost of living. The extra cash helps in a profession whose salary averaged $41,820 in 1999-2000, according to the American Federation of Teachers in Washington, D.C.

For example, California offers state income tax credits of $250 to $1,500 to certified teachers with at least four years’ experience. In Mississippi, state-licensed teachers who relocate to work in a high-need school are eligible for up to $1,000 in moving expenses.

Plant the seed young. High school academies try to pique students’ interest — and fill the job pipeline — by exposing teenagers to the world of work through specialized classes at school and after-school or summer internships in the field. Some programs even incorporate college tuition assistance.

These long-range programs orient employers to the idea of recruiting workers at every stage of life, Wheeler says. Even kindergartners can play games to become familiar with different kinds of jobs.

The 20-year-old Walton-Lehman Pre-Teaching Academy in New York partners Walton High School and nearby Lehman College to serve 50 to 75 high-school juniors and seniors each year. Students, many of them from low-income families, complete two-year internships and take college-level classes related to teaching. Of 800 program graduates, 150 have become teachers.

Workforce Online, May 2002Register Now!

Copyright Marc Tyler Nobleman