Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Recruiting Without Paying

A returning correspondent writes:

I'm just starting to think of the hiring season and,
while I'm at a urban high school and that's different
than a CC or 4-year SLAC, it seems that you and I face
similar questions about hiring...

I'm the math department chair. I have a relatively
small staff, but experience pretty high turn-over.

The basic question: what do you do to attract more
mid-career folks?

We have a salary schedule that puts us slightly below
average for the area.

**Money is the same huge constraint that you face (I

Are signing bonuses reasonable? They're a one-time
financial hit. What other low-cost things should we
think about?

We're a relatively new school, so there aren't many
'established' practices that we're breaking.

High school hiring is a very different animal from college hiring, since I've never heard of an adjunct high school teacher. And the folks who want to be 'teachers' often have different expectations of their employers than do the folks who want to be 'professors.' So I'll just admit upfront that some of the issues you're facing are probably pretty different from ours.

That said, there's certainly a commonality in the lack of money. In areas of relatively high employer demand, it can be a challenge to keep the staffing levels up. This is especially true in that the faculty here (and in many other places) is unionized, and the union contract sets some fairly strict guidelines for starting salaries. One-size-fits-all salary matrices protect the lowest-demand fields from the salaries that market forces would otherwise set. But they do it at the cost of underpaying the folk who have other options. When those folk consistently decamp for greener pastures, or turn down offers, it's frustrating.

(Concretely: a couple of years ago I had a revealing conversation with the dean who oversees nursing. We were talking about hiring procedures. My concerns were about getting through the huge pile of applications in a fair and aboveboard way. Her concerns were about getting any applications at all.)

I'll also admit a certain wariness. I don't want someone who's "falling back on" teaching, or who sees teaching as a low-stress job to coast until retirement. (I've dealt with some of those, and they aren't worth the hassle.) I want someone who wants to be here. If it requires heroic effort on your part to keep someone satisfied, don't.

Still, there are times when it makes sense to stress the non-pecuniary rewards of academia. (If those didn't exist, given the ratio of pay to training, the field would empty post-haste.) I wouldn't emphasize the summers off, since that tends to attract the folks you want the least. Instead, I'd point to the incredible autonomy that characterizes most of the job. This is especially true in a college setting, since standardized testing is still mostly considered a four-letter word here. The folks to whom that would appeal are likely to be the self-starters, which are precisely the ones you'd most want to hire. (Alternately, that could appeal to the slackers as well, which is why I'd phrase it as 'autonomy' rather than time off. You can work any fifty hours a week you want.)

Part of what I loved about teaching, back in my teaching days, was that I rarely felt like I had a boss. Yes, my class schedule was given to me, and once in a while I had to attend some silly event or endure an idiotic workshop. But I could go months between those things, during which time just about every non-teaching minute of the day was my own. Much of it still involved work, but it was work I could schedule according to my own needs and preferences. If I wanted to do my errands during the week and my grading on Sunday, I could. PU had an annoying dress code, but most colleges don't. So at many colleges, most of the day-to-day stuff consists of teaching -- which I assume you like, or you wouldn't do it -- and unstructured time. How many jobs are like that?

Signing bonuses can work, but they can annoy the incumbent employees unproductively, and the bloom wears off the rose pretty quick. I'd rather pump some funding into tuition reimbursement for pursuing advanced degrees, or travel funding for conferences -- something that, when used, makes them better faculty. Show that you care not only about landing them, but about developing them once they're there. That's the kind of perk that will appeal to those with a work ethic and a love of what they're doing, but leave the 'retire on the job' types cold. Which is exactly what you want.

In other circumstances, some places do spousal hiring as a way to get and keep people they otherwise couldn't. Some people are willing to trade, say, a slightly underwhelming salary for the chance to actually live with their spouse/life partner. But again, that's likelier to work in lower-demand fields, where people have fewer appealing options.

This certainly isn't an exhaustive list. I'll turn to my wise and worldly readers. Have you found an effective way to recruit without paying?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

From the email-writer, there is some information missing for me between the high turnover and wanting to attract mid-career professionals. The information missing in the middle is--is one of the issues the high burn out rate of new teachers? Are people leaving your school simply because of the pay scale, or could programs be put in place to support teachers no matter what their experience level? There is a lot of research on new teacher attrition, and I would suggest that going to the research on this issue might help identify what programs have been most effective to help new teachers be successful and not burn out.

Could other incentives be offered, such as professional development, tuition reimbursement for Master's study (or is a Master's degree already required?)
Never heard of an adjunct high school teacher? They're called Subs. Kids love 'em.
Let me start with a disclaimer; the picture I'm about to paint isn't universal. But it is common enough that it might have some bearing on the question. Oh, also, "Urban" != "African-American"

High school teachers don't have the autonomy that college professors have in many cases; there's a state-mandated curriculum, and you don't have a lot of choice about what books you want to use, your evaluation schemes or anything, really. (A friend who taught elementary school in California was dinged if her kids caught on faster than the norm. Seriously. That counted against her.)

Urban high schools can also feel more like teaching in a prison than in a school. The dropout rate is sky-high (>60% in some districts) and trying to actually get some teaching done with the absenteeism and disruptions that are common is a frustrating issue.

Add to all that lousy money, and you can see why people burn out fast.
State teacher certification requirements can be a huge barrier to recruiting second career people. Although high school teaching has been very attractive to me compared to community college because of better pay and daytime hours, even with a PhD and 10+ years of teaching experience, I would still have to take about a year's worth of undergraduate courses at my own expense and pass the certification exam before I could even apply for a secondary school job. Since school districts in our area have a record of hiring new BAs in preference to candidates with advanced degrees or experience, this has never seemed worthwhile. In the writer's situation, easing certification barriers, or at least assuring interested potential candidates that they would have a a fair chance of being hired, might be a useful strategy for recruiting second career teachers.
No one said much about putting in additional programs or extracurricular structures that would make the dept. more attractive and pleasant to work in.

I know my high school, in the Bay Area, had a hell of a time keeping our science and math teachers because the cost of living was high and sometimes there were high-paying tech jobs for the picking.

Our school tried to deal with this by having a partnership with Sun Micro and having their workers volunteer with tutoring and special projects after school ---- they also had extra assistant principals who really laid down the discipline, so any crap and you got bounced out of the room for the rest of the period. Students who were having a tough time or were bored, either one, got sent to the math tutor lab. This let teachers focus on the teaching and not on disciplining students or helping one yutz get it while the rest of the class just sat there. (well, most of the time.)

Then we also had "math clubs" "coding labs" and other interesting training stuff the teachers ran after school (not being a math person, I have no details for you).

Bottom line: try making the work as interesting and as little about enforcement as possible and people will want to stay there.
What Anonymous 10:39 AM said is simply not true in my state and others for fields such as mathematics where fully certified teachers are in low supply. (HS math ed requires many of the same basic math and science classes as engineering, for example, without anywhere near the starting salary when you graduate.)

There are mentor programs to transition a person into teaching without any ed classes, and part-time programs (at our CC, for example) to pick up the ed classes on the side and in the summer. And that is for someone without any teaching experience. [I'd guess that a HS would look at experience teaching "prep" classes as relevant but think less of college experience given the different between a 9th grader and a 24 year old Iraq vet, but that is just a guess.]

You do, however, have to really want to teach in the schools that experienced teachers can opt out of, or you might not last long.
I'm a high school teacher in an Ohio public school district. While this job has many annoying elements (highly incompetent building principals come to mind), I've never had any gripes about my salary. I'm making $69,000 per annum. I hold a Master's Degree and am 45 years old. Quite frankly, I'm making more than some of my friends with degrees in Business, Computer Science, etc. I also get significantly more vacation time (mid June-mid August) and do not pay a dime for my benefits package.
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