By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
You can’t hire educators for the 21st century using 50-year-old hiring policies, Renee Gordon told the Rotary Club in her presentation on education reform that left everyone with a lot to think about.
Gordon, whose background is that of a research scientist in chemistry and polysynthetics, worked as a recruiter and corporate “head-hunter” for over 20 years. She is now the chief talent scout for E Squared, a corporation focused on recruiting effective educators and building winning teaching teams at the building level.
As a K-12 Human Capital Management expert, Gordon says that one of the most important things when recruiting/hiring educators is “looking beyond the resume and the college transcript.”
Additionally, about 99 percent of schools use what she described as a passive recruiting method; teaching positions are advertised, and the school’s choices are limited to whoever responds to the ad and submits a resume. If schools want good teachers, they will first have to go find them, says Gordon, and then, they cannot limit the interview to what is on a piece of paper.
“One of the first questions I ask is, ‘when did you realize you had to teach?’” she said. Teaching, she believes, is not a job, not a profession, but a calling. Educators are called to teach, just as ministers are called to preach. This is how schools get the right people, she says, the ones with the necessary passion for their work.
Gordon also feels that she has a calling for her own work with E Squared. “God has called me to do this.”
A second question she looks at is the teacher candidate’s level of involvement with children. A third is how did the candidate pay for college. A person who has accrued several hundred thousand dollars in debt from high-interest student loans is not a good bet; the person will very likely leave for more money elsewhere, starting the recruiting/hiring process all over again.
The second part of recruiting good people is retaining good people, so paying teachers what they are worth is important.
As a mother of four sons, one of whom is a high-functioning autistic, Gordon has also had plenty of experience as a parent with the school system, not all of it positive. “If we say that education begins at home, then we have to change the way parents are treated,” she said, “and currently, parents are mostly discouraged from being involved in their children’s schooling.”
If schools are to succeed, parents cannot be pushed aside and regarded as annoyances. One of the signs of a successful school system is a successful and robust Parent-Teacher Organization, where educators are accessible partners to parents, and parents are highly involved in their children’s education. Another sign is school board meetings held at convenient times that allow parents and citizens to attend, “not at ten o’clock in the morning.”
In building her case for a newer approach to educator recruitment and the need for education reform, she added that 7000 students a day – 1.5 million a year – drop out of school. In terms of costs to the economy, it means that America is losing the race. Currently, about 75 percent of America’s 18 to 23-year-olds are ineligible for military service because they cannot pass the entrance exams, they have no high school diploma, they cannot pass the physicals, or they have had run-ins with the law.
Every dropout costs the community roughly $260,000 during his lifetime, either through public assistance costs or incarceration costs.
Failing schools also cost communities because the quality of the school system is the first thing corporations will look at before deciding whether or not to locate offices there.
“Education affects all of us whether you have a child or not,” she said.
Another very real concern on the horizon is what she referred to as the “retirement tsunami.” 47 percent, or nearly half of all teachers and principals currently working in American classrooms are very close to retirement. By 2014, the state of Tennessee alone will face a shortage of 31,000 teachers.
She then took several questions from the Rotary members about how to best improve the local school system through more involvement, through competition and through more effective hiring processes that get the most effective people into the classroom; the local economy could end up depending on it in the future.