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  • Pam Clarke

The one practice you may be overlooking when it comes to hiring.

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

Now that I’m officially an “older head,” I can open with this phrase;

In the old days, hiring was pretty straightforward; there were accepted practices, and Heads of School tried hard to keep within the guidelines; infractions were rare and sometimes warranted:

(1) Don’t hire a teacher who has a signed contract in force.

(2) When a teacher from a rival school applies to your school for a job, make sure they have informed their current Head that they’re “looking.”

(3) If you know the other Head, call for a phone/personal reference -- and to be sure they know about the application.

ALL those ‘rules’ seem to have gone the way of certain niceties (like RSVPing to an invitation) and with some other practices have gone out with the proverbial bathwater. It is my recent experience that more and more teachers and mid-level administrators are getting jobs at another independent school without a reference from their current school Head of School. More than a few times in recent years, I have been surprised to have a teacher walk in, rip up their current contract for next year or even this current year, and tell me they are going to ABC Academy next fall or even next week..

While it is certainly not fun for me to have to find a replacement and to explain to parents that so-and-so changed her mind about returning to us; it’s my feeling that the receiving school has incurred some peril for itself.

Case #1: Some years ago, a rival independent school “stole” my development director without a call to me – and therefore without a reference. Our annual fund was doing very well, but that wasn’t the full picture. What the other school did not know was that I was preparing to send this administrator to rehab for excessive drinking of alcohol.

Case #2: A teacher comes to me in October and informs me that she will work at another school right after the Thanksgiving break. I am beyond surprised, but she is pleased that I have lots of time to find a replacement. I do have time, and I found one (unlike her predecessor) that could get to work on time, submit lesson plans close to the deadline and write end of term reports that were grammatically correct. Too bad her new Head didn’t call me for a recommendation!

This case does raise an interesting ethical question: What does one say when another head calls for a reference on someone I am dearly hoping will leave of their own accord? I don’t have a real case to fire the person, but there is sooo much to correct before they become a valuable faculty member…

In the case of the alcoholic, I would have said that the application should wait until the intervention is accomplished, and we know that our Fundraiser is sober. I’d say a year at least. Health is too important. (The pirated fundraiser was fired the following February from his new school).

In the case of the underperforming teacher, I try to start with the positive things about their work – often the sloppiest teacher is actually brilliant with the children. Then I tell the truth as areas that need improvement – what we are working on. And sometimes a fresh start in another school is a good opportunity for the teacher to make easy improvements.

At any rate, the current practice of teachers’ hiding their applications from their Heads and Heads NOT calling for references is a double negative whammy – the teacher gets another chance to disappoint, and the Head likely has to hire again. I try to convince my faculty that I’m the BEST chance they have to find another job – that my reference will make it much more likely to happen. While we’re not likely to change a whole faculty's behavior, we can be sure that we have done our due diligence before hiring a new faculty member.

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