“The guy’s good at his job, but when it comes to being a human, he’s a total incompetent.” – Tana French, The Trespasser
Most of the resumes we are getting from teaching candidates focus on how they can do things like
“Facilitate a six-step writing process with students,”
or how they have
“Superior editing and proofreading capabilities …”
but say nothing of their humanity, self, or values.
To back up, recently we advertised an opening for a faculty high school English teaching position. Working at Grauer is a pretty good gig: high morale, world travel, amazing class size, rated a nationwide top-10 place to work, gorgeous campus of green, etc. We knew we’d get a lot of resumes.
One candidate, with double masters degrees and a near PhD listed publishing something called, “A Deconstructive Pedagogy,” and another was the president of his college Russian club, but neither of them mention activities they share with teens.
No doubt, we’ve got talented people inquiring. But these great resumes reveal little about the warm people who created them, or how they relate to teens.
We got a resume from someone whose class “experienced a 26 point increase in proficiency scores.” We even got someone who claimed to have “Exceptional phone sales and follow up skills.” But only one person in over a week mentioned ever having run student trips. Getting warm! But what about:
What passions have you shared with teens?
Why are you a role model for the rising generation?
How are you a kid magnet?
Do you love cooking French cuisine? Ever taken a kid fishing?
Are you an herb gardener or carpenter?
Can you play anything with strings, and sing along with your class?
Did you write press releases to earn your way through college, so you can really promote students?
Students need as much attention out of the classroom as they do in it. Sometimes they need more, because our over-programmed, over-parented, over-coached kids of today don’t always know what to do with open time and open space. Sure, teens could use decent proficiency test scores, but it’s great to have great mentors around when they feel lost or alone—or incredibly inspired—as so many will feel.
Schools need all kinds of help. Great schools are filled with people whose world view of a “school” includes in and out of class, on and off campus …and who embrace their role in the “whole” development of the student.
Here’s the thing that must have been left out of “Resumes 101,” by all appearances: We don’t want to hire a teacher. We want to hire a “whole person” who has been developing great teaching skills. And yet, we rarely receive resumes from such apparent beings. I’m going to come clean: after hiring teachers for three decades, I can say that waiting tables is at least as good an indicator of how someone will perform as a student mentor as raising proficiency scores. How do you explain that?
By “ whole person,” I mean someone who has an interesting life and can share that life on and off campus: passions like human causes or social justice, cultural leadership, the great outdoors, and intercultural immersion. Applicants: I want to know why kids follow you, because if you have no followers you’re not a leader. I’m searching for the part of your resume that really shows how you’ve inspired kids.
You there! I see you were a volunteer tutor in Guatemala, but why will our students here in Encinitas want to hang out with you? And you! I appreciate that you “Implemented backward design when creating differentiated units for various grades,” but how will students learn to respect the balance of nature when they are with you? (Watch Viggo Mortensens’s character in Captain Fantastic if you want a lift!)
Did you know the average teacher is an introvert? Sound impossible, since they stand and deliver before so many people? It’s true. The best teachers teach English, or PE, or Spanish language not just for the intrinsic beauty of those subject areas, but because those subjects give them the wings they need, the excuse they need, to engage and connect and relate. It’s connectors we are looking to hire, not mathematicians, per se. At our school, we often define leadership as: “making leaders of those around you.” Our job as teachers is not just to pack students with information, but to give them wings.
I think we can do the field of secondary education some good by altering our future job postings to reflect that our field needs whole, complex humans who have a range of talents, and boundless creativity. Teaching is a noble profession. Aristotle was a teacher. Jesus. Mohammed. Confucius. JK Rowling. Sting! Who will carry on this noble line? Surely we can build a bigger case than, “an exceptional understanding of the California Common Core State Standards and curriculum for English Language Arts.” That may be half the case—what about the other half? If teachers in our nation’s schools of education are learning that their whole role is to download required curriculum, no wonder less and less of them are considering entering the field. (The LA Times reports a 75% decline in the last decade of people in California going into teaching.)
The outcomes of a high school experience are more than a GPA and a degree. That’s never what our alumni talk about. Colleges are waking up to this, and every year more are dropping standardized test requirements. I hope high schools will, too. The Lumina Foundation has kicked in $1.27 million for NASPA and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) to explore student learning and competencies gleaned outside of the traditional academic classroom.
Today’s schools, even those that seem similar in mission, and even those with very similar websites, have gross differences in approach and worldview. Teachers: is your class coercive vs. student initiated? Are students finding unique paths or are they mainly complying with regulations? It’s a big question, because in most schools classes are relatively coercive places, despite tons of progressive verbiage on school websites everywhere. Today’s secondary schools around the world are wrestling with huge differences in background assumptions—teachers are increasingly made to be compliance- and conformity-oriented and we all need to face our own true guiding principles squarely. Why are you a teacher?
Hurray! Just moments before this column went to press, we received a English teacher resume from a former Eagle scout who plays upright bass and sings in the choir, can teach Spanish, taught a stint in the Marshall Islands, and founded clubs at college. Now that sounds like a teacher who is “on the team” and who can engage students with passion, purpose, and energy!
Maybe many schools actually don’t want someone who is too individualistic, and some schools might be well off with hyper-focused one-subject specialists or even curriculum downloading automatons who basically see education as a race to rank or status. But that does not mean we seek them at our school. For us, a real teacher scaffolds our dreams and then shares them. The real teacher inhabits our world. Think Trevor. Dana. Morgan. Clayton. Isaac. And I could easily go on. Think Brendan, Erin, Christina … The teachers we seek will share in anxiety, insecurity, pain, and moments of teen hilarity. The teachers we seek are ones who, when we think of the word trust in the biggest sense, their picture comes to mind. Want to apply?