Big Obstacles to Teaching

by Lynda Lambert
Perhaps if school administrators thought more about the actual people they were hiring and less about their paper trails, we wouldn’t have a teacher shortage.
       I am a teacher; a trained teacher. Back when I graduated from college in 1974, I was certified to teach English and Theatre in Maryland high schools.

       Recently, when the hue and cry went up once again about the lack of teachers, I got the bug to teach high school again and found a school in King William County, Virginia, that wanted an English teacher.

       The application packet arrived post-haste. I was thrilled and ripped it open immediately.

       The four-page application was relatively standard, but it left no room for variation. The candidate filling out this application would have had to have had one standard job after another to be able to fit her experience between the lines. I haven’t had that.

       I’ve taught in and for business. I’ve taught as adjunct faculty at the post-secondary level. I’ve designed curricula for specialized industry. I didn’t know how I was going to fill out the application so that it really showed my knowledge and skill, but that wasn’t the biggest problem.

       Three reference sheets were provided. I was to give these to supervisors and ask them to be filled out. There was a list of about 40 evaluative characteristics they were to judge me on.

       I figure it would have taken about 30 minutes for each supervisor to fill it in, and, of course, in order to get this done, I’d have to let my supervisors know I’m looking for a new position. (I don’t think so....!)

       Added to that were a diversity survey, a release to do a drug test and others to release school tran-scripts, PRAXIS scores... all kinds of crap.

       The application packet itself reminded me of why I originally stopped teaching high school: paperwork. Endless, moronic, useless paperwork.

       Imagine: these people hadn’t seen my résumé, hadn’t done a preliminary interview—and yet they wanted me to give them a minimum of 10 pages of paperwork, enlist the aid of co-workers/supervisors, send off for transcripts...

       How many people do you think will apply for this job? 100? That’s 1,000 pages of filing—and they still wouldn’t even have looked at a candidate.

       What a waste of the candidates’ time—and theirs.

       If I’d been in charge of hiring the English teacher for this King William County high school, I would have called all those teachers who expressed interest in the job.

       I would have talked to them about their philosophy of teaching. I would have attempted to ascertain the depth of their learning in the subject matter in question. I would have gotten a sense of who they were. Then, if a person seemed promising, I would have asked for a simple résumé. And not until I reviewed that résumé and then had a face-to-face interview, and determined that I wanted that person for the job, would I have asked for the paperwork.

       Time spent making 100 phone calls? About three days.

       Filing? 10 pages.

       Result? A teacher that I had faith in, that I already knew; a teacher who would do a good job.

       Perhaps if school administrators thought more about the actual people they were hiring and less about their paper trails, we wouldn’t have a teacher shortage.

       Or at least we wouldn’t have a shortage of teachers. I love to teach and I’m good at the craft, but I believe that before literally laying my life down on paper and risking my current position, I should be given some kind of opportunity to actually find out if I’m wanted for the new one.

       Needless to say, I won’t be applying.


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This story was published on May 2, 2001.