At the High School of Language and Innovation, part of our teacher hiring process is having the candidate deliver a 15-minute demonstration lesson (a “demo”) in front of one of our classes. A candidate can nail an interview but the demo is often the most telling part of the process because we see what the person would be like in front of real students.
I wrote in an earlier blog about the comparatively low number of Latino boys in my school who are graduating on time. When I expressed this concern to my leadership consultants Ariel and Shya Kane, they suggested that in every demo lesson, we include a significant number of Latino boys and take special note of how the teacher engages those boys. This suggestion has been invaluable– rather than looking narrowly for a certain “type” of candidate, we’ve shifted to simply seeing who our students become in front of that candidate.
Since summer school classes are smaller, we have sometimes needed to add boys from other classes.
“I could use your help,” I told two boys, Junior, and Robert, who I wrote about earlier in the summer. “We’re trying to hire great teachers for near year. Can you help me by leaving your class for 15 minutes and participating in this demonstration lesson, and then after, tell me what you think about the teacher? You’ll have to make up the work you missed in your regular class during that 15 minutes. Is that OK with you?”
The boys seemed surprised to be chosen, but nodded quite seriously in response to the request.
After one recent demo, they shared their opinions.
“I liked her. She was good for me,” said Junior.*
“Yeah, she explained good, but she took a long time,” said Robert. “She needs to work on her time. And less confusing.”
“How about participation?” I asked.
“Good, she called on a lot of kids,” said Robert.
“Good, yeah., for me she made sure I understood,” said Junior. “But I think the kids, they might not listen to her.”
“Why?” I asked.
Junior threw up his hands and shrugged. “I don’t know, I just think the kids would maybe talk too much with her. She might be good for me but maybe the kids wouldn’t listen.”
Junior and Robert were accurate. The teacher had done a great job of calling on a variety of kids, including reluctant students. However, the teacher had gotten caught up in an overly-complicated explanation that made the lesson much longer, and ultimately, might have led to off-task chatter and mischief in a larger group of students.
By no means do we expect a perfect lesson in a demo; often, the most important part of the demo is seeing how the teacher takes our feedback afterwards. To that end, Junior and Robert’s clear, jargon-free input helped to solidify our view of the teacher’s strengths and areas for growth.
Both Junior and Robert had attendance and behavioral issues during the school year. They are different people now. It has been a gift to include them in our hiring process and experience their brilliance. In our conversations about teaching candidates, Junior and Robert are mature, perceptive thinking partners blossoming into leaders.
*The names and identifying features of students have been changed.