I remember my first interview for a teaching position in August 2000, part of the first cohort of New York City Teaching Fellows. I was standing in line at a hiring fair at the Brooklyn Marriott Hotel.
When I got to the front of the line, a harried-looking man introduced himself as a district representative hiring for a position teaching 8th grade in a middle school in Brooklyn.
He glanced at my resume, then looked up at me. “Are you tough?”
“Yes,” I said. I assumed that was the only acceptable answer.
The man looked skeptical but kind. He said, “OK, you have the job. But it’s going to be tough.” He told me more about the job and gave me his phone number if I had any more questions. I accepted the job partly because I liked the man’s honesty and straightforwardness. And while he knew I would have a lot to learn, he saw some potential in me, which I appreciated.
My own hiring process for teachers has more steps: a phone interview, an in-person interview, a demonstration lesson. Similar to my interview at that first hiring fair, though, I’ve also discovered how profoundly important it is to communicate with candidates along the way so that if we offer them the position, they feel good about working with us.
Two weeks ago, I called a candidate we were considering for an English teaching position– a Teaching Fellow like me. She had done a great interview, and while her demonstration lesson had revealed her newness to teaching, it also showed thoughtful planning. Even more importantly, the candidate had been receptive and enthusiastic about our feedback.
I called the candidate to invite her in for a heart-to-heart conversation the next day. In the heart-to-heart, we tell the candidates more about the position and give them a chance to ask questions.
The candidate sounded happy but also hesitant: “Thanks so much! I’ll definitely come in tomorrow.” She paused. “I also need to let you know that a few hours ago, I got another job offer. I haven’t decided yet if I want to take it.”
I was secretly disappointed, as I always want to year a confident “Yes!” But I also trusted that either way, things would work out: if this teacher was meant to work in the other school, then we’d find another good teacher.
The teacher came in the next day looking bright. My assistant principals and I told her more about our school, including potential challenges– we wanted to be honest about the hard work involved in teaching English Language Learners. We asked the teacher if she had any questions.
“I pretty much already made my decision before I came in,” she said. “I want to work here.”
“Great!” we replied. “What made you choose us?”
“You answered all of my emails.”
I was surprised that something so seemingly mundane—answering emails—had made such a difference. Of course, the teacher was also excited about our teacher team and working with a population of English Language Learners. But the emails were an important factor in her decision. I could understand this: from my perspective as a principal, candidates who responded quickly came across as ready, enthusiastic, and responsible.
The teacher’s response about answering emails made me realize how in many ways, my job is simple. I sometimes have the idea that when people make requests or have questions, they need a perfect, complex, brilliant answer or solution. But really, people just need a response that says, “I’m here, and I hear you.”
Photo credit: Julie Nariman