Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Merit Hiring

I was reading Science Goddess' "More Isn't Always Better" post this morning and her thoughts took me down the road of introspection regarding my lack of employment this year. Her assertion that merit pay for teachers wouldn't guarantee better teaching made my head nod vigorously in agreement, and made me wonder exactly what equation used for hiring here in "Mexico-North" is applied to new teacher applicants such as myself.

My info? College graduate, twelve years teaching experience, licensed/certified to teach in Alaska, New Mexico, Kansas, and even here, Texas. I have glowing letters of recommendation, an excellent résumé, and wonderfully gracious references. Resources? My own extensive childrens' library, professional library, math/science/literacy/art/music manipulatives, classroom decor, puppets, puzzles, blocks, audio/visual teaching aids, computers (yes, I provide my own computers for my students) and even sleeping mats. Like most teachers, money for play dough, paint, glitter, glue, dress up clothes, and every small yet necessary detail for kindergarten explorations (sunflower seeds, cotton balls, snacks) comes out of my own pocket. I'm also not burnt out on teaching and I actually *like* children, both very valuable commodities.

After submitting résumé after résumé to school districts and having several interviews for kindergarten and other primary grade classes, I've not been offered a job. My observations as the parent of a student have had me cringing, shaking my head, venting, and vowing to move away from here as soon as Uncle Sam lets us. At this point I'm a fan of "merit hiring," hiring someone who is the most qualified, who offers the most resources, and who has the most desirable background as vouched for by other education experts. I was, in fact, under the impression that hiring highly qualified teachers was a requirement mandated to school districts nationwide in our latest educational reform. But like everything else, "highly qualified" is interpreted very differently here.

Budget constraints rule the day, and the logic used in the Bordertown when trying to address the needs and requirements of NCLB (not that I agree with them) just doesn't fit. The community is at least eighty-percent Hispanic, which makes not hiring me because I don't speak Spanish an understandable decision. The need to communicate effectively with all students, build those bridges, and give the gift of multiple languages to students are all goals I respect and believe in. In not speaking Spanish, I am not the most highly qualified. Hiring a Spanish-speaking aide with whom I could team-teach isn't an option here like it is in New Mexico however, perhaps because you really can't get two for the price of one.

During one of my interviews, a principal asked if I had any questions for her, to which I replied "yes, how does your school utilize technology, and what resources are available to kindergarten students?" The response of the other teachers in the room was polite laughter, while the principal explained that none of the kindergarten classrooms in her school had computers yet, though they were waiting for some old ones to be donated by a military Academy class here on post (which my husband attends) this year. I then asked her if sharing learning centers amongst kindergarten classrooms would be possible since I had computers for student use that I'd be happy to share. "Oh no, that would be unfair, one teacher having computers and the others not. We don't even have computer standards for our pre-k or kindergarten classes yet, just guidelines." Totally missed my point and offer, but apparently the bottom line was that NO students would have computer time if all classrooms weren't equipped. It's all or nothing.

Several weeks after my last interview, I ran into one of the teachers who had been part of the interview committee at a fast-food restaurant. She remembered me and we did some chatting while waiting in line to order. She said she was sorry I hadn't been hired though I was qualified and I had "done so well" during my interview, and said her principal had hired another applicant because she "wouldn't cost as much." She also divulged that the person hired was certified through an alternate licensure program that required she only complete a year-and-a-half's worth of education courses and practicum experiences before being employable by any district here. Budget again. I'm wondering how much classroom money, if any, she was given to set up all of the learning centers necessary to provide appropriate educational experiences for her students. With her limited knowledge and experience with public education, would she even know to ask for funding? Perhaps "clueless" is desirable.

Hiring Spanish-speaking applicants with the least amount of experience (and possibly skill) and least amount of classroom resources doesn't seem to be the best plan of attack when it comes to addressing this town's interpretation of NCLB's biggest rules:

1) All students must pass.
2) All students must pass in English.

Students are hit with monthly barrages of TAKS "practice" tests which take away from learning anything OTHER than how to take the TAKS. They are allowed to take the test in their "native language" until high school, when TAKS must be passed in English by all students, regardless of ethnicity or language experience.


Okay, so maybe it's *just me.* Either I'm grossly underqualified because I just don't see (nor understand) the big picture, or I'm grossly OVERqualified because I've noticed that there isn't one.

Still, it would be nice to have a paycheck.


  1. Wow, what an eye-opening post. You certainly sound like the kind of teacher I would want my kids to have.

    Good luck finding a school district who welcomes all that you obviously bring to the table.

    Happy New Year.

  2. Hello Michaele,
    In Tx, they are always short changing the classrooms for MONEY. They evaluate you not on how well you do but on if you are going to cost them alot too. When I worked in Tx. I was evaluated low because I would have cost them more money than the first year teacher who allowed the students to do whatever they wanted in the room and not necessarily pass the class she taught, but the principal was told to give only those good evaluation to the teachers who would cost them less and OK evaluation to those that would cost them more. Welcome to Tx. Sorry about that. Also check my new blog site:

    Love to All

  3. I would be frustrated too were I in your position.

    The way I see it, the big picture with NCLB is that it's a political misnomer intended to undermine public education. Its trickle-down mandates and effects have misguided districts and schools away from doing what's best for kids. NCLB has alienated the public from believing that acquiring an education can be personally satisfying. NCLB has sucked the "love" out of learning for an entire generation of students.


    Hang in there. It's also a bum deal being a military spouse when you have to start over again and again.


As always, thank you for your comments, tips, suggestions and questions!