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Making a connection: prospective teachers and schools say it takes work to find the ‘right fit’

More than 20 education vendors attended the Teach901 recruitment fair on Tuesday.
More than 20 education vendors attended the Teach901 recruitment fair on Tuesday.
Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN

For almost a year Elizabeth Fry has been trying to get a teaching job at a local charter school.

“I’ve had some interviews, but I wasn’t selected or I never heard back from them,” said Fry, a 24-year-old Memphis native. “It’s been hard, but I’m not giving up. I apply all of the time.”

Fry was one of the 300 educators to attend the second annual Teach901 job fair Tuesday evening at Central BBQ in downtown Memphis.

Organizers of the event credited the large turnout to increased advertising and interest in education careers. School leaders from the charter sector, Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District had informational materials at their booths, which took up a meeting room and patio area of Central BBQ’s restaurant.

Prospective teachers streamed into the two-hour event and at one point the line stretched outside of the entrance doors. Candidates were dressed in business casual attire and moved from one school booth to another leaving their resumes and contact information.

The majority of the schools represented at the event were charter operators, which is where Fry is looking to land. “I don’t have a problem with Shelby County Schools, but so much change has happened with them that I’d rather wait until things settle down,” she said.

Teachers in Memphis and Shelby County have endured a lot of change over the past year with the merger of the two districts, the closure of nine school buildings and now the de-merger, which will create six new municipal school districts in the suburban areas of Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Lakeland, Millington and Arlington.

Educators in the county have many options when it comes to making a choice whether to work for the county public school system, a charter school or the state-run Achievement School District. Many of the schools are looking to hire teachers that can improve the state’s lowest performing students. Charter school operators said the hiring process requires determination and patience to find the right candidate.

Fry came prepared Tuesday night with 35 copies of her resume and cover letter individually organized in manila folders. Her determined spirit was not only evident in her preparedness, but she also made the effort to visit the majority of the charter school vendors at the event.

Elizabeth Fry wants to secure a teaching position at a local charter school. She’s been looking for almost a year. Currently, she’s teaching at Bowie Reading and Learning Center.
Elizabeth Fry wants to secure a teaching position at a local charter school. She’s been looking for almost a year. Currently, she’s teaching at Bowie Reading and Learning Center.
Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN

Fry graduated from the University of Memphis last year and hopes to teach fourth or fifth graders.

“I’m looking for a school that’s student-centered,” said Fry, who currently works with special needs students at Bowie Reading and Learning Center.

Fry said in her current role she works Monday through Thursdays, but she doesn’t work many hours.

“I’d like to know by the end of May if I’m going to have a position at a charter school,” Fry said. “I don’t want to spend my whole summer worrying about it, though. If I don’t get a position, then I’ll stay at Bowie, but I’ll have to get a second job so that I can afford (the cost of living).”

When she graduated from college last year, Fry was concerned about securing a job since Memphis City and Shelby County Schools were in the process of a merger, which left thousands of teachers vying for positions. “I was worried that it would be hard to get a teaching job, and it has been,” she said.

Fry said the interview process can be stressful especially when it involves multiple steps including modeling a lesson and several interviews – some one-on-one and others in front of a panel.

But Memphis College Prep founder Michael Whaley said layers in the interview process are necessary to ensure the teacher is the best candidate. “The first thing we ask candidates to do is to take a culture survey and answer five questions,” Whaley said.

Applicants are asked to write in essay form, in 100 words or less, answers to these questions: What are the three most important factors to student achievement; What are the hallmarks of an excellent school; What does it mean to have high expectations; What is an example of a high expectation that someone has of you; Can school or classroom ever have too much structure? Why or why not?; How do you define success?

After the phone interviews and video analysis of a teacher’s lesson, if a candidate is selected to advance in the process, they will then take part in an all-day model lesson and role play with Memphis College Prep leaders. Whaley said they interview a lot of candidates.

“They have to really buy into our mission that college preparation begins in kindergarten,” he said. “They have to have enthusiasm. It’s not just about their years of experience, we really want folks who have the capacity to grow.” Whaley outlined the criteria of what makes a teacher the right fit for his school in an video interview.

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