In the spring of 2000, before hiring any teachers for our new urban high school, I invited the students who had been accepted by lottery to give me advice on how to select teachers. These students were completing eighth grade and their advice is as sound today, as it was then. Frankly, I had expected them to suggest that I hire teachers who were young and fun, and who also looked like them; instead, their proposals surprised me.
They agreed the most salient characteristics in hiring teachers were these three: First, the teacher should know and be interested in the subject matter taught. They had vivid stories of teachers who couldn't answer or direct them to answers for questions or simply didn't know what they were teaching. Second, avoid hiring any first-year teachers (they explained first-year teachers rarely know how to manage the class.) Third, look for teachers who actually like kids, and, "Don't hire teachers who yell at us."
I got the idea to ask for students' suggestions from my older daughter. When she transferred from one school to another in ninth grade, I had asked her after her first week what made it so different. "The main difference is the teachers. They like kids. They don't yell at us."
Right now, many large districts are facing lay-offs. Many teachers won't know if they even have a job until August. The inherent independence -- and ideally, accountability -- of charter schools affords us the ability to hire our teachers now. Many school leaders are sifting through resumes, holding interviews, and asking candidates to come in to teach sample lessons.
These hiring decisions are the most important any school leader can make.
I suggest starting with the advice of the Codman Academy Class of 2005: Hire teachers who know and love their subject matter, have demonstrated classroom teaching experience and enjoy spending time with children and adolescents. And no yelling, please!