Teacher Town

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

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

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.
PHOTO: Tajuana Cheshier/Chalkbeat TN
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.

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.



School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede