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.



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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”