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Profiling candidates

June 19, 2007

Hello again,

Creating a candidate profile is essential for clarifying your ideas on what you are looking for in a teacher. It helps if you involve everybody in this process because the new teacher will have to fit into an existing team. I suggest ...

...a general staff meeting at which you brainstorm the ideas for the profile of the ideal candidate. Think about level of experience; whether age and gender are Important or, indeed, are factors you are legally allowed to take into account; the qualifications you expect; whether you want a native-speaker or not; the type of personal qualities you expect.

Two approaches are possible to the profile. One is the analytical approach. This requires us to identify specific competencies that we require in teachers. A professional teacher needs to be confident without being arrogant. Nobody can expect to have all the answers, so if a student asks a really difficult question, the professional teacher should be able to admit defeat but offer to find out more for the student. And they must carry that promise out. Proper preparation is another crucial requirement of professionalism. When the teacher enters the classroom s/he should have all the required materials and the lesson plan ready.

Interaction with the group needs professional standards of behavior: polite, firm and fair just about sum it up. And in orchestrating the class the teacher must give everyone their chance to contribute and should be flexible enough to modify lessons if they are obviously not going to plan. Indeed a fall-back position is part of good planning.
It stands to reason also that teacher must observe punctuality and appropriate tidiness and dress: it is not possible to demand such behavior from students if the teacher doesn’t set the standards. Armed with a list of qualities drawn up by the team you can use it as a checklist for each candidate. Selection can be based on those who already demonstrate these competencies or those who are moving towards their acquisition.

But some employers might prefer a more intuitive approach based on their general reaction to the candidate. This might sound less rational but has its merits. After all, if the employer does not react well to a teacher, then how will students react? But how can you at least try to objectify this approach? I think the way forward is to think of the teacher as requiring three main attributes: an engaging personality; a set of skills that permit them to a organize a class well and a body of knowledge that they can use as a classroom resource. The second two attributes can be checked by appropriate questioning and verification of background, training and references.

The first, personality, could be the critical factor for deciding between two otherwise equal candidates. It may be less “scientific” to reject or accept a candidate on the basis of their personality but, as teaching is an interpersonal activity, it seems fair to me to assume that a teacher with appropriate personal qualities will create a better classroom atmosphere.

The candidate profile not only helps you to be precise about what you need in the new teacher, it also helps you direct some of the interview questions and to shape your reference request. For example, if your school requires teachers to complete a lot administrative records, then one of the qualities you will have to look for is willingness to complete these tasks. By asking candidates what they have been used to in this respect and how happy they are to comply, you will be able to ensure that your questions are properly directed. Similarly, when you request a reference you can ask a previous employer to comment on this aspect of the candidate’s performance.

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