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Hiring a Horse

Posted: 2010-08-14

This thoughtful commentary is from School TechConnect blog, Aug. 13, 2010.

A Great Post in Salon
I didn't hear about this post in Salon until just a few minutes ago--- saw it over at TuttleSVC. I can only say this: any school that lets go of a writer like that ought to have its administrative heads examined. Anyone who has that kind of voice in her writing is someone you want to have around kids.

A couple of years ago I was trying to hire an English teacher--- this is going to sound terrible, but it's very difficult to find an outstanding English teacher. There are hundreds and hundreds of applicants, but when you get them in the interview, they're hard-pressed to name any books they've recently read or a list of recommended books for kids. They also tend to come in with these portfolios of the cutesy things they did during student teaching-- those portfolios start to blur together in about three hours. They're big on literacy kudzu-type things. Surprisingly few come in with any decent body of original writing, and not many of them are able to talk from first-hand experience about how writing is much more complex than the idiotic process model that it's often reduced to in teacher school and which serves as the officially endorsed model of state writing assessments. Really, if a candidate even mentions "six traits," I basically disqualify her. Interestingly, none of them come in with a developed website, although they're all on Facebook to one extent or another, yammering away.

I found a candidate in another city-- an older fellow with a huge track record and buckets full of original publications and student publications-- all of it of mind-blowing quality. We flew him in, and he gave a demonstration lesson off the cuff (we changed the class and topic on him at the last moment) that was just delightful. He was fifty-five-ish, and I couldn't get my colleagues to look past the fact that he was older. I probably could have made a stink and recruited him over the other candidates, but as an administrator, I was pretty low on the ladder, not in the catbird seat if you will. I didn't have the energy to fight them, anyway-- I myself am experiencing a certain lengthening of the tooth. This guy was good. But people want perky and nonthreatening. Experience is secondary. Wisdom? Talent? Those things are invisible to most people, I find. They really didn't want "the old guy," and I could see that I might be setting him up for an unpleasant reception if I kept pushing it.

Fortunately, we found a candidate later in the year who had the chops--- not a kid, but not Methuselah either. She came to the interview prepared to talk about writing and literature, which seemed like such a refreshing change of pace that I think I lunged at her. At that point, I wasn't even asking questions about "21st Century Skills," because while those are a nice feature in a candidate, I'm still looking for someone who reads broadly and writes brilliantly when I'm looking for an English teacher, which I realize is basically sacrilege. In my mind, though, there's a cart and there's a horse. I'd rather have both but if I can't, I'll take the horse. And by horse, I mean, "the person with actual talent and skill and love for language and literature."

Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure that hiring the horse was my last official act before heading home to Chicago. But enough about me, go read Salon. And, dear horse---if you're reading this post, please know that I know you're much more than a horse.

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