Apps Are Helping Struggling Schools Find the Teachers They Need

Without resources for recruitment, many schools are invisible to qualified candidates.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Aug 14, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Gwendolyn Wu is an editorial intern at TakePart and a junior at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

With back-to-school season getting under way, teachers are bracing for lesson plan preparation and assignments to be graded. Many are dealing with the additional stress of learning the campus climate at a new school.

A 2015 Department of Education study found that 15.8 percent of the nation’s 3.1 million public school teachers moved to a different school after their first year of teaching. Such high turnover rates can make it difficult for teachers to teach—and therefore for students to learn. In schools serving low-income communities, the rate is 50 percent higher than in their more affluent counterparts.

Union contracts often enable teachers with seniority to choose their schools first, and they tend to shy away from those in low-income communities. So less experienced staff are working with the populations most in need of good teachers—kids who may not have grown up with books in the home, who come to school hungry, whose families can’t afford eyeglasses, or who have undiagnosed learning disabilities. When those teachers gain seniority, they move on, leaving high-poverty schools with the additional challenge of filling slots.

Educators and researchers have been working to improve retention rates in different ways, such as by improving salaries or providing teaching mentors. Now, tech is chipping in. Apps such as Selected and myEDmatch offer a streamlined approach for teachers and schools to connect. Rather than would-be teachers listlessly sending résumés to temp agencies or cyberspace, they can look for schools that are hiring. Schools that are harder for job seekers to find, meanwhile, can flip through candidates, whose qualifications are available at their fingertips.

Here’s how it works: Teachers get on the app and answer a few questions about the qualities they like to see in schools, such as a high rate of parent involvement or a high proportion of English-language learners. They post their qualifications, such as how long they’ve been working in education. After completing a quick profile, including their teaching style and which schools they attended, teachers flip through the app’s partner schools to see which match with their desired characteristics. After clicking on those that interest them, they wait for schools to extend them interview requests.

When schools log on to the apps, they build a comprehensive profile of what their school is like, down to photos of their classrooms. They can scroll through teachers and invite them to apply.

For teachers, the apps save them the pain of mailing résumés to schools they might not even consider a good fit. Schools, meanwhile, get a one-stop shop for résumés.

Selected, which works with 1,850 of New York City’s public and charter schools, has placed a few of its 300 users in teaching positions since it launched its hiring platform in July. “From our anecdotal experiences, there’s no way for independent charter schools to be found, so we wondered if we could level the playing field, making a way for those low-income schools to be found,” Waine Tam, who founded the New York City–based teacher matching app in 2016, told TakePart. Over the last year, 350,000 job seekers nationwide have used myEDmatch.

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Both apps confront some of the challenges low-income schools and new teachers face in the hiring process. According to Tam, many younger teachers are interested in working with certain populations, such as disabled students. Finding a school able to support teachers who take on those challenges is a big help.

“Schools and their cultures are not one size fits all, so we believe in empowering teachers with more information and transparency,” Alicia Herald, myEDmatch’s founder, wrote in an email to TakePart. “In no other profession do you apply to be in a qualified pool and then could be expected to accept an offer without knowing your manager or team. We need to equip educators with the information they want to know.”

Schools lacking resources might be hard for teachers to find because of the high cost of headhunters or the labor-intensive process of searching for candidates online. Some turn to their district for help.

Younger teachers, meanwhile, are a step behind their peers. “Tenured teachers in a given district have an advantage—they often times can get hired during what is called the ‘internal transfer window’ for their current district before they open up for external hires,” Herald wrote. That leaves newer teachers competing for the few remaining slots.

As long as so many of the nation’s schools are struggling with a high percentage of kids living in poverty, retention is likely to be an issue. But by re-sorting schools and teachers into better matches, retention could increase, reducing an additional strain on schools facing so many other problems. Selected and myEDmatch hope to reveal to applicants “issues of school culture, leadership, and teacher support,” said Tam.