Tetris Hiring

On occasion I refer to, “the Tetris game that is private school hiring.” I haven’t used that phrase here yet, so let me give you an idea of what I mean. It provides a lot of insight into what goes on at a boarding school.

In all private high schools there is a high demand for teachers who can fill multiple roles. This is especially true at boarding schools, where folks refer to the “triple threat” – teaching, coaching, and dorm life.

Standard teaching loads vary, but folks at most schools teach about three courses at once. This being high school, courses meet about four times a week, depending on what sort of bizarro schedule the school is running – everyone seems to have their own attempt to fit more courses into less time. Because private schools are much smaller than public schools, some faculty will need to teach more than one variety of course. Some chem teachers also teach either physics or biology, for instance. Some english teachers also teach history.

The standard coaching load at most boarding schools is two terms out of three. Since many faculty are more academic types, they may never have coached before (I’ll save opinions on this topic for another day), but basically all boarding school teachers eventually learn to coach a sport, and to coach it well.

Dorm life, meaning living in an apartment in a dorm, is a required part of being a boarding school teacher. This is especially true if you fit any of these criteria: under the age of 35, unmarried, and/or minority. You really have to enjoy the company of teenagers to teach at a boarding school. Many schools have off-campus housing available starting between your 5th and 10th years of teaching, but if you’ve been at a boarding school for ten years, you’re basically a lifer.

Finding someone who can do all three of these is tough. (Hell, finding someone who can do two and is willing to learn the third is tough.) What’s especially hard is filling an opening, or filling all the parts that are needed when multiple openings arise. And it’s not just those three items. Many folks, especially at small schools, also have other roles to fill. I was a technology guy. Some folks help out the Dean of Students. Some act as counselors. Some work with student clubs or the dorm store. Some are dorm heads in addition to just living there. (Sometimes these can result in a reduction in other responsibilities.)

Imagine a grid like this:

Hiring Grid, Full

If someone who lives in the girls’ dorm, teaches history, and coaches girls’ Lacrosse leaves, it’s hard to find someone to replace those exact roles. Sometimes other teachers can move into those roles (the aforementioned english teacher doing history), but that still leaves you needing a female english teacher who coaches lax. More likely you’ll end up choosing between someone who has taught english and can learn to coach lax, or someone who has coached lax but never taught english.

I was math / science / technology / high ropes course / swim team / club advisor / summer dorm head (though not all at the same place). It’s an odd-shaped piece.

 Most schools have multiple folks leaving in a year, so the grid may look like this:

Hiring Grid, Unfilled

Doesn’t the Tetris music just start playing in your head? “Ok, we need one of those L-shaped pieces, but a left-handed one, and I think I can fit a T-shape over there… ok, hand me those resumes. Let’s try this again. Bob, call up that spanish-teaching wrestling coach and ask if he’d be willing to learn how to work in the college office.” I’ve never been directly involved in the hiring process (except being hired, of course), but I’ve seen it from the outside enough to realize how tough it is.

So that’s the basic idea. At some point I’ll talk about ideas for how to make this process a little easier, but for today I just wanted to introduce the concept.

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About Colin Fredericks

By day I help to create online courses at HarvardX. By night I write roleplaying games.

Posted on December 2, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. “Minecraft Education” … “Tetris Hiring” … Colin, are you some sort of gamer?! :P

  2. More of an all-purpose gnurd. A geek-army-knife. Dorkasaurus Rex, perhaps. :)

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