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How I Handled...

A Last-Minute Hire
That Proved to Be
A Big Mistake

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We were down to the wire. One of our new hires pulled out at the last minute. We had interviewed others and felt we had a good second choice. He accepted the job and worked hard to pull things together for opening day. But it was all down hill from there.

The Problem:

When a newly hired teacher backed out just before the start of the new school year, we were forced to make a last-minute decision about hiring a replacement. We had someone we felt would be suitable. He had been among the original contenders for the position. He had done fine in the series of interviews, his demo lesson and writing sample were successful, and his references were positive. Good teachers are not easy to find in our area of the Southwest, and we felt "Mr. B" would be a good second choice.

The late appointment put Mr. B at a considerable disadvantage. He had not had the summer to plan, and the preceding grade level's teacher had resigned over the summer and was unavailable for consultations. In spite of that, our new colleague dove right in and valiantly attempted to get everything up and running for opening day.

But soon after the start of school we began to wonder if we had made a mistake.

Mr. B proved to be quirky and high-strung. It soon became apparent that his organization was haphazard. And he was lacking a coherent classroom management plan. Parents had even seen him screaming at kids on more than one occasion.

Then came Back to School Night. Before an audience of parents, a nervous Mr. B talked very loud and fast. He also departed from his script; he allowed questions and comments from the parents, and the comments he got were negative in tone. He sealed his fate when he lost his cool with the parents in attendance.

Of course a couple of those parents approached me and shared how they felt the teacher was doing; he was inept and an extremely poor fit for the class and our school, they said. In essence, the teacher had received a vote of no confidence from those parents.

I knew I had to do something.

The Solution:

On the 15th day of the school year, I made a very difficult decision: Mr. B had to go. I presented my rationale to my supervisor and he concurred. We formulated an exit strategy and a contingency plan. We decided, under the circumstances, to promote a teacher assistant to the position rather than putting in a substitute and launching another recruitment process. We were taking a calculated risk in this regard, for the TA had no experience and was not quite finished with his Master's degree. However, on the plus side, the kids knew who he was, he was familiar with our school environment and demanding parents, and he exuded confidence when we broached the ideas of him taking the position. We felt he appeared to have considerable promise for future excellence.

If only the families would see it our way and give him a chance

We anticipated a transition date and decided to ask the incumbent to resign. If he refused, there would be a termination. What we didn't expect is that the very next morning the teacher would have a meltdown. He was at his wit's end and brought up the notion of resigning before we could even broach the subject. He had had it with parents who were second-guessing him and telling him how disenchanted they were with all aspects of his work. He departed that day, at mid-day. A letter was drafted and mailed to parents, and there were numerous follow-up calls to families to provide further explanation and to offer reassurance.

The Reflection:

It has been about one month since the changing of the guard, and all seems to be going pretty well. We have a teacher in place who should turn out to be quite successful. Things are looking 100 percent better than they did 30 days ago. Time will tell, of course, but I am confident that switching instructors was the best strategic move. When I look back at this chain of events next June, I'm sure I will still believe we did the right thing. I anticipate the children in the class will overcome the trials and tribulations at the start of the year and make substantial academic progress.

Not that the whole situation did not have any surprises As we talked to parents about our decision to make the change, we learned that Mr. B had some admirers. They were shocked, almost devastated, that we let him go. So, on the one hand, we had parents rejoicing and hailing us as heroes for having the guts to make a change early on, and, on the other hand, we had parents who thought we might have moved too quickly and were nervous about who was coming aboard to "right the ship."

See our How I Handled... Archive to read about problems that other principals have solved.

About the How I Handled... Team of Principal Problem Solvers
The How I Handled... series is intended to be practical resource for all principals and principals-to-be. Each week, members of Education World's How I Handled team share how they solved actual problems relating to school leadership, parent involvement, professional development, and a host of other "principal" responsibilities. How I Handled team members are anonymous; in that way, they can share freely the range of issues/problems they are called on to solve each day.

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