Getting Teacher Recruitment Right

16 03 2016


I recently presented at a conference on the topic of recruitment in an elective slot where the other sessions focused on 1) managing under-performing teachers, and 2) addressing issues with teacher development. Disappointingly, most of the conference attendees went to these other sessions, which is ironic because they wouldn’t have needed to if they had recruited the right teachers in the first place!

It’s true! As managers we are so immersed in dealing with the issues and problems posed by the people around us that we barely have time to stop and think how it could be different. If only we had recruited more positive or more committed staff…

‘Recruiting the right people is the key to our success,’ as someone somewhere once said – we’ve heard this before, right? But it couldn’t be more true. It all starts with recruitment. A language teaching organisation, after all, is only as great as its teachers. The teachers in our schools  – the operational core – are the main assets in an LTO.

But recruiting teachers is not a straightforward process. It is time-consuming, and complex, it involves human fallibility, and is easy to get wrong. And often, the managers tasked with hiring have little or no training in HR.

So what are the processes you need to follow to get teacher recruitment right?

Firstly, you need to know what you are looking for.

A team of teachers is made up of varying personalities, degrees of experience, and areas of expertise. You need to know your team well enough to have a clear profile in mind so you can identify what the strengths are and where the potential gaps lie. You might know that you need a new teacher for a certain course type, or for specific groups of learners. But do you also need someone who can take on a mentoring and coaching role, or who can see and bring in innovation? Or someone who is open to change and can encourage others to embrace new ideas too? Do you just need a teacher, or do you need the kind of teacher who will enhance your team, and help you achieve your institutional goals, now and in the future?

Being clear on this is the first step in recruitment.

Next, you need to be able to identify what you are looking for in the candidates who apply.

And this where the real difficulties begin. How do you know, when an impressive CV lands in your inbox, that the applicant in question really is the ‘enthusiastic, creative and passionate teacher’ they say they are? What is it that makes a great teacher, anyway? We could list multiple qualities to answer that question, but how do you distinguish them at interview?

I used to rely on my ‘sound judgement’, believing in my gut instinct and my ability to connect with and read a person’s character. And sometimes this has worked. But I have also failed miserably…

One approach which I now recommend is to develop a set of Competencies and Behaviours for Teachers – a transparent list of expectations for what your teachers need to know and do, and also the behaviours or attitudes that you’d encourage to enable the team to fulfill its potential.

[Shout-outs here to Gill Davidson at EC and Varinder Unlu at IH who both inspired me to explore and adopt this approach 🙂 ]

Teacher Competencies could include the following areas, for example:

St Giles London Central expects its teachers to:

Uphold strong professional values and practice

  • treat students consistently, with respect and sensitive consideration of cultural differences, and with regard to their welfare
  • focus on the learning of their students

Knowledge and understanding

  • have a confident understanding of language systems and be able to clarify details for students
  • use a range of strategies to promote learning


  • plan effective lessons, which are learner-centred and communicative
  • set challenging teaching and learning objectives
  • select, adapt and supplement materials to suit the needs, interests and expectations of their students

…and so on with other sections related to classroom management, students, learning and administration.

These competencies are all very important, but often what I am more interested in are the so-called Behaviours, which, for example, could include the following:

St Giles London Central encourages its teachers to:

Aim high

  • Consistently set high standards
  • Willingly take on challenges
  • Be creative and proactive
  • Develop own knowledge, expertise and learning

Build good working relationships

  • Be approachable
  • Be willing to share ideas and collaborate with colleagues
  • Listen to and take on board suggestions and feedback
  • Appreciate the needs and concerns of others

Have a shared purpose

  • Have a positive attitude
  • Be aware of differences, and understand others’ points of view
  • Support the school in new initiatives

Developing this kind of list of Competencies and Behaviours can be really useful for appraisals, and managing performance, but is also particularly helpful in recruitment. They give you a clear summary of the qualities you are looking for, and the interview questions and tasks can be designed to elicit evidence of them.

The Pre-, During, and Post Procedures

With all of the above clearly in mind, you can then follow the simple steps of a recruitment process. Sorry for the boring list below, but it is worth a quick look I think; the steps are simple, but after all these years, I can still get them wrong!


  1. Use shortlisting filters: these may include having a Certificate in TESOL, and a Degree; you can ask candidates to jump through an extra loop and complete an Application form (which helps to standardise the key information for all candidates); you could also discard applications with spelling errors in CV/Cover Letter…
  2. Provide pre-interview information: send a job description, a person specification (or the Teacher Competencies and Behaviours doc); inform candidates that referees will be followed up and asked whether there is any reason they should not work with under 18s; other policies can be included such as an equal opportunities or rehabilitation of offenders policy.
  3. Set a pre-interview task (e.g. send a double-page spread from a course book and ask them to plan a lesson) to go through in the interview – this provides you with a standard stage in the process which all candidates do, a huge help when comparing them afterwards.


  1. Interview with a panel of ideally 3, or at least 2, people posing the questions and noting the responses. It does give rise to possible logistical issues of course – do you have the staff, and do you and they have the time, to form an interview panel? But this is definitely best practice and minimises any potential biases and balances out perspectives. You will notice that you and your panel members will not always agree and will pick up on different points, but the discussion about who is the best candidate will be better informed.
  2. Have a set of pre-planned interview questions or script (to elicit evidence of the desired competencies & behaviours)
  3. Go through the interview task
  4. Seek explanations for gaps in CV
  5. Watch out for contradictions, frequent moving between jobs
  6. Keep notes & score answers; set a minimum score for passing the interview
  7. Tour of the school (make this part of the interview)
  8. Check their right to work
  9. Check, and scan, original copies of Cert TESOL & Degree etc


  1. If interested, get references asap! This is crucial. And don’t simply accept the referees suggested by the candidate; maybe you’d be interested to hear from a different previous employer, so just ask if you can contact them as well. Explore references which are too concise; ask for a telephone reference if necessary. I have several times in the past ignored less-than-positive references probably because I wanted a candidate and was projecting a positive light on them – and have later regretted it.
  2. Job offer – obviously give the good news with enthusiasm! Hopefully they will accept.
  3. Child protection and safeguarding procedures (DBS) – this is essential in my context where we accept 16 & 17 year olds on adult courses.
  4. Overseas Police checks – this is a new step, and just raises the bar a little in terms of child protection; namely asking for a police check in countries where the candidate has taught for 6 months or more in the last 5 years.
  5. Induction – very important to have a supportive and ongoing induction process.
  6. Get back to unsuccessful interviewees and provide constructive feedback when requested.
  7. Anything else?

So this is where I am at after years of interviewing and recruiting teachers. It is not a perfect process – can anything involving human interaction ever be perfect? – but it’s pretty comprehensive. I hope it helps you identify and get that great teacher! And then who needs to worry about managing under-performance and issues with teacher development… 😉


[In my next post on this topic, I’ll be looking at the issue of recruiting NESTS or NNESTs and ask whether ‘native-speaker’ should ever be on the job description.]