Hiring in Education

Over the past two weeks I have been engaged in the process of application to a position at a Faculty of Education at one of our Ontario universities. It has been a very different experience than any other educational job application I’ve had, and has given me a great deal to think about.


Image of Terry Whitmell June 2021

The process began with what was called the “long short list” interview, which was 30 minutes long and conducted in a very traditional manner: five questions presented verbally, with a “hand wave” when I was nearing the end of the allotted time. I was invited to pose any questions I might have at the end.

When I made the “short list”, the process was very different. For our second interview I was asked for a 20-minute presentation to share my approach to a concept from one of the courses. This presentation was open to all faculty, and there were two attendees who weren’t on the committee who viewed my Zoom presentation, and could participate in the 10-minute Q&A that followed. Immediately after this session was an additional 30-minute interview, much like the first. And after a break I met with the Dean for a 20-minute conversation, which was unstructured and quite enjoyable.

I had provided the names of five references, of which three would be contacted. And then, based upon my CV, two interviews, and the references, I was told that a decision would be reached.


Ten days after the second interview I received an email indicating that I had not been successful, and sharing that “The APC was very impressed with your leadership background and your teaching skills. A key differentiator was that the candidate who was offered the position has worked in multiple university contexts in full-time roles and has a significant record of scholarship in curriculum studies.”

It is obvious that I cannot remedy my lack of full-time university teaching experience; I have been a K-12 teacher, leader and administrator since 1983, with only maternity leaves and my Ph.D. research as gaps in service. As a late-in-life academic (Masters in 2007, Ph.D. in 2020), my record of scholarship is sparse. And, as my colleagues will know, running a school leaves very little time for scholarship!

This area of scholarship is certainly one that I can augment, and so my goals this summer will be to look for opportunities to write. I have been told that I should be able to turn my dissertation into two or three articles, so I will look for some assistance to help me clarify how this might work. I am also going to look for colleagues to collaborate with, hopefully within their research at their institutions. And I will continue to speak at conferences, meet with teams, and support teachers directly where possible.

Making K-12 Interviews Better

One key learning for me from this process is the value of the second interview’s “presentation” component. By having to examine the curriculum, design an approach, and share my “lesson plan” with the committee, I was able to solidify my understanding of the course, and begin to prepare a framework that would have been very useful, had I been successful.

Perhaps, instead of reinstating Reg 274, we could work on a process for candidates to our teaching positions that includes “real teaching”? The presentation process was much closer to the real experience of teaching than is a traditional interview. And since I was given clear criteria, I embedded within my presentation what would have been the answers to many questions that would have been asked in the interview. Since I had time to prepare, as I would as a classroom teacher, I shared who I was and what I could do in a clearer, more effective and efficient manner.

I’m also wondering about the disconnect between the world of universities, and the reality of K-12 education. While “curriculum studies” is valuable work, I am not convinced that studying curriculum is better than delivering it. And I certainly do not believe that years of study are better than decades of supporting teachers as they work with the curriculum to plan, instruct, assess and evaluate. And the “action research” that every teacher undertakes each day in their classroom is in some cases more relevant than the research conducted by external parties. Perhaps this should become part of our criteria, so that we better prepare our young teachers to consider a move to higher education later in their careers.

I am not going to be able to change academia. But perhaps I can work with my K-12 colleagues to enhance our selection process, and do our best job to match teacher candidates to our teaching positions. The next time I am part of a hiring team, I will look to incorporate an aspect of the process from higher education, and “see our teachers in action”.

Our students will win, our schools will win, and our teachers will win.