The Eastbank Collaborative of Charter Schools recently held its 8th Annual Charter School Teacher Fair. Hundreds of teachers from around the Gulf Coast came to interview for teaching positions.
It's a Saturday morning and the gym at Hynes Charter School is packed. Over 70 charter schools spread out at long tables, with signs announcing job openings — everything from science teacher to librarian to behavior interventionist. Hundreds of teachers stand around the tables, waiting their turn for an interview. Margaret Esposito is one of those teachers.
"I'm here looking at all of the different schools to find out what they have to offer me and to explain to them what I have to offer them," she says.
Esposito came prepared. She printed out 50 copies of her resume and picked out a sharp interview outfit.
"I guess you could call it sort of a Mad Men-type dress from Banana Republic that I got on sale, obviously," she says. "As a teacher we do that. Nothing is ever full price."
Esposito teaches first grade. She mostly likes her current school, but wants to see what else is out there.
"I'm looking to find a school that has a strong coaching program so that I can continue to grow as an educator," she says. "I'm looking for a school that is philosophically aligned to the way that I believe teaching and education should work. And I'm looking for a school that frames criticism as points of growth, because that's how I like to frame things for my students and that's the way that I think people learn best."
Until recently, teachers looking for jobs applied to one central office. The school district reviewed applications and assigned teachers to schools. But as charter schools replaced traditional public schools in New Orleans, creating a de-centralized school system, the hiring process changed. Now teachers apply directly to individual schools and principals decide who to hire.
Rose Drill-Peterson is Director of the Eastbank Collaborative of Charter Schools. She says the annual teacher fair grew out of this new hiring process.
"Since there's no central office where a teacher would apply centrally, we decided to have one teacher fair and invite teachers to come to schools and have that kind of dialogue," Drill-Peterson says.
The Eastbank Collaborative started hosting its teacher fair eight years ago. Last year, the fair and an accompanying website led to 75 job matches. In the past, the district sent teachers wherever there were job openings. Now these matches are about gelling with the culture at a particular school.
Glendalyn Lewis is the principal of Einstein Extension. She represents her school with pride.
"Einstein Extension, home of the Wise Owls!" she cheers. "We are a multicultural school, we are an open admission school, and we're ready to do what we need to do."
Lewis appreciates the current hiring process and the annual teacher fair. She gets to feel out prospective teachers and decide if they're the right fit for her school.
"Everyone can come here," she says. "We get a chance to see all of these wonderful candidates, and we can select. And if they're not selected by Einstein, there are other schools in which they can work."
So far Lewis has met with about 30 teachers. She sends promising candidates to a table out in the hall for longer, more in-depth interviews.
Monique Carter is a veteran teacher. She experienced firsthand the shift from one centralized school district to dozens of individual schools. Carter always pictured staying at one school throughout her career. She sees advantages to this.
"Where I am now, I know the parents," she says. "I have that rapport with the parents. I have that rapport with the students. I teach kindergarten, but I have eighth grade students coming crying and talking to me. That's because I have that rapport. I've been to so many baseball games, weddings. I don't know, it's countless. So it was always my desire to stay at one school my entire career."
But under the new hiring system, she's not sure that's possible. Sure, schools have a lot more power to hire. But they also have a lot more power to fire. And that leads to job insecurity for teachers. This sense of insecurity brought Carter out to the fair. She isn't here shopping for jobs; she's happy with her current position, teaching kindergarten at Gentilly Terrace.
"I love it," she says. "Make sure you print that! So I can get a raise. But because I don't know what the future holds, I'd rather have a plan B than to be unemployed."
So Carter comes to the teacher fair every year, making the rounds and getting to know principals as a kind of insurance policy, just in case she doesn't get hired back at her current school.
Support for education reporting on WWNO comes from Baptist Community Ministries, Entergy, The Hechinger Report and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.