Teaching candidates prove selves through performance

By Katie Byard MCT

An innovation in the hiring process in the Stow-Munroe Falls, Ohio, school district made Lisa Heilmeier more than a little nervous.

She had to teach a class – not only in front of administrators, but also high school students who had been recruited from soccer and lacrosse practice.

“The stakes were so high,” said the 25-year-old, noting that there are few openings for new teachers in Northeast Ohio.

The district – the largest in Summit County after Akron – is now requiring finalists for teaching jobs to teach a “practice lesson” that in many cases includes students.

Stow appears to be one of the few area districts requiring demonstrations as a final step in hiring teachers.

Education’s equivalent of an audition “just makes sense,” said Stow Superintendent Russ Jones, who joined the district last school year from Aurora, which also asks finalists to teach a class.

“The work that teachers do in a classroom is the essence of what we’re about,” Jones said.

Wadsworth Superintendent Dale Fortner began requiring practice lessons six years ago for all teaching finalists. “We feel that teaching is a performance profession,” he said.

Statewide, the practice is increasingly popular, especially among suburban districts that have the luxury of many qualified candidates, said Tom Ash, director of governmental relations for the Buckeye Association of School Administrators.

With fewer openings overall, districts “can be more selective than they could in the past,” Ash said.

Heilmeier was caught off guard when, after her initial interview, Stow-Munroe Falls High Principal Rick Bailey asked her to come teach a class. Her assignment was to teach about the transition from World War II to the Cold War – an era that Heilmeier hadn’t previously taught, either as a substitute or student teacher.

“I spent the weekend planning,” said Heilmeier, a 2004 graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea. “I was stressing myself out because it had to be the best I’d ever done.”

She came up with a lesson that included a mini lecture and an activity so administrators could see how she interacted with students. The students formed a human timeline in the front of the room, each representing a historical event.

Heilmeier landed the social studies teaching job.