A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Apr 06 2011

And I Thought TFA Was Selective…

Here’s DCPS hiring by the numbers (modeled off of The Quick and the Ed‘s “Quick Hits – By the Numbers”):


Number of applicants expected for SY 2011-2012 lead teaching positions.


Number of applicants projected to make it to the 4th stage of the application process (i.e. “live teaching audition”).


Number of applicants projected to be recommended for hire to DCPS principals.


Inferred “acceptance” rate for new teacher hires (200 divided by 10,500).


Note: these are not “official” figures.

However, I do have some inside knowledge of the process, since I am at one of the half dozen DCPS schools that have been chosen to stage live teaching auditions for DCPS applicants. My classroom is hosting auditions for high school English teachers.

To give some context, DCPS has a rigorous 4-step application process. First, a standard online app, replete with essay questions and resume/transcript uploads. Second, a brief content knowledge test. Third, a standard interview. Fourth, the live teacher audition, an entirely new element.

During an orientation meeting, I was informed that DCPS added this 4th layer to the application process because they were expecting an insane number of applications this year. The numbers above already told the story. Perhaps this is an indication that DCPS is in better shape than many (if not most) other school districts. Perhaps Rhee’s raises raised interest in DCPS. Perhaps it’s something else entirely.

At any rate, I hosted my first applicant today. It was a smooth 30-minute audition. 10 minutes before class began, the HR coordinator wheeled in a fancy new Teachscape Reflect 360 degree camera. I set aside my typical materials and prepared to let the auditioning teacher take over. I began class with independent reading (as usual) and then, 10 minutes in, I introduced the guest teacher and sat down to observe. For 30 minutes, this teacher had to teach my students the exact objective that I was teaching (to allow the auditioning teacher to prepare, I supplied the objective a few days in advance). A principal from another school also sat in to observe the lesson. Once those 30 minutes were up, all the equipment was whisked away and I was back to teaching on my own.


I’d have to say hosting a teacher audition was an eye-opening experience. I enjoyed switching into a more evaluative role. Observing the candidate’s style of teaching allowed me to reflect on how I could alter my own teaching practices. I had already planned a lesson on the same objective, so it was interesting to compare, on-the-fly, how we approached the objective differently. Surprisingly, we chose a very similar approach, even choosing the same reading excerpt to teach the objective. It turned out that this candidate was a TFA alum, so maybe our similar training had us thinking in the same way. Who knows?

I applaud DCPS for adding this additional layer to the application process. Apparently the rationale for this–beyond adding another method of winnowing down the applicant pool–is two-fold:

  • First, school leaders need to see candidates in action in the local DCPS context. It is fair to say that teaching in DCPS is nothing like teaching at Phillips Exeter Academy. A great teacher there might fail here. Maybe.
  • Second, candidates need exposure to the local DCPS context. If I were a teacher at Exeter applying for a position in DCPS, I’d want to know just what I was getting myself into. The live teacher audition, because it is in a “real” classroom with “real” students, gives candidates an authentic taste of DCPS.

At any rate, either of these reasons alone justifies the use of live teacher auditions. Today’s audition really showed everyone in the room what the candidate was capable of doing. What happens next is that the video gets uploaded to a website and DCPS principals have the ability to view candidates’ lessons as they please. They can then call teachers for hire.


Interestingly, I also learned that DCPS hires from TFA and DC Teaching Fellows come from totally separate pools. That is, we don’t go through this same process. The idea, I gather, is that TFA and DCTF engage in their own rigorous screening processes that DCPS endorses. Principals can then hire from among the pools.

Though I can understand why some people might have qualms about having separate pools for these alternative track programs, I don’t have as much of a problem. After all, the principals have final say over whom they will hire. They are the ones who consciously choose someone over another. Though DCPS is a TFA-friendly environment, I think every principal realizes the pros and cons of hiring TFA teachers and takes all of this into consideration when selecting teachers (I think, as with many things, balance is key).

I’m supposed to expect 2 or so teacher auditions a week until the end of the school year, so I have plenty more opportunities to observe other teachers teaching my stuff. I look forward to those days. They’re enlightening.

Ironically, I’ve already submitted my resignation letter for DCPS, so what I learn about how to improve my teaching by observing candidates won’t be of much use in the future. But, of course, my goal is to finish the year strong, so whatever works works. (More on my future to come soon.)

DCPS applicants, whoever and wherever you are, good luck–it’s going to be tough to get a job here!


For those who are interested in knowing more about the application process, it is pasted below. You can also apply here.

Online Application for School-Based Staff

Thank you for visiting the DCPS teacher application website!

Before you start your application, we want to share with you some general information about how the DCPS teacher selection process works.

The primary application process has four stages. First, applicants complete an online application, which consists of survey questions, two short essays, and submission of a resume and unofficial transcript.

Applicants who pass the first stage proceed to an online assessment of content knowledge. We give applicants two days to complete this part of the process, which takes between one and two hours.

Applicants who pass the second stage can select either a phone interview or an in person interview. We give applicants two days to schedule an interview. We ask that local applicants select an interview time that occurs within one week. We ask that remote applicants select an interview time that occurs within two weeks.

Applicants who pass the interview will be invited to teach a thirty-minute lesson in a DCPS classroom. We give applicants two days to schedule an audition. We ask that local applicants select an audition time that occurs within one week. We ask that remote applicants select an audition time that occurs within two weeks. We call this thirty-minute lesson an “audition”.

We are also excited to offer a fast track process for teachers with a record of outstanding results in a high poverty setting. The fast track process consists of an initial online application, an expedited phone interview, and a live teaching audition. Fast track applicants will receive prioritized review, and successful fast track applicants should expect to move through the process at least twice as quickly as standard applicants.

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4 Responses

  1. Wess

    WOW. Wow! This is really happening! 10, 500 applicants?? I’m … agape. That’s fantastic. To have the luxury to be that selective… to have every new teacher really understand the PRIVILEGE it is to teach their kids… to be able to really do something incredible for “the profession”… awesome. I had no idea! Are any other districts able to do this?

  2. I was stunned when I heard the numbers (which, again, are not official in any sense). But, that they added this 4th hurdle (which obviously requires travel) is an indication that, yes, DCPS can and will be selective this year. This is great. I’m sure few to no other districts can do this.

  3. Hello,

    This is Amy Rainey from Next Generation Learning Challenges. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog posts about your Teach For America experience in D.C.

    Today, we announced the names of 29 grant recipients that are developing promising technology tools and programs to improve college completion in the U.S. Among these grant recipients is a technology-enabled solution led by the Community College of the District of Columbia. In total, we issued $11 million in combined funding.

    If you’re interested in learning more about this announcement or interested in writing a blog post, I can help facilitate.

    For more details, please refer to our press release, as well as this morning’s Inside Higher Ed and ReadWriteWeb articles.

    Press release: http://nextgenlearning.org/sites/site-1/assets/NextGen_Wave_I_Winner_Press_Release_4.7.2011_FINAL.pdf

    ReadWriteWeb coverage: http://readwriteweb.com/archives/gates_foundation_distributes_10m_to_build_tech_too.php

    Inside Higher Ed coverage:

    Amy Rainey

    amy {at} nextgenlearning.org

  4. nontfateacher

    thats sad you left TFA. hm, you probably did your two your stint didn’t you and probably don’t teach. surprise surprise.

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Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

D.C. Region
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