Like many schools across the country, mine has experienced challenges with recruiting enough teachers to fill our classrooms ever since the pandemic. COVID caused a lot of people to walk away from the profession, including at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, in Washington, D.C., where I am the principal.

Despite those challenges, I’ve been lucky in recruiting high-quality teachers who want to stay at our school. This year, though, for several reasons, I had to hire six new teachers, which is a lot for us in a school with about 700 students.

I’ve found a few things that help in making sure my school is fully staffed each year. When I know there’s going to be an opening, I start recruiting right away. That gives me more time to find the right candidate. I love to find teachers who have more than one area of expertise. So, if I’m looking for someone to teach world languages, for example, I’ll look for someone certified in two languages. We teach Latin here, and those teachers are hard to find, so it’s ideal if someone can teach Latin and another language. Or maybe they are also certified in social studies.

Alumni Make Great Teachers

I also love to hire Banneker alumni. They have turned out to be excellent teachers. Because they’ve experienced the program as students, they understand the expectations, and they enjoy coming back here to teach since they had a good student experience. I’ve been at the school a long time, so a couple of them were actually in my advisory when they were students.

I currently have seven alumni teaching or working in some capacity, and they are just a remarkable group. Many of them were active in extracurricular activities as students, and they’ve taken on duties with some of those same activities now as teachers, including track and cheerleading. My athletic director is also an alum. With some of them, I do tell them not to take on so much because they can get overscheduled. Sometimes, I have to tell them to go home at 7 p.m.

We’ve also had some good experience hiring international teachers, for example from the Philippines and Colombia. A little more paperwork and waiting is sometimes involved but they are really into it. They are so committed to the students.

Finding Candidates Who Fit the School

Principal Anita Berger with alumni who teach at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School. From left: Reginald Williams, James McFadden, Laura Washington, and Christopher Verner. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANITA BERGER

I must give credit to our school district for doing a great job of sending me qualified candidates. We’re an IB school, and if the central office has someone who taught at an IB school, they’ll probably send me that resume to consider. We also get teachers who might have been downsized from other schools through no fault of their own. Principals often reach out to me about those teachers because they know they might be a good fit.

But one thing I’m very clear on is that I don’t hire anyone who isn’t a good fit for our school. It’s not fair to the students. Sometimes it’s worth waiting a few weeks to get the best teacher because that person can have an impact on student outcomes for years.

I have had a couple of instances where my early recruiting didn’t turn out as planned. Although the candidates made an early commitment to teach at Banneker, they went elsewhere for personal reasons. In those cases, I end up looking for a new candidate in July, and no one wants to do that because the teacher pool is usually shallow. But in general, I’ve found that starting early is still a good approach.

A Personal Touch Helps With Retention

Recruiting great teachers is important but ensuring they stay is the other side of the equation. I support new teachers as much as possible. To that end, I meet with them twice a month. It’s just me in these meetings and not the whole administrative team. I try to build a relationship with them so that coming to the principal’s office is not something to fear. It’s more collaborative, and I treat them like colleagues. I use my teaching experience to help them avoid the mistakes I made as
a teacher.

I think all teachers really need to feel they are appreciated for what they do, especially since the pandemic, which was such a difficult time for teachers and all the staff in general. But they have been resilient despite the challenges, and that needs to be acknowledged.

I know it can be hard work teaching at Banneker, but it’s a great place. My goal is to make sure my staff love what they do and do what they love, and that is working with the amazing students at our school.

Anita Berger is the principal of Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington, D.C., and a member of the NASSP Board of Directors.