IMPRESSIONS COUNT

Most of us have heard the story of the heavily recruited college athlete who visits a multitude of campuses only to settle for the one with the most advanced, state-of-the-art facilities. This scenario is played out hundreds of times a year on college campuses across the country. Colleges and universities spend hundreds of millions of dollars designing and building facilities that will draw the best athletes to their campuses.

What most of us don't know, however, is the fact that public school teachers also place a high degree of importance on the condition of a district's facilities when contemplating a job offer. Often times, highly qualified and heavily recruited teachers choose to accept contracts with school districts with better facilities. This notion is incredibly powerful and should make all districts examine the role their facilities play in the hiring of new teachers.

In a study published in 2003, entitled Interview Processes as a Factor in Teacher Job Acceptance, newly hired teachers from rural, suburban and urban school districts were questioned about controllable and uncontrollable factors during the interview process that influenced their decision to accept a job offer. Many participants in the study spoke often about the importance of facilities in regard to their decision to acceptance a job offer. One teacher from an urban district recalled his interview experience and the role that the new $40-million high school that he would be teaching in played in his decision to accept the job. "Coming in and getting a tour of the building, that was amazing. I've seen both ranges, and then coming here and getting a tour, I was really like wow, I'm not going to find this many more places. The rest of the formalities and interviews seemed pretty typical of what I'd been going through. Seeing the building did influence my decision."

The newness of facilities was a major factor in the urban group. Panel members who accepted jobs at new schools — schools that were built within the last five years — stated that the modern facilities were an extremely important factor in their job acceptance. Interviewers who gave candidates a tour of the facility, a controllable factor in the interview process, were wisely taking advantage of the new facilities in their efforts to hire a quality teacher. This is an excellent strategy for those who interview teachers.

The newness of a district's facilities was not the only factor to influence a teacher to accept a job. The design of the building itself was another theme that emerged from the study. In the education world today, the idea of "small high schools" is one that has gained popularity. Considering the statements of one newly hired teacher, this idea may not be just educationally sound, but it may help a district land a top-notch candidate. "It is a fairly small building, and it felt like a one room school house. I only live two miles away, and because it is so close to where I lived, just added to it. It just made me feel part of the community. Like I should be here."

Not only was the building design noted as a vital factor in teacher job acceptance, the design and location of the room where the interview was conducted, as well as the furniture within the room, were also noted as extremely important. All three groups commented on how this category was a factor in their job acceptance. Members of the rural group were all interviewed in the building in which they were going to teach. This proved to be a powerful factor for all of them. One member noted, "I think it is much better than having it (the interview) in the central office. Maybe it's because I'm younger, but if I get sent to the central office, I'm in trouble for something. I would rather be in the building that I'm going to teach in because that where I'm going to be most of the time — I want to see it." This gentleman's suburban colleague echoed his comments. She states, "I thought that it was good that I saw where I would be. I saw the environment that I would be in, and thought, if I get this job, this is where I am going to be for the next 30 years."

An English teacher in the urban group had a similar experience with the location of the interview that proved to be a factor in her job acceptance. She says, "I was very comfortable in the setting, in the media center surrounded by books."

The same teacher quoted above commented on how the arrangement of the room also made her at ease. "…It was in a circle, and it was very nice. There was no head of the table or anything; we were all just equals." Members of both the rural and suburban groups reported on this theme as well.

Both the rural and suburban groups reported feeling comfortable and at-ease in an interview room that had windows and carpeting. They commented on the calming effect of open space and natural light. The location of the interview and the physical arrangement of the room had a clear and definite impact on job acceptance in all three groups.

Obviously, not all school districts are in the position to design and construct new facilities. The good news is that there are still things districts can do to make the facilities they have seem more appealing to potential teachers. Aside from the newness or size of school buildings, is the notion of cleanliness — a fact that two newly-hired teachers in rural districts commented on. This attention to detail affected their decisions to accept their positions. One gentleman stated that as he walked around the building, he noticed it was very clean. He even went into the bathroom and noted the cleanliness of the bathrooms. Another teacher states, "I think that the one thing that caught my eye the most is that I remember telling the janitor that this was one of the cleanest schools I'd ever been it. When I walked in there, it smelled clean."

The cleanliness of the facilities was also a theme that emerged in the suburban group. The message that a clean and orderly facility sends to a visitor is one that cannot be underestimated. Working to improve existing facilities in terms of custodial and maintenance issues can be just as important as designing new multimillion dollar buildings. It seems that cleanliness may be more than just a virtue. It may help in the hiring of a district's next great teacher.

School administrators need to become aware of and take advantage of the fact that a district's facilities have an important effect on the interview process and direct bearing on whether or not teachers accept their jobs. Knowing what influences teachers to accept particular positions gives school districts an advantage when it comes time to interview. One way to become aware of how a district's facilities, new or old, influenced teachers to accept their jobs at a local level is to“re-interview” employees after they have been hired. This process is a self-review of sorts that will yield current, powerful information in regard to ways to use, and in some cases, improve their buildings and grounds and hire top candidates.

Hiring a teacher is arguably the most important decision school administrators make. It is much more important than colleges winning football games with high-profile athletes. Great consideration must be given to district facilities when recruiting and interviewing those who will teach the future of our communities. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 and the fluctuation of the teacher supply has not made hiring quality teachers any easier. Taking action by thoroughly reviewing and revisiting district facilities and facility practices with the interview process in mind is imperative if schools want to secure the best teachers for their districts.

DR. SCOTT M. KOENIGSKNECHT Koenigsknecht is superintendent of Fowler Public Schools in Fowler, Mich. He can be reached at .

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