Teachers and staff are an integral part of any school. At IMSA however, these adults are responsible for not only running the entire institution but also ensuring that we are ready for college after the three years here. It is only reasonable to think that not just any adult who needs a job gets hired to teach or be a staff member at IMSA. With prestige (but not pay_ that parallels teaching at a university, working at IMSA is not for any single individual but rather for those who truly have passion for secondary education. In truth therefore, staff hiring at IMSA is a meticulous and arduous but worthwhile process made to ascertain that the academy and its students are in the best of hands. As a students who lost three close teachers from my sophomore to junior year, I wonder both how staff members are hired and why they leave.
The long hiring process begins with a simple advertisement or online notification that a position is available. With the near hundred possible positions at IMSA, there will almost always be vacancies. These openings are actively updated in the Discover IMSA-Careers sections of the website. One sub-page lists all the vacancies by department (https://www.imsa.edu/discover/working/vacancies). Each linked position then leads to a page detailing thoroughly the requirements and benefits of the job on top of the steps an applicant needs to begin to obtain the position. These conditions vary by position as a math faculty will need different expertise and education when compared to a residential counsellor who needs a different skill set than a member of student life. Beyond the IMSA website, adverts are posted throughout the internet, in social media, on corresponding postings, and on specific job boards on chronicles of higher education. At times, people can even be recruited or at least called for an interview based on the degree of connection they have with IMSA’s higher ups.
When a potential applicant does take the first step in coming to IMSA, beginning with a letter of interest, a resume, contact information, and possibly some references as well as a history of salary and basic questions like “Why this position?” or “Why now?”, a large team composed of people from all functional areas of IMSA (Student Life, Talent, the Business Office, IN2, and faculty which are consolidated into the dream team of staff hiring: human resources [HR]) checks the individual for minimum qualifications. In fact, alumni and parents can also get involved on the hiring panel if the position is important enough e.g. the principal. If the applicant then does possess the minimum-desired attributes for the position as described on the website\ , they are “through the door.” This team of initial reviewers (virtually) winnows around 200-75 persons that applied for the upcoming semester, down to 5-10. The screening group makes some incredibly difficult decisions as many applicants appear to be cogent, capable individuals on paper when only a few may be apt for the job. Surely at times the team can ask for more information, but in such a competitive atmosphere, it is a rarity. Moreover, these decisions are frighteningly important as they will ultimately affect the entire IMSA campus, staff body, and student body. But the undertaking only increases in difficulty with the subsequent stages.
Next comes a series of telephone interviews in order to further eliminate candidates while fairly accommodating those who live far away. Although the specific questions in this step vary by applicant, they to tend to get more personal and thought provoking as opposed to ones that evoke recitation of their resume. The resulting 3-5 people are then invited to IMSA to contend separately for the single position i.e. there is no second place. It is important to note that the number of applicants after each stage does vary depending on the position and season. These final selectees are called for a face-to-face (personal) interview with the leaders of IMSA.
Fortunately, for any potential applicants reading this article, Dr. Torres, who plays perhaps the most important role in hiring, did provide insight into what exactly he sought from the interviewees. Although it is Dr. Dahleh that deals with teacher hiring, her process almost mirrors that of Dr. Torres who deals with bigger positions that lack the conventional student interaction. In particular, 6/7 people directly report to him during hiring and other processes; this group is in fact the aforementioned cabinet of important people. Here, behind the doors of the personal interview, candidates are given thought-provoking, simulation questions like “If you were hiring someone, what would you look for in a candidate?” He continued to establish that IMSA is no regular working environment and the hiring process really gauges a persons potential to grow and to benefit themselves, the academy, and the students rather than merely doing their job. Depending on the position, Dr. Torres assigns personal-interview candidates with homework assignments that they discuss later in person such as making a presentation on IMSA’s current issues. Frequently, even before an applicant reaches the group process with HR and the cabinet, they must first pass a one-on-one interview with Dr. Torres. And then, even after someone is hired, they are stringently evaluated. For example, Dr. Torres’s newly appointed secretary was tasked with writing a letter as if she was herself was Dr. Torres delineating what he expected her to do and announcing her own acceptance i.e. she wrote what she thought Dr. Torres expected of her-all in 30 minutes.
Critically, in the one-on-one interview, while listening to regular responses and asking questions as they stroll the building, Dr. Torres subtly monitors the candidate, noting how they greet or interact with students, custodians, and other staff members. He begins their conversation with, “Thank you for coming. Congratulations on getting this far. Now tell me your story however you interpret this question.” In response, an applicant can disclose immense amount of personal information or give just educational history (“I was born on the wrong side of Chicago…” vs “I studied here and here.”). Dr. Torres listens to gauge a candidate’s self-awareness and their potential to fit not just in their position, but all of IMSA. As Dr. Torres put it: “Biology gets you through the door but chemistry gets you the job.” Furthermore, reference checks or recommendations are big since Dr. Torres analyzes and discusses them in detail to quantify an applicant’s experience appropriately while looking for red flags.
Clearly, IMSA’s staff has evolved from its inception to the present day. One notable change for the better is the emphasis on diversity not only within IMSA’s student body but also among the faculty. IMSA strives to maintain an equilibrium of different races among the staff, as well. Dr. Torres himself acknowledged that it may be difficult to find people of color with high qualifications to teach at IMSA but that is not to say they do not exist; it is still resoundingly important to find the balance between equality and equity while maintaining impartiality in hiring. Regardless, faculty members, RC’s, and others come and go, for a variety of reasons. Ultimately, a qualified staff member has to really love IMSA to work here; most of the teachers here can get paid up to 3 times more if they pursue research or teach in a university but they still choose to stay here.
What is important now is to recognize that no staff member is out to sabotage you; the people here truly do care about their workplace and they care about you. So as a student, not only should you be adaptable and receptive to the inevitable changes with staff and structure, but you should also be grateful to your teachers: They love what they do and they are here for you.
Special thanks to Mr. Bergie, Dr. Torres, and Dr. Dahleh for their insight in the interview process that made this article possible.
Check here for IMSA 360: https://sites.imsa.edu/imsa360/