Lunch with Texas Teachers

Arturo Martínez, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD

Stephaney Kennedy

Arturo Martínez, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD

Arturo Martinez is the Assistant Director of Professional Staffing in the Human Resources department at Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District.  Cy-Fair is in the sprawling and fast growing suburbs of northwest Houston and has grown to become the states 3rd largest school district. Arturo previously worked in the HR department at Alief ISD, a large urban district in Houston.  He has a long, diverse and distinguished career in Texas education over the last 30 years.

I glide into the booth of a common Italian Restaurant chain across from a dapper and trendy gentleman with a warm and sincere smile.  His overt and well polished friendliness would put anyone at ease, and we immediately begin chatting about the recent state rule changes and the impacts they will make on the field of education.  Our waiter could sense we were in no hurry and left us to our discussions.  After a while, we could no longer ignore our hunger.  When the waiter returned, Arturo ordered the jalapeño tilapia with a side salad, while I stuck to the classic chicken parmigiana.  When our food arrived, it was obvious that he ordered the better dish.  He leisurely finished it off with a slice of chocolate cake giving him something to do while he patiently and thoroughly answered every one of my questions.  Two and half hours later, I left the restaurant less hungry and a lot more informed.

How did your career start in Education and what led to your current position in HR?

It all started thirty-one years ago in west Texas. I’ve taught at the secondary level (6-12) in Spanish, English, P.E. and Health.  I was a campus administrator for 4 years—an assistant principal, and the position to HR was just a natural move for me.  The job came up, and it peaked my interest because of the impact that you have is more global.  Just like teachers are the front lines of instruction, HR is the front lines for good hiring of those teachers.

What exactly does an HR director do?

Our main priority is to recruit and screen teacher applicants that fit the goals and vision of our district.  We also ensure that each applicant meets the state and federal compliance requirements for teaching. We sort through applications, go to job fairs, hold interviews and make recommendations to principals for new teachers.  The selection process for teachers is a joint effort between both the central HR department and the principals in the field; the central office has the applicant pool and screens candidates, and the principals interview each candidate to make sure they fit the team, atmosphere, and any other aspects of that particular campus.

You’ve worked in HR at both a large urban district and now a large suburban district, what are the main differences between the two?

The overall support systems that students have at home and the structured suburban support systems are very extensive.  There is a higher student mobility rate in urban settings which can limit the continuity with their education.  To handle an urban classroom, you need a better understanding of student readiness to learn; whereas in a suburban setting, there is more consistency in their overall education.  The challenges facing urban school districts are not worse or better, they are just different.  Often, the kids are bored or frustrated, again due to the differences in student readiness which can cause discipline problems.  You cannot approach the two with the same attitude and teaching style and be effective in both.

What makes a new teacher successful in the classroom?

Generally speaking, their commitment to excellence is very important. They have to want to be the best teacher they can be, and they must do the work to achieve it. They need to be a serious professional who builds strong relationships with their campus team and seek guidance as necessary. Confidence, but also humility will serve them well. Being a great teacher is not magic it’s work and dedication, and being a life long learner yourself. The job is to help kids realize their full potential – stay focused on that.

What do you look for in an candidate?

Cy-Fair has the “Portrait of a CFISD teacher” that lists the five qualities they are looking for.  They are Instructional Strategist, Creator of Student-Centered Environment, a positive Role Model, a Lifelong Learner, and Team Player.

I personally look for someone who understands who they are working with, that wants to teach the students given to them and addresses learning styles, learning readiness and learning abilities.  Most importantly they have to love working with kids.

What’s the best way for someone to go about applying for a position with a school district?

Apply online and complete all supporting documents. 50% of all applications are never completed and get little attention by HR.

Make sure you know your status in the ACP and can explain it effectively. Make sure you understand what content test you have taken and will take, and what areas you are HQ in.

With larger districts that offer you the ability to update your application, the earlier you apply, the better.  You can add new information and get a new application date that causes the hiring person to reexamine you each time. Receipt At districts that don’t update, ask if it can be deleted and replaced if you have any new additions at a later date.

What are a few major issues that would reflect negatively on a candidate?

No personality or a lack of perceived social skills.  Also, candidates who are disorganized, unprofessional and/or unprepared to answer to basic interview questions.  They need to be prepared to talk to the interviewer about why they want to teach, what it takes to be a good teacher and how they will achieve that, and so forth.

How much does former teaching experience play into the hiring process?

Well, new teachers by definition don’t have any experience in the classroom and we’re aware of that.  What we want to see with these candidates is that they have a foundation and basic understanding of the teaching skills required, and that they are realistic about their expectations for teaching.  New teachers sometimes have this idealistic view of their future classroom and kids, and it’s just not going to look like that.  New teachers need to be able to perform with all kids in all of the different scenarios they will encounter. In public schools, our job is to educate every kid that walks through those doors.

And even if they did have a lot of experience, that could be a good or bad depending on the position. If a principle is trying to fill a spot that already has a strong, experienced team in place, they will want to hire someone with less experience to not clash with the team dynamics and to force the more experienced teachers to work in a mentoring role therefore challenging them to continue learning and re-examining everything they do.  New teachers can bring a lot of excitement and innovative thinking to the process.

Alternate versus Traditional route: what do ACP candidates need to know?

While traditional route candidates bring with them a wealth of pedagogy knowledge, ACP candidates can have an advantage by bringing real world experience into the classroom.  The ability to make real world connections in the classroom is a must now, and ACP candidates should use this to their advantage.  A lot of principals like to see work experience in disciplined professions because they make good employees.

If you could give your niece or nephew one piece of advice on how to become a great teacher, what would it be?

Great teachers are people who understand what systems are in place for the classroom and understand the students that they are going to be working with.  They will work with the resources available to them but always look outside as well.  Be creative. Think outside the box and find a way to make it happen.