(NewsNation) — At the start of their senior year in August, Haines City High School principal Adam Lane has an offer for his soon-to-be former students.
“You’re going to graduate in May, but I want to give you your first job offer,” he said. “When you graduate, I want you to know you can come back here, you can work with me. We can make this school a better place.”
The Central Florida high school is hiring its own to avoid teacher shortages that have plagued other schools across the nation.
That includes Nia Getfield, who graduated from Haines in 2018 and then college a few years later. After college, Getfield decided to return to her high school alma mater — this time as a substitute teacher.
“I already knew where it was. I live 15 minutes away, I was like, I’m absolutely just going to go back there. I know how to get there. I know everybody there,” she said.
Getfield was able to quickly fit in and eventually earn a long-term English teaching position, working in the same building where she sat as a high school student just a few years earlier.
At Haines, Getfield isn’t alone. Dozens of alumni work as teachers at the school after Lane started implementing his strategy in 2017.
“Why am I preparing them and sending them off? Why am I not preparing them and inviting them and training them to come back, fill my vacancies, work with me, build our own pipeline? Then we don’t need to rely on anybody but ourselves,” he said.
At first, Lane was able to hire students the instant they graduated, bringing them on with only high school diplomas as substitute teachers or secretaries.
From there he was able to cultivate a stable set of full-time teachers, working with students in college to secure internships at the high school with the goal of getting them into the school as full-time teachers eventually.
Out of the 147 teachers the school currently employs, 35 are alumni, and the school has avoided serious teacher shortages since they started the recruitment strategy in 2017, Lane said.
He emphasized the key to making the system work is maintaining a culture at the school that makes alumni want to come back and teach.
“I enjoyed my time here,” said Haines teacher Jennifer Ayala. “And, you know, I thought it’d be great to kind of just also be a part of that (community) as a teacher.”
Ayala graduated from the school in 2000, and a little more than 20 years later the school was successful in bringing her back as a teacher.
While a student, Ayala found her place at Haines in choir and drama. However, Lane acknowledged that not every high schooler has the same experience, and they may not be the best candidate to return as an employee.
“I talk to people and they’re like, ‘We hated high school, I couldn’t stand my principal, I don’t ever want to see my teachers again, they were miserable to me,'” he said. “So you’ve got to have that culture and climate to put this in place. If you don’t, it’s a waste of time and it’s probably going to hurt you.”
To Getfield, teaching students at the same high school she was taking classes in just a few years ago has its advantages.
“I definitely think that I can give my kids tips on their teachers that I had when I was here in school because some of them are still here,” she said, adding that she’s able to form a strong relationship with her students because they aren’t too far removed from her by age.