Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Attrition at Ed White Should concern us all

I have to tell you; at one time Ed White was something special. It had a huge art department and a model U.N. Team, physics club and drama department of some renown.  However with 4 principal changes in six years and a tremendous turnover in staff Ed White is just a shadow of its former self.

Every year there is turnover at our schools and in the five years I was at Ed White we probably had about a hundred new teachers come through the doors, though the vast majority of the new arrivals came after Jim Clark the long time principal there retired. I remember one staff meeting towards the end where we met two 
new reading teachers who we then never saw again.  

Sadly though since I left three years ago turnover has occurred at an unprecedented rate, with about 140 teachers leaving.  I am told there are about 65 new faces this year alone. Why the turnover? Well part of it is because teaching isn’t the country club job that the blame the teacher crowd would have the public believe. It’s stressful, for college educated professionals the pay isn’t that great and the pressure especially for content areas at a high school is unbelievable. A good leader however can mitigate some of this, and 65 teachers leaving should tell you about the type of Leadership Ed White has.

Another reason people flee is because of poor leadership. They don’t have that leader that can mitigate the hazards of being a teacher but teachers also avoid principals that see them as numbers rather than individuals. They don’t want to work for principals who use fear and intimidation as motivational tactics.  Some principals treat teachers in a fashion that if teachers treated students similarly would see them in the unemployment line. True leaders inspire, they don’t threaten, brow beat or cajole.

Furthermore when there is constant upheaval with teachers it trickles down to their students too. No veteran teacher ever said they were better when they first started which means more kids are getting shortchanged by having an ever revolving door of new teachers. Furthermore unhappy teachers aren’t nearly as effective as happy ones. They don’t stay late, they don’t grade from home and they physically can’t give their all.

Under the previous reign (or error) who one new rather than one’s ability often determined who was promoted.  Superintendent Vitti who moved a record number of principals got a glimpse of that but he didn’t go nearly far enough, merely moving some around while inexplicably keeping some in place.

Vitti said he wanted to usher in a new era where teachers were valued colleagues not easily replaceable cogs and the quickest way to do this is to insist all his principals treated their staffs with respect and to send the ones who are incapable of doing so on their way.

Ed White has had 4 principals in six years but the truth is it should have been 5.