By Justin Li (V)
In the last year-and-a-half, the departures of teachers such as Mr. Peterson, Ms. Taylor, and Mr. Thompson did not pass without controversy and speculation. Despite the uncertainty clouding most of these departures, it is undeniable that each one these teachers, and every faculty member at Pingry, offers something unique to the community; this year, the absences of these teachers have made us especially aware of this fact. As such, their departures left many of us feeling disappointed, and in many cases confused.
By speaking one-on-one with a few students, I have gleaned that the effect of these recent departures and the broader issue of teacher turnover is a topic students want to discuss. Aneesh Karuppur (V), for example, tells me that he is specifically “concerned regarding the number of departures each year, as it hurts the continuity throughout the years, as well as the solidity of Pingry’s teaching style and curriculum.” He also mentions that “as more and more of the Magistri faculty leave each year, it’s very important to secure replacements who will be able to stay at Pingry for similarly long periods of time.“
The foundation of an effective education, especially at Pingry, is the student-teacher relationship, and the concerns of Aneesh and many others raise important questions about Pingry as an educational institution. However, it is important to examine whether concerns like these are even justifiable. Looking past the particularly conspicuous departures in recent years, is teacher turnover really an issue at Pingry? Is the administration doing enough to make Pingry a place where teachers want to teach, and keep teaching?
To begin my investigation, I took a quantitative approach. In search of a reliable faculty database, I spoke with Dr. Dinkins, who informed me that such a resource was not readily accessible and instead advised me to look through past yearbooks. While yearbooks would not allow me to examine metrics, like average faculty tenure, using them in combination with departing faculty articles in the Record’s annual commencement issues allowed me to generate an annual proportion of departing faculty. This statistic would provide a broad picture of teacher turnover each year, which I could further categorize by department.
At home, I laid out the yearbooks I had accumulated on my bookshelf from 2012 to 2019 and recorded the number of Upper and Middle School faculty in each department each year, as well as the number of Magistri across all three campuses (I chose to exclude administrators since their turnover does not necessarily fit within the scope of my investigation and a large portion of administrators also taught classes in other departments). I added the department totals to obtain a total number of teaching faculty, making an effort to avoid double-counting faculty members who appeared in multiple departments, such as Mr. Lear or Ms. Thuzar.
I found that from 2012 to 2018, the proportion of faculty departures remained relatively consistent. The only notable feature of the graph occurs in 2019, where 9.4% of total teaching faculty departed and the graph indicates a significant upward spike, giving some justification to the recent concern. Nevertheless, I don’t believe that this singular spike, which could very likely be an outlier, indicates any overarching issue with teacher turnover at Pingry. However, it is notable that the number of Magistri has declined rather steadily since 2012, a trend that affirms Aneesh’s concern that fewer and fewer of Pingry’s faculty are holders of this prestigious distinction.
I decided it might also be interesting to see the differences in faculty retention across departments; I observed that the department that seems to retain its faculty the best is the arts department, which sees an average 5.47% of its faculty leave each year since 2012. By my metric, the language department seems to be the worst, with an average percentage at 11.04%, which doubles that of the arts department
While quantitative analysis can be informative, I do not feel it is sufficient to survey an issue as nuanced as teacher turnover solely by the use of statistics. In an effort to humanize my analysis, I spoke with US Director Chatterji, who was familiar with many of the recently departed faculty and could give me a more personal outlook on the issue. We talked first about the measures Pingry takes to incentivize teachers to keep teaching at Pingry. While she pointed out that Pingry has no formal incentivization program, she stressed the importance of “conversation” to faculty retention. She says that “teachers want to teach at Pingry because of its emphasis on human relationships.” She cited the numerous instances in which she had written recommendations for teachers applying for positions at other schools: by speaking about their experience and perhaps making a change to what they’re teaching, their office space, or the number of seasons they coach, these teachers were often happier and chose to continue teaching at Pingry, even with other job offers on the table.
She also made an important distinction between the types of departures, saying that “[Pingry] can’t hold all people. Our goal is not to retain people who are leaving because of retirement, marriage, or other life circumstances.” Instead, she believes that the more important number to look at is how many teachers are moving to other schools in pursuit of something Pingry wasn’t providing. Mr. Karrat or Dr. Chin-Shefi are examples of teachers who could fall into this category. Looking at departures from this lens, there does not seem to be a trend or major issue, with an average of 2.5 faculty moving to different schools each year and the rest leaving for largely unpreventable reasons.
The third category of departures is dismissals. While often the most dramatic and memorable, this is the category over which Pingry has the least control, as the school cannot control the behavior of its faculty. Nonetheless, I chose to look into an area where Pingry can exert at least some influence over the frequency at which they are forced to dismiss teachers: the hiring process. Ms. Chatterji explained that Pingry posts job openings in various locations, including job search websites, as well as on the “Employment” page of pingry.org. Mr. Dinkins, and now Ms. Holmes-Glogwer, in collaboration with department chairs, then sorts through resumes and applications from these various channels to identify qualified candidates. If the number of dismissals is actually an issue, which I don’t have the data to conclude (the Record does not write departing faculty articles for dismissed faculty), perhaps Pingry is losing its ability to attract candidates who, once hired, can continue to uphold the standard that Pingry expects from its faculty. Eva Schiller (V) also mentions that “there seems to be very extreme punishment for certain teachers without widespread preventative measures being made across the board,” and I concur that clearer guidelines for faculty conduct might help reduce the number of necessary dismissals.
Ultimately, though, I believe this investigation indicates that the Pingry administration seems to be doing their best to retain faculty. As the statistics I gathered show, recent concern likely stems from last year’s unusually high departure rate, and while the number of Magistri does seem to be declining, there is no way to say it will not rise again in the near future. At the same time, teacher turnover is an important issue to monitor, and investigations like this one can allow us to hold the school accountable if an abnormal teacher turnover rate begins to more conclusively tarnish the Pingry experience.