An Investigation of Teacher Turnover at Pingry

An Investigation of Teacher Turnover at Pingry

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.


A Look Into Pingry’s Academic Life

A Look Into Pingry’s Academic Life

By Christine Guo (IV)

The Pingry Record recently sent out a survey to 75 Pingry Upper Schoolers about the school’s academic life. The purpose was to see what aspects of the school could be improved upon from a student’s perspective. Because it was anonymous, students were able to speak out on certain subjects that they may not have felt comfortable discussing before. The information gained from this survey benefits not just students, but the entire community by creating a better learning environment. 

To get better results, it was crucial to poll a wide variety of Upper School students. Even though the juniors and seniors may have more experience in course selection, it was ultimately decided that every grade level should have a chance to voice their opinion. However, because the survey was only sent out to a small percentage of high schoolers, the data is not as accurate as it would have been if the entire school was polled. Moreover, only 32 people answered the survey, so the data cannot be considered a perfect representation of the student body. Luckily, a similar amount of people took the survey in each grade (Graph 1). 

The majority of the survey questions were answered on a “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” spectrum. Overall, there were some very interesting results. The majority of students agreed that Pingry offers enough art/music/drama courses (Graph 2a). In another statement, the majority strongly agreed that AP courses are important to them (Graph 2b). This is intriguing because it shows how relevant and worthwhile AP courses are to Pingry students. Most also felt neutral or strongly disagreed with the statement that Pingry should do away with academic awards (Graph 2c). However, in a later statement, the majority agreed that Pingry focuses too much on academic success (such as grades) (Graph 2d). Even though the results from Graph 2d and 2c may contradict each other, it is clear that many still see the academic awards as an integral part of the school. Lastly, more than half of the students disagreed that their teachers use Schoology effectively to send them updates (Graph 2e). This data shows how there is still a need for improvement with how technology is used in the classroom, which is especially relevant during remote learning. 

The last few questions on the survey were free response. One question asked students whether there were any specific courses that they wished the school offered. A handful of students wanted more finance classes, especially those that could be applied to real-life circumstances (such as doing taxes). Other students wanted more philosophy and psychology courses. Another question asked if there were any extracurriculars that students believe the school should fund/pay more attention to. Some people wanted more attention towards debate, while others wanted funding for the music equipment and set design tools. However, it is important to also note that the majority of surveyed students did not offer a response to these questions. 

After reviewing these results, one impressive takeaway is how content students are with the school’s academic program. That said, there are definitely ways to improve the student experience at Pingry.

Curriculum Changes in the Upper School English Department

By Brian Li (IV) and Carson Shilts (V)

In the past year, the Pingry Upper School English Department has undergone major changes involving the Junior and Senior curricula. Previously, the Junior/Senior electives were a collective affair; now, Juniors and Seniors take their spring electives separately, resulting in a shift in the works used and courses that are taught by faculty. As Pingry students, it is important to understand exactly what purposes these changes serve and what you may be losing and or gaining from the new curricula. To further understand this topic, I interviewed Upper School Director Dean Chatterji, who helps oversee any and all curriculum changes. 

Dean Chatterji explained that curriculum change is a “two-year process” and that these changes are “big changes that we are not undertaking right now.” The sentiment seems that course adjustment is a difficult and lengthy process that is only undergone when it is necessary. Dean Chatterji also discussed how the most recent changes have been those made to the English curriculum. This prompted me to reach out to Dr. Dickerson, Chair of the English Department, for further clarification. 

Dr. Dickerson said, in the case of English, that “last year was a year of great change.” Dr. Dickerson explained how the English spring elective program was revised for Juniors and Seniors. Both classes used to take their second semester English elective together, in a mixed class; that method was discarded. When asked why, Dr. Dickerson stated, “We felt that the Juniors did not have enough options for Junior electives.”

The English department added three new electives: Gold Rush, Waterways, and American Contemporary Poetry; these courses are meant to “complement American Literature” which is the required fall semester course. Dr. Dickerson further explained that “American Literature can be kind of rushed and packed so we felt that this would give students a chance to further explore these topics.” She also discussed how it was difficult for Juniors to keep a certain level of rigor up when mixed in a class with seniors, as seniors leave early for their Independent Senior Projects. Seniors now take a full year of courses related to world literature, and new electives have been added to their course sheet as well. Rising Juniors and Seniors may have noticed that they both have five different spring electives to choose from, which is new to this year. Rising Juniors have the option to take The Contemporary American Short Story, which is a new course that will run next year. Rising Seniors have two new options to choose from Creative Writing and The Great Epic: The Trojan War & Its Aftermath, making the number of spring electives between Juniors and Seniors equal. 

Dr. Dickerson explained that “it’s all a trade off; you’re always losing something and you’re always gaining something,” which is something that is always important to keep in mind. Though some books such as The Adventures of Huck Finn are no longer part of the curriculum, many great novels have been added in response. As literature and world issues progress, the curriculum will continue to change to keep it as relevant and valuable as possible.