By Daisy Ding, Andrew Larkins, Louis Park and Ines Villareal Senzatimore
This year at Summit Denali 65% of the teachers from the previous year returned, including one long-term substitute from the 2018-19 year. Moreover, three core class teachers left in the middle of this year, and one has switched classes. The problem of teacher turnover is not uncommon, and its effects are undeniable.
See below for a video offering community perspective on teacher turnover at Summit Denali:
Staff Writer Louis Park produced this video. Staff Writers Daisy Ding, Andrew Larkins and Ines Villarreal Senzatimore contributed reporting. Some interview sources were unavailable for a video interview, but their audio is included in the piece.
Keith Brown is a former Denali teacher and mentor, who is currently an Expeditions teacher. As an Expeditions teacher, Denali is one of the four schools at which he now teaches elective courses. “It’s sort of like a kind of dark joke between my coworkers and I … of how many new teachers at Summit leave before year two instead of year five,” said Mr. Brown, in reference to the (outdated) 2003 statistic that nearly 50% of new teachers leave the teaching profession within five years of entering the field.
Teacher turnover has been a prevalent issue at Denali for the past few years. Lately, this issue has become more and more noticeable within the school community, and its impacts have greatly affected the students and staff.
The sudden firing of three teachers on the last day of the 2018-19 school year also impeded many students’ plans that they diligently worked on.
Allan Yao, a senior at Denali, said he wanted to create an AP Physics class with his previous teacher, but the unexpected firing prevented these plans. “That was supposed to happen this year … we had made all the plans, and this year those plans just sort of turned to waste,” Yao said.
In addition to the sudden disruption of plans, a lack of consistency negatively impacts students’ education. In an interview with Christina Ling, a sophomore at Denali, she described her experience with teacher turnover, specifically the change in math teachers.
“We had Ms. Colker leave and Ms. Williams come in. I think they have two very different teaching styles and so it was a bit hard for me at first to grasp what was going on in the math class, and I felt a bit lost after the switch because she uses different vocabulary, different terminology to describe similar concepts that I had already learned before,” Ling said.
Education is not the only part of Denali that is severely impacted by teacher turnover. A major part of Summit’s model is to provide students with a mentor group that they can connect with and form a sense of community with. Ideally, the mentor stays with that same group of students from the day they enter high school until the day that they graduate. It is important to students that they have consistency within their community so that they are able to build strong relationships in school.
“That was one thing that was very special with Summit,” Yohan Berg, a senior at Denali, said. “In the past, you would have your teacher for one year, and you would have that teacher again for another year, so you already have a connection with that teacher. It’s a lot more effective for personalized learning. It makes you feel a lot better to be around people you’ve known for a long time.”
Students aren’t the only ones with complaints, teachers also have concerns with Denali. Among their complaints are how much Summit asks of its teachers and a lack of communication between the administration and teachers.
“The biggest challenge, I know from me personally, was the number of demands on us that went beyond just the role of teaching . . . because teaching is already a challenging job, and then when you ask a teacher to do other things beyond that, I think it can potentially lead to burnout,” previous Math III teacher at Denali Cara Colker-Eybel said.
Sarah Rivas, the current AP U.S. Government and Politics teacher at Summit Denali agrees: “I’m a teacher; I’m a mentor; I’m a college counselor; I’m a therapist, sometimes I’m a janitor … it can be too much sometimes.”
In efforts to address the issue, Denali Executive Director Kevin Bock explained that the administration regularly meets with faculty for one on one check-ins to discuss any concerns. He said, “As a faculty, we do a lot of shared decision making. Decisions around, for example, the school’s budget, or decisions around some of the programs that we offer as a school, or the way that we think about compensation in our organization. These are things we do as a team. The entire faculty has the opportunity to show their perspectives and alternative proposals.”
Yet despite the efforts that the administration has been making, teachers and students remain dissatisfied. The impact that teacher turnover has on the community continues to be an issue.
Ms. Rivas agreed, saying she felt bad for all the students affected. “I just hope there is more we can do as I want you all to have consistency and good teachers,” she said.
The greatest impact that the community has faced is the emotional effects that the teachers feel for students and faculty. Although the administration has implemented various ways of providing support, the effects of teacher turnover persist. This especially affects the faculty who form emotional bonds with the people they work with.
“I’m really tired of seeing my friends quit this job,” Mr. Brown said. “And that’s the most heartbreaking thing sometimes. I hope that changes get made that make it so people feel like they can stay here.”