In the international education community annual teacher turnover rates can be as much as 25% in any given year and school administrators must deal with a significant portion of the staff who will not be returning for the next school year. In addition to the variety and diversity of sentiments, such as excitement, exhaustion, and anxiety, that typically accompany end of the year functions and responsibilities, school leaders inevitably find teachers who are in some phase of active disengagement on their staff.
There are any number of reasons why teachers disengage and move on and I am learning that there exists a strong correlation between the reason a teacher leaves and his or her professional attitude and performance during these last few weeks. Thus I have come up with a few acronyms to assist in the identification of colleagues whose attitudes and behaviours seem to fit this mould. Perhaps you have encountered and are dealing with one of the following ‘moving on’ teachers this year.
Done My Time (DMT)
These teachers have decided that it is simply time to move on. Whether they have been accustomed to the lifestyle offered by schools in the international circuit, or they are returning home having completed an agreed upon leave of absence, their imminent departure is no surprise; rather it is part of a larger personal and/or professional plan. As these teachers are moving “to” as opposed to moving “from”, they tend to be very professional in the end of the year processes. Perhaps this is because they want to leave knowing that their contributions have made a difference and are valued. Typically hand over documentation and the exit processes are handled professionally and as efficiently as possible. For the most part, DMT’s have demonstrated satisfactory professional performance and their departure, although considered unfortunate, is accepted as a reality given the transitory nature of teaching in the international education scheme.
How to deal with a DMT: Thank them and wish them luck!
Leaving Under Grievance (LUG)
We’ve all seen them. Many of us have worked with them. We’ve listened to their sorry stories of unfortunate experiences in the classroom. We’ve tolerated their unoriginal excuses for the growing frequency of late arrivals and early departures. We’ve told ourselves that their dismissive tone and less-than-subtle shoulder shrugs during morning briefings are simply momentary lapses in professional judgement. At any other time of the school year, these encounters might be perceived as just another part of the job; but during these last few very long and hot days of another very busy academic year, keeping perspective can be difficult. Overall, we are patiently waiting for the end of the year.
Most LUG’s carry an iceberg-like chip on their shoulders and seem to have concluded that their anger and resentment is solely the fault of the students, school, system, or the world. LUG’s have difficulty accepting any level of responsibility for their situation and are known to spend their last weeks in school blaming and complaining, with the result that their students suffer and their colleagues must endure the ongoing evidence of unprofessional behaviors. .
Once in a while we see LUG’s who are victim of some unfortunate and/or irrational decision. I wonder if their situation is more an example of ‘collateral damage’, meaning that they have ended up in the wrong place or with the wrong people at a very wrong time. These situations are unquestionably sad as the reasons for their departure are typically unwarranted and we can only hope that their next posting will offer a new start and reward.
How to deal with a LUG: Smile, stay professional and avoid face to face encounters.
Leaving But Don’t Know It Yet (DKIY)
We have all probably seen teachers who seem oblivious to their lack of professionalism or consistent poor performance. Their self-absorbed nature is almost overwhelming as they boast about their ability to take advantage of their situation (e.g. excess leaves) or they celebrate their nonchalant approach to completing their end of the year responsibilities. Frustratingly, such teachers are seen flitting around the school, applying a light-hearted touch to their responsibilities. Ironically and unbelievably, these staff members think that their contributions are just what the school needs!
How to deal with a DKIY: Stay professional, keep expectations high, document everything and avoid one-to-one interactions.
(Secretly) Planning to Abscond (sPA)
Absconders are a sad reality within the international educational context. When teachers accept a two or three year contract, they typically do so with the intention to fulfil their professional obligations. However, for the sPA’s on our staffs, something seems to have gone terribly wrong and these teachers have made the decision to leave and are quietly planning a swift exit and are selling off their possessions. To their colleagues and supervisors, sPA’s often seem crestfallen and low-spirited, carrying out their responsibilities in a joyless manner. For the most part, sPA’s appear compliant, yet upon closer examination, their work is minimal at best.
On the extreme, some sPA’s are deceitful and sly, appearing to be agreeable and cooperative, all the while planning their departure and knowing that the suddenness will create difficulty in terms of staffing when school commences once more. Perhaps the most lamentable fact about sPA’s is that most of them have also decided to give up on teaching as well. Their initial optimism upon graduating or naïve belief that the work of a teacher is easy has been extinguished to the extent that they can no longer see a future as an educator. This is sad.
How to deal with a sPA: Stay positive, keep expectations high and offer as sincere thank you when they make any kind of positive contribution and if the opportunity arises, ask about plans for next year.
The last few weeks of the school year are busy enough and for school leaders the focus is undeniably on ensuring that all end of year tasks are duly completed while planning for a successful school opening in a few months’ time. Mentioned above is the fact that transition and teacher turnover is a reality in schools, and especially in international schools; however dealing with the mixture and complexities of emotions and behaviours as displayed in LUG’s, DKIY’s and sPA’s can present an additional challenge. A quick review of the many journal articles, remind school leaders to stay focused on the tasks at hand. By quietly and consistently reminding staff of our expectations regarding professional performance, principals and other administrative staff demonstrate their commitment to their school community and their own sense of professionalism. The end of the school year should be a celebration of accomplishments and achievements and while it may take energy and some gritting of teeth, school leadership teams need to work together to ensure that the apathy and negativity of LUG’s, DKIY’s and sPA’s does not become pervasive or toxic. Surround yourselves with those professionals who may be weary, but are positive about their work and are looking forward to a rewarding and well-deserved vacation.