In-Depth: Westminster’s Faculty Turnover Mirrors Nationwide Trends


Does it seem like there are a lot of new teachers walking around campus? Have you noticed that some of your old teachers are no longer around? This recent trend of high resignation rates has not just affected Westminster but institutions and corporations all over the world.

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic forced many employees to make do with their employment. Companies weren’t hiring, and the turnover rate dropped dramatically. However, the pandemic also had an alternate effect on workers and businesses, as employees rethought their careers and their long-term goals. When the pandemic started to ease, businesses started to bring their employees back to in-person work. However, many had come to prefer the freedom and flexibility of working from home, and people began seeking better work-life balance. They started to quit their jobs en masse, looking for opportunities elsewhere. This mass resignation hit industries that require workers to be in-person the hardest, such as restaurants, hotels, and even schools. So how have the high turnover rates, often referred to as “The Great Resignation,” affected faculty here at Westminster?

The record amount of new faculty provides the clearest example of the Great Resignation’s effect on Westminster. According to Head of Middle School Danette Morton, most of the teachers left for one of three reasons. Some of them retired, such as Pete Davenport and Judy Gale. Additionally, a relatively new trend was the pandemic’s effect on women in the workforce. “We’ve had a number of people, mainly women . . . who had small children who were disproportionately challenged by the pandemic,” says Morton. “That had a significant impact on women with young children nationally, and a lot of women disproportionately left the workforce. We saw a little bit of that here.” Furthermore, Morton says that the change of mindset in many faculty members following the pandemic also played a significant role in the increase in turnover. Another trend or theme that we saw was people really re-evaluating their life goals and deciding to really take a leap that they always thought about . . . There were really some people who changed their professional plans altogether,” she says. 

Morton also explains that politics and binary thinking have affected teachers at Westminster. The school has not been immune to the recent surge of political polarization in the country, especially surrounding COVID, masks, and vaccinations. “That’s a tension for teachers in a classroom, who are trying to work really hard to do their best and don’t want to be misunderstood or mischaracterized,” says Morton. “I think between that and COVID, it was a stressful time to be a teacher anywhere, and Westminster wasn’t immune to that at all. We were really lucky in that we were able to find great teachers to come to Westminster and fill all of the spaces that we had open.” 

Dean of Faculty Thad Persons believes that the amount of new faculty isn’t overly dramatic in comparison to past years. “Over about the past ten years, we have averaged about thirty new hires a year. This year was our highest. We will probably be at just around forty new hires this year. We’ve had other years with thirty-five and thirty-seven, so this is not radically unusual, but it is our highest, at least since I’ve been in this role,” he states. “You know, we have about 325 faculty, so sometimes people forget that it’s a large school, and of course, you’re going to have . . . somewhere between ten to . . . maybe thirteen or fourteen percent turnover.” 

Persons is most concerned about what he calls a “local lateral move,” a situation when a faculty member will move to another school within the area and take the same position. While people making local lateral moves make up a small percentage of the total resignations, the numbers have increased over the past year. He highlights the shifts in attitude towards work as one of the reasons for this increase. Following the pandemic, employees are looking for more autonomy in their lives. “[Employees] are more willing to change jobs and change careers than they ever had before,” Persons asserts. “So they think there is a more transactional approach to employment than there has been in the past, when there was a more relational, institutional approach, meaning, ‘I’m going to go work for some company for until I retire.’ You know, the average American, I think, will change careers seven times. So that change reveals itself in different attitudes at work. And again, Westminster is not immune to that.” 

Morton agrees, and she states, “I think the nature of work in the US is still being debated. You know, our country is going to open back up and make everybody come back to the office. How are they going to compete with companies that now allow people to work from home for the same salary? And I think education and therefore Westminster is still going to be a part of that landscape of work.”

In the past year, Westminster has taken some steps to mitigate the increase in faculty turnover. According to Morton, teachers had to take on additional responsibilities during COVID. Now, as the pandemic has settled down, we are trying to lessen the load on teachers and return to the pre-COVID schedule. “Teachers didn’t have a lot of discretionary time to take care of their own personal needs, just take a break, rest, go grab lunch,” Morton says. “Even their lunch was a supervision time as well, and they ate with their classes. We’re trying now to return to a more normal schedule, for teachers to have all of the lots of breaks and opportunity for discretion during the school day. That’s our main focus: Just getting back to normal after two years of asking teachers to wipe down desks and remind kids to put their masks on and all the things that they have to do differently.” 

Persons believes that school culture is critical in stopping the increase in faculty turnover. Competitive salaries and benefits are only a part of the picture. “That can make people leave, but that doesn’t always make people stay,” he states. “The number one thing is what’s the culture like?” Persons believes that Westminster does well in this regard. “Once teachers know, ‘Am I going to be paid a competitive salary, am I going to get good benefits?’ Then the next question really is, ‘Who do I get to teach, what do I get to teach, and who do I get to work with?’ And I think those answers are all really strong. And it’s why we’re getting 2000 applications a year for the kind of teaching positions that we have.”

Moreover, a teacher at Westminster will stay for over ten years on average according to Persons, and he adds, “So when you have people that are staying well over a decade as an average teacher here, I think that says this is an institution that is doing things right.”