Unfortunately, I have seen a number of teachers come and go throughout my 20 years in education. And for every teacher who leaves my school, there's a different reason for why they left. However, I would say that I've seen some patterns in the departures of teachers in terms of both why they left and in the manner in which they departed the school.
And reflecting on this—all of which is based on my observation, not on any research—I believe it might be helpful for school leaders and for the teachers who remain to process the departure of their colleagues. Maybe some of these ideas can help the “professional breakup” to go more smoothly than it sometimes does.
Navigating Difficult Situations
Let us first begin with the reason for the departure. By far, the majority of teachers who I have worked with left voluntarily. There have been times when teachers have been invited to leave, and those situations are extremely difficult. Teaching is not only a mission, it’s also a livelihood. It pays the bills for many families, so it’s challenging when any teacher has a contract that is not renewed. The stress that comes when this happens, along with the hard feelings, can make it difficult for that teacher to be professional and positive as they finish out their year. If the teacher leaving dislikes something about the school—the students, the parents, or the leadership—they might have trouble not being vocal about that. For the teachers remaining at the school, this can be really hard.
I don’t think this is exactly the same for teachers who are retiring, but there are some of the same factors involved. Retirements come in all shapes and sizes too. Some teachers are ready to run out the door and never look back, while others really mourn the transition from the classroom to the real world of retirement, whatever that might entail.
If teachers are planning to leave or find out that they are leaving, here are some things to keep in mind for the teachers who remain:
Trust the leadership and the process. It’s easy to jump to conclusions, but I would guard against this. The departing teacher will have one version of the situation. Keep in mind that there is another side to the story that might have some validity to it.
The grass might actually be greener. Although this is extremely challenging, almost every teacher I know who has gone through this has found a much more positive fit somewhere else. When the decision to leave a position is fresh, this probably isn’t the reassurance that the person needs to hear. But once the teacher has landed a new job, it’s a good idea to help them see the opportunities that the new school will provide.
Don't let the negativity rub off. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but it’s a good rule of thumb for teachers. If you feel yourself being sucked into negative conversations, try to change the subject or distance yourself from the topic.
If the departing teacher pulls back, give them space. This is part of “breaking up” with a job or with coworkers. I have found it to be a pretty good analogy for what actually happens. When we break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, we notice all of the warts and scars that we looked past while we were in love with them. The departing teacher will probably point out all of the warts and scars of the school, but as a teacher who is remaining, keep in mind the reason you fell in love with the school in the first place.
If breakups have to happen—and in many cases, they are necessary—these tips might help teachers to stay positive during the transition.
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