September: Teacher retention rates affect student learning environment

Teacher retention is becoming a more relevant topic as turnover rates increase in US public and private schools. International schools in Korea face similar circumstances, especially because they traditionally have even lower retention rates than American schools. It is important to note that SIS is not unique in this aspect, as most Korean international schools share this issue. Regardless, the retention rate at SIS has several implications for both the school and its students.

The retention rate at schools plays an important role in student-teacher relationships. While all teachers work with students frequently, those who stay at schools for longer periods of time are able to interact with students in different settings. Teachers who are familiar with the school’s curriculum and extracurricular activities are often given more responsibilities than new teachers who have to adapt to school environment. As a result, experienced teachers gain the opportunity to not only teach classes but also socialize with current and former students.

Furthermore, low retention rates influence the development of new initiatives. The implementation of significant interscholastic initiatives or reforms depends on the amount of time that is invested. Because it takes time to familiarize students, teachers and other staff members with changes, a significant period of time is required to make new activities and programs permanent. Consequently, when a school employs new teachers frequently, existing plans cannot be executed as efficiently.

Three years ago, Tony and Shanna Hurt, history teachers who left at the end of the last school year, introduced National History Day (NHD), an international history competition, to Korea. Following their departure, Hankuk Academy of Foreign Studies established itself as the hosting school of NHD. Additionally, Mr. Hurt and Ms. Hurt were the coaches for the varsity soccer team, and advisers for UNICEF and Habitat for Humanity (HFH). Although all of these organizations still exist, their absence has had a tangible effect on the administration and perception of the groups.

Despite the drawbacks of low retention rates, the negative aspects of SIS’s retention rate are often exaggerated. In fact, there are some benefits to periodically changing teaching personnel. Because they are exposed to teachers from different backgrounds, students can develop flexibility in their education. Students learn to adjust to unfamiliar learning environments and accustom themselves to diverse teaching styles—something that students will need to do in college.

While the introduction of new ideas from teachers can prevent the curriculum from becoming stale, frequent staffing changes can hinder the establishment of permanent changes. A middle ground between a high and low retention rate would be ideal.