I have had some of the most wonderful bosses on the planet. People that are truly still my mentors and friends, some of the first people I go to with both personal and professional issues, and who have consistently made me feel valued and appreciated. These people have never turned away from a question or a problem, never abandoned me when I’ve needed them, and who have always had encouraging words for me, even when I’m probably, no doubt, being a little overdramatic and ridiculous. Many of them have made me a better leader, but more importantly have made me a better person because they have shown me that I’m valuable and what I do and say matters.
And as with every position and every profession, I have had experiences where the leadership has felt (and have said) that everyone is replaceable. Now, I understand that most of the time, a position can be filled. But does that really mean that the people who have filled it in the past are disposable? What kind of message do we send about how the district values relationships if we don’t value the work that people are doing?
From a practical standpoint, the pot from which to choose our future teachers is becoming thinner. When I applied for teaching jobs when I first entered education, the market was flooded with wanna-be educators. There were consistently, easily 700-800 applicants for every teaching position. Regardless of what you believe to be the reason, the fact is that the colleges are turning out less graduates in teaching. The sheer number of teachers is declining, which means less applicants, and less of a chance to fill a position with a quality candidate.
From the position of a school district, it is expensive to hire and consistently retrain teachers. In my current district, our teachers go through additional paid training in the “Ripon Way” for three years after they are hired regardless of if they are new to the profession or not. We need to provide training in technology expectations and use, training & PD in literacy, math, Project Lead the Way, Project-Based Learning, standards based grading, personalized learning, continuous improvement…and the list goes on. Also, hiring new teachers is disruptive to the climate and culture of both the building and teams. While sometimes this disruption is a welcome change, sometimes it might be that the person who left had strengths that others relied upon to keep moving forward.
And then there’s from the perspective of just being, I don’t know, a human.
One of my favorite quotes has always been
When people feel they are replaceable, it makes it seem like nothing they did or do mattered. No matter how hard they tried, someone else could do their job just as well. What a terrible feeling to live with, because the truth is, while a job can be refilled, nobody is truly replaceable. The job teachers do every day is too important to even allow them to think for one second that they could leave tomorrow and nobody would notice. With every change, whether it’s for the best or not, there is a shift in the dynamic of a building or team. There are kids who will miss that teacher for various reasons, either they made a connection at some point or even just taught their favorite content. I feel like the attitude that people are replaceable is the ultimate symptom of a climate that is toxic. For the person who feels this way, they have ceased to notice the individual ways that people are valuable and the specific strengths that people bring to the table. For the employees made to feel like they are replaceable…what a horrible feeling to go to work with every day, especially in a profession where we have little people (and tall people who are still little people inside) watching our every move and listening to our every word, and everything we do matters. I have worked with people who have left and I haven’t felt bad, but that isn’t because they could be replaced, but rather that they had found a better fit opportunity. I have also worked with people who have left who are an absolute loss to the district and its students and their fellow teachers.
I often look at situations and think about how I would feel if someone treated my child in a particular way. I can say with some certainty that if someone made one of my children feel like they were replaceable, momma bear would come out so quickly that one might actually miss the transformation. This case fits the Angelou quote exactly…they may forget what you said and did, but the feeling of not being valued, that’s not something that will ever be forgotten.
This is one of those cases where true reflection is necessary because this is a major climate/culture issue. Do we value our fellow colleagues, or do we just look at the bottom line when they leave? When we get a resignation letter, do we think, “Shoot, I hate interviewing” or do we first conjure the individual strengths and recognize what a loss that person will be? Are we retaining our staff by creating an atmosphere where their professionalism and individuality is explicitly valued and celebrated? If we are not, the personal and professional toll on our employees is costing so much more than the monetary cost of replacement to the district.