For years, freshman Cara Shin identified herself as an active participant in the classroom, but, seated in the back of French III, she found that confidence dwindling. She was overwhelmed by her lack of foundation in French, and for the first time, she dreaded her teacher calling on her.
Shin, like many other students, was suffering the consequences of rapid teacher turnover in the language department.
In the past five years, Country Day replaced four different middle school French teachers and 2 different Latin teachers. With each replacement, students wasted crucial time adapting to new teachers’ techniques and expectations, falling farther behind on the expected material.
“By the time I got to high school,” Shin said, “I noticed that I didn’t even know a lot of the ‘review’ information.”
Country Day arranges the French program in such a way that returning middle school students begin French III upon entering freshman year. As a result of the middle school turnover, high school French teacher Richard Day recently adapted the French III curriculum to include an additional few weeks of review at the beginning of the year.
Still, he finds himself particularly surprised by where students’ inconsistencies lie.
“They’ll show signs of knowing and understanding more sophisticated concepts, but then they won’t know some of these earlier, more basic ideas,” he said.
Much like math, languages build on themselves. For students who lack a strong foundation, this cumulative format proves difficult.
“It doesn’t matter if you can remember the new vocab when you struggle to write sentences,” Shin said.
Although Shin managed to recover, rising freshmen remain fearful.
Following a turbulent few months at the beginning of the year, the eighth-grade French students welcomed their third French teacher in three years, Faten Ghariani. In the transition, the class lost some valuable instructional periods.
“I don’t really feel ready for next year,” eighth-grade French student Grace Mahan said. “With the switch, I think we got a bit off track.”
Fellow eighth grader Sophia Monasa said she expects to be missing a bit of material at the start of next year.
Day intends to respond accordingly.
“I expect we’ll have a lot of review to do at the beginning of next year just because the current eighth-graders haven’t had a consistent teacher, but assuming Madam Ghariani stays for a while, we should see the middle schoolers start to get back on track in the coming years.”
And, Gharini does intend to stay. In fact, she excitedly anticipates starting next school year with some of her current students.
“I feel like I missed a starting point,” she said. “We had to take time to get to know each other and learn about what worked for each of us, but next year, I will get to meet them all at the beginning of the year like all of the other teachers.”
Regardless, French language learners are not the only students affected by the inconsistent staffing.
Junior Latin student Karabelo Bowsky joined Country Day her sophomore year. After just one year, her Latin teacher left.
“You think you know what your teacher expects, but every teacher expects different things,” she said. “They all want you to be on different levels, and you have to completely adapt how and what you study.”
At Country Day, the rapid rotation of teachers appears, for the most part, confined to the language department, a phenomenon shared nationwide.
A 2018 study compiled an in-depth account of the United States’ now 70-year world language teacher shortage. In detail, it tracked the profession’s increased demand, with foreign language becoming the most needed subject in 2017.
Today, researchers suggest that the low retention rate stems from many factors, including attrition, retirement and general perception of the profession.
To combat it, analysts encourage schools to make active attempts to both recruit and integrate new teachers into the greater school community.
Head of middle school Rommel Loria explained Country Day’s structured process of hiring and supporting incoming educators.
At Country Day, new teachers are greeted by mentors and support systems, Loria said.
“However, onboarding is just one piece of the puzzle around retaining teachers. Even the perfect onboarding system would not prevent turnover because each case is unique.”
Currently, Brooke Wells focuses his efforts on finding and maintaining a new Latin teacher.
“In recent years, the Latin teacher has been shared between both middle and high school, which some previous teachers found difficult to manage,” he said. “There’s less sense of a community because you’re constantly alternating between two different realms.”
Consequently, the school has considered hiring two new teachers, one for the high school and one for the middle school. However, recent yet-to-be-announced changes have complicated the process.
Still, the high school intends to move away from the traditional one-subject teaching approach.
For the new Latin position, the school expects candidates to be willing to teach within different departments.
“With class sizes growing, teachers are finding it increasingly difficult to manage an entire subject matter alone,” Wells said. “Now, we’re going to have teachers doing a couple of different things.”
Starting in the fall, high school students should expect to see a new Latin teacher working in the humanities and a possible new history teacher concentrating on both ninth-grade history and APUSH, although exact details rely on the new hires’ specialties.
In the meantime, the school encourages struggling students to express their concerns.
— By Simone DeBerry
Originally published in the May 24 edition of the Octagon.