The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Students Struggle Amid Teacher Resignations

Teacher offices in the Greenhouse at WIS’s Tregaron Campus. (Andrea Brudniak-Berrocal/International Dateline)

Head of School Suzanna Jemsby recently announced Upper School Principal Sarah Polland’s resignation, effective at the end of this school year. Polland’s resignation did not come as a surprise, as WIS has had several staff members leave the community unexpectedly over the past six months. 

These sudden departures are leaving a negative impact on upper school students, particularly those in the IB Diploma Program. The IB is a strenuous two year program, making it crucial for students to build strong relationships with their teachers.

“Teachers leaving WIS have a very disruptive impact on student life, and especially student learning,” senior Sebastian Illing said.   

For Illing, his school life abruptly changed as soon as former Upper School Associate Principal James Bourke resigned earlier this year, since Bourke was Illing’s Extended Essay (EE) supervisor. Moreover, when Neil MacDonald assumed Bourke’s role as IB coordinator, he stepped down from teaching Illing’s IB Higher Level (HL) math class.

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“I struggled to adapt to my new [math] teacher’s teaching style,” Illing said. “It took me some time to adjust to, and it definitely added stress.”

This new stress factor has made students wonder how the administration plays a role in these changes, and whether they take student life into account when transitioning between teachers. 

“Everybody was confused, everybody was upset and there was this overall feeling that the administration wasn’t doing what was best for us,” Illing said. “It took people a while to understand that this is just what is happening and we don’t really have a say in it.”

In November, Associate Head of School Natasha Bhalla announced former art teacher Ivan Witenstein’s resignation. His resignation was alarming to his IB art students, who were in the middle of preparing their portfolios. 

“It will affect us all,” senior Sophia Al-Samarrai said at the time. “It will also mean less support in terms of IB submissions, including with our Internal Assessment.”

Though Witenstein has been replaced by new upper school art teacher Matthew Haughn, students still feel that the connection they built with Witenstein over the past year and a half has been hard to recover.

In addition to negatively impacting student life, teachers’ departures have altered faculty roles and dynamics, according to past Dateline reporting

The administration has been unclear about the reasoning behind teacher resignations due to privacy concerns, but this has made students wonder why teachers are permitted to resign in the middle of the school year.

A standard WIS teacher contract states that if a teacher chooses to leave WIS for whatever reason, they should inform the school 30 days in advance, according to Head of Human Resources Caroline Wood. This policy gives the school time to search for a replacement. Not providing the school with a 30 day notice can affect the teacher if they later wish to return to WIS.

“If the school doesn’t believe your reasoning for leaving is appropriate, or you haven’t given adequate notice, you are not eligible to be re-hired [at WIS],” Wood said.

When teachers leave, they sacrifice many benefits that the school provides them with. “Teachers don’t tend to leave half year,” Bhalla said. “They give up health care, a salary and it’s also just ethically, you want to be there for your students.” 

Additionally, no WIS contracts require teachers to remain at WIS during both years of the IB program. Instead, they specify that a teacher is expected to stay throughout the whole of the school year, according to Bhalla and Wood.

“We don’t have any individual contracts with teachers; this is the staff association contract that they are supposed to adhere to,” Wood said. “It says you are supposed to remain through the year. However, we can’t force people to stay if they have other plans for themselves.”

Though students understand that the administration could not prevent teachers from leaving, some students are frustrated by WIS’s lack of transparency about the rationale behind these departures. “I was really upset with WIS as a whole,” Al-Samarrai said. “I feel like we keep losing our systems of support academically, on a mental health level and on an administrative level.” 

By Andrea Brudniak-Berrocal

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Andrea Brudniak-Berrocal
Andrea Brudniak-Berrocal, Print Publications Editor/MS News Adviser

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