by Nicko Gladstone (’12)
The Reverend William Billow has taught at St. Albans for 25 years. Richard Graham has been here for 18. Both will retire from their full-time jobs this year. As much as they have meant to the school, they may be some of the last remnants of a dying breed: faculty and staff who stay in one place for an extended period of time.
Headmaster Vance Wilson said that he senses tenure at the school is dropping and recalls average faculty tenure being 15-16 years in 1999, compared to 12.9 this last year. Assistant Head Paul Piazza, who has taught at St. Albans for 39 years, sees a similar trend, though he could not confirm it with data.
St. Albans is not alone. The national average for tenure in teaching jobs has dropped in the last few decades, and most analysts expect that trend to continue for at least the next few years. Inflation has outpaced pay increases for teachers, forcing many into other pro- fessions. And even for those who remain teachers, economics still force more frequent job changes. An income simply doesn’t go as far as it used to and it has become increasingly difficult for a middle- class family to stay afloat with only one parent working and the other staying home. With both parents holding jobs, the likelihood of a work-related move to a different city is doubled, making it harder for teachers to keep the same job for long. But if any school is equipped to weather these economic realities, one would think it would be St. Albans. Along with the best pay in the area, the school provides some housing and a mortgage subsidy, and its bright students and teacher-friendly culture make for a rewarding job.
But while St. Albans might be better off than a struggling public school, there are some things that are simply beyond the school’s control. One is the fact that Wash- ington is a very expensive place to live. According to Graham, the fact that “one’s social status is often measured by how much money you make” is compounded by the fact
that “it’s just too expensive to live and work in a city like Washington and raise a family on the salaries young teachers are paid.” Mr. Michael Hansen, who moved from a different profession to teaching, the opposite route of many younger teachers, said he could only do so because he bought his house before prices soared. “If I were a young teacher just starting out,” he said, “I would have to balance my desire to stay in teaching with some simple economic realities.” Wilson also chalks it up to generational factors. “We live in an increasingly mobile society,” he said in an interview. “Previous generations stayed in one place, but we now travel the world… When I first started teaching, you went someplace and you stayed.” Compare that to Andrew Walls, who began teaching lower school science in 2006 and left two years later. Before leaving, he said in an interview that he thought of a teacher as someone who “just stopp[ed] by” before leaving for a new job. Walls was 23 at the time. Another teacher, who will leave St. Albans in June after three years, said he never intended to stay for long.
While the fact that tenure is declining is clear, its implications are not. Wilson reported that in- creased turnover is not creating any more openings than there were in the past, and he and most of the teachers interviewed expressed a desire for the school to employ a mix of old and young teachers. As long as falling tenure did not shift the faculty toward one age extreme, he and others said they felt comfortable. But he did not see any end in sight. “[Tenure] will never be what it was in previous generations unless we suffer such a severe economic downturn that people who get work will hold on to it for a very long time,” he said.