American sacking culture

tangchao
Posts: 60
Joined: Fri Dec 09, 2011 12:16 pm

American sacking culture

Post by tangchao »

I have seen this phenomena mentioned through the reviews and in the fora and, having witnessed it myself, thought it was high time someone addressed it directly.

Yes, they are not technically sackings as they mostly involve not renewing contracts; however, in reality they are terminations of employment and therefore sackings.

My first posting in an IS involved an American head replacing the Australian incumbent. His first order of business was go on a "sacking tour." This involved several key people across the organisation getting unceremoniously given their non-renewal notices within a couple of weeks of the new manager's arrival. This was based on interviews he had with some whingeing staff members and helicopter parents. I was shocked at the thuggishness of it. It created a cloud of job insecurity over the school and a collapse of morale.

My next post was created as the new American bosses who turned up had basically sacked everyone in the school. They were trying to 'turn the school around.' They seemed to have little skill or inclination to this by conventional means such as running professional development or counselling underperforming staff. Nope. They just non-renewed anyone they thought wasn't up to scratch, even though their quality was far from noteworthy. Admittedly, they did get rid of some people who probably needed to go, however they got many more who were doing their best, others facing old age who had little prospects elsewhere but not enough to retire.

Again, I saw this as very callous. The American bosses of course saw themselves as making 'tough but fair decisions.' Pathetic.

I haven't had to work for an American for a while, but recently one has turned up in my current school. With him, so came the seemingly random sackings. A teacher close to me just got terminated for reasons that were beyond him. It seemed like the American boss did it to just be on the safe side.

To me it always seemed like they were doing it to show their authority, or to distract everyone from their own considerable failings. It has always been men.

I know others have observed this as I have seen it mentioned often in reviews. A famous case of an American boss showing up and sacking like he was a school shooter actually made headlines: https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/edu ... nal-school.

Are we being prejudiced? Or is there really a correlation between being an American manager and one who manages through such demotivational means?

vandsmith
Posts: 338
Joined: Sat Oct 25, 2014 12:16 am

Re: American sacking culture

Post by vandsmith »

maybe that's true, i've seen it only once with americans. however, i have seen it several times with british teachers/admins and it has always been way worse. the americans (and i am generalizing) seem to a bit more flexible and open-minded to work with people of differing opinions. the british (generalizing) have been fine to say, 'right then. out you go, next.'

that's simply been my experience. but you can see why it happens. if a new direction is needed, obviously something needs to be shaken up. whether that's people, curriculum, ideas, or all of the above is a decision for the board/head/whomever.

v.

Thames Pirate
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Joined: Fri Jul 05, 2013 8:06 am

Re: American sacking culture

Post by Thames Pirate »

I guess there are pros and cons of the strong worker protections in Europe. Mass sackings are of course no good. On the other hand it's good when, within reason, leadership can change the direction of a school. What we see here in Europe is that heads come in and have very little power to effect change. Teaching, school culture, etc. can become stale or stuck in its ways. Teachers with longevity have roles, often written into contracts, which might give them too much influence. New blood doesn't stay and turnover is high amongst new hires as they hit the immovable object that is the ossified staff. Turnover is nonexistent among the remaining staff. It can create huge problems NOT being able to let go certain teachers. So there are two sides to every coin I guess.

That doesn't excuse poor management or poor execution of that power. Tact, careful consideration, and if needed, coaching should all precede termination or non-renewal.

sid
Posts: 1117
Joined: Sat Dec 02, 2006 11:44 am

Re: American sacking culture

Post by sid »

I haven’t seen it as a cultural thing, but sometimes seen it with a new Head. A few observations:
It does happen that a new Head has been hired with the mandate to clean house, as ordered by the Board. The list of sackees in such cases may appear to have been made according to snap judgments and whingey parents, but more likely it was handed down from the last Head in conjunction with the Board. The departing Head comes off looking a saint, but was probably a key author of the list. And he knew what was going to happen as he said his goodbyes, but if he’d done more PD and given support and raised expectations through a shared vision, it could have been avoided.
As for people not being able to comprehend why they’re getting non-renewed, well, it’ll sound mercenary, but most don’t. Starting with the people the OP mentions who probably needed to go. We all pretty much think we’re awesome, don’t we?
There’s no excuse for sacking innocent people who are doing good jobs, but we’d be waiting a long time if we waited for people to raise their hands and say “You know what, I’m pretty dire. I shouldn’t be asked back.”

Heliotrope
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Re: American sacking culture

Post by Heliotrope »

I've seen more schools where leadership was too reluctant to sack underperforming teachers (by not renewing), than schools where there were unjust sackings. I haven't noticed a correlation with the Head's nationality.

I have seen cases where underperforming teachers didn't see it coming at all, and I think a Head should manage that better. Some (many) teachers don't know they're underperforming, and might be able to change for the better given the right feedback. But some Heads seem to think sacking is easier. At my current school there are very few underperforming teachers, but the one that was let go this year was given proper warning months in advance that something needed to change, but he was unable to change his act, which led to his sacking. Nobody thought it was unfair, as he was given ample time and resources (PD) to change for the better. It was a relief for his department, as him underperforming was putting extra strain on the department.

I would hate to be working in a school where teachers can't be sacked at all, just as I would hate working for a Head that fires teachers without a chance to redeem themselves, or one that fires without proper reason just to make a point.

reisgio
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Joined: Sat Oct 18, 2014 10:17 am

Re: American sacking culture

Post by reisgio »

At every school in which I've ever worked there should have been many more firings. Actually, I would have been fine with outright purges. I also find the most heartless heads are certainly British. American heads are way too slow to fire in my experience.

tangchao
Posts: 60
Joined: Fri Dec 09, 2011 12:16 pm

Re: American sacking culture

Post by tangchao »

Sure, I have seen places where there are too many sackings and other where there are not enough. I suppose that it is always a matter of finding the Goldilocks Zone. Interesting that no one can see the link I identified.

sid
Posts: 1117
Joined: Sat Dec 02, 2006 11:44 am

Re: American sacking culture

Post by sid »

Thattangchao wrote:
> Interesting that no one can see the link I identified.
That's the thing about extrapolation. You are working with a limited data set, having observed a handful of heads. The link you observed is accurate based on that limited data set. You wanted to see if the link would continue to exist if you extended to a larger data set. Based on the responses here, it is not.
This is why we don't change our diets, medications and exercise regimes on the claims of companies who have run "research" involving a handful of people. We listen to the advice coming from the research with hundreds of thousands of participants. Within a small data set, you can get any sort of ridiculous thing happening. Kahneman does a great job of explaining this in Thinking, Fast and Slow.

If it makes you feel any better, a former head of mine is a hatchet specialist. He is known in the circuit as the guy to hire when a house needs to be cleaned, and he is actively recruited for this task - he gets several cold calls a year asking if he'll come do the job at The International School of We Created a Mess and Need It Cleaned. He tends to work at each school for 12-18 months, get it done, and move on, leaving the school to replace him with a new Head who gets all the credit as an awesome guy merely by not firing anyone. Yep, he's American. (But the small group of people who share his specialty have a range of nationalities.)

tangchao
Posts: 60
Joined: Fri Dec 09, 2011 12:16 pm

Re: American sacking culture

Post by tangchao »

So you're saying it's confirmed Sid? :D

wrldtrvlr123
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Location: Japan

Re: American sacking culture

Post by wrldtrvlr123 »

tangchao wrote:
Interesting that no one can see the link I identified.
=====================
You proposing a correlation based on your limited experience. It's fine but no more valid than anyone else coming to a conclusion based on their own anecdotal experience: Every time I mix beer and wine I throw up, so beer and wine makes everyone throw up. Actually, that one might be valid.

From my own experience and reviews/forums I've read, American leadership do not appear to be any more or less likely to purge staff than other nationalities. I read TES forums and it would appear that a significant number of UK leadership types seem quite fine with using bullying, capability procedures etc. to clean house, save money by getting rid of more experienced teachers, etc. (although they obviously can't fire with the same vigor and relish as many int'l school heads and owners).

In any case, I do agree with what was posted about new leadership often taking their cue from ownership/board.When I was first promoted to overnight supv. at an residential facility my boss told me job one was fixing the schedule, which apparently had been allowed to end up with all full time staff having 3 day weekends (and the organization having to paying an extra chunk of money for part time staff to work every weekend). My staff didn't exactly thank me for having to decide who suddenly had to work weekends after having Fri-Sun off every week for a year or two (which of course confirms my personal bias).

shadowjack
Posts: 1900
Joined: Sat Oct 06, 2012 9:49 am

Re: American sacking culture

Post by shadowjack »

tangchao wrote:
> So you're saying it's confirmed Sid? :D

No. What Sid is saying is that out of the 17,000+ international schools, sometimes things fall through the cracks, or fall apart. I have been at one such school in the aftermath, where the new head was recruited for a limited time to (a) assess and move on staff who were not effective, and (b) assess and move to retain staff who were effective.

I really appreciated this head's candour and openness. The people he moved on (he didn't come in knowing people, didn't work at the school before) were people I would have moved on. The people he kept were people I would have kept (he wanted to keep me, but I wanted to move on). In the end, when he left two years later, the school was on an upward trajectory and his job was done. He re-retired at that point, having come out of retirement to carry out the process (a) and (b) that he was good at.

BTW - he was British.

nathan61
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Joined: Tue Nov 05, 2013 11:08 pm

Re: American sacking culture

Post by nathan61 »

Most Americans view European style labor rights with disdain and consider this 'socialist.' "It is nearly impossible to fire people in Europe, that is why business and innovation thrives in the US, not in Europe." This is the idea many 'Mericans hold. I haven't necessarily seen this as making American directors more prone to firing people though. Who rises in leadership in American schools? More your 'hail fellow well met,' team building, marketing types, rather than your data driven, hyper rational, hard nosed intellectual types. So I actually think American school heads are less likely to fire underperforming teachers when given the chance.

Most directors take the easy path, and don't make hard choices to ensure they have the best teachers on staff. As an aside, the most universally loved director I have worked for was also the most prone to not renewing contracts of people he identified as less effective teachers. But he embodied the belief that effective teaching is the most critical part of a school. I wish more directors were like this, because if a director really believes this, they will do everything they can to make sure that their teachers are happy and able to do their work effectively.

wrldtrvlr123
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Location: Japan

Re: American sacking culture

Post by wrldtrvlr123 »

nathan61 wrote:
> Most Americans view European style labor rights with disdain and consider this 'socialist.'
> "It is nearly impossible to fire people in Europe, that is why business and innovation
> thrives in the US, not in Europe." This is the idea many 'Mericans.
==================================
LOL. You must not be talking about American teachers. We love the concept of tenure, which makes it difficult to fire/non-renew us. Many of us are also fond of unions.

You should hang out with a better, more enlightened class of 'Mericans.

nathan61
Posts: 73
Joined: Tue Nov 05, 2013 11:08 pm

Re: American sacking culture

Post by nathan61 »

wrldtrvir123:
"LOL. You must not be talking about American teachers. We love the concept of tenure, which makes it difficult to fire/non-renew us. Many of us are also fond of unions.

You should hang out with a better, more enlightened class of 'Mericans."

Should I try to base my opinions of American labor norms on who I hang out with, or the data? The USA consistently ranks near the bottom among developed nations in terms of union membership. Unions have thrived elsewhere, and done nothing but decline in the USA. It is anybodies guess which nationality of directors are more liberal in sacking people, but general American labor norms are squarely on the side of leaders hiring, firing, and laying off employees at will.

I thought it was a given that I am talking about American IS directors and the boards/ownership here, not teachers and what we would prefer.

fine dude
Posts: 505
Joined: Tue Dec 18, 2012 7:12 pm

Re: American sacking culture

Post by fine dude »

Majority of American HOS's are either former PE / English teachers. Way too obsessed with sport & fine arts. They have no clue about academics / instructional leadership.

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