Yearly faculty departures leave Webb students feeling helpless


Hunter Lange (‘22) talks in the Hooper Community Center with John Choi, Director of Equity, during Alumni Weekend 2022. Hunter was one of many graduates of Webb returning to catch up with their former teachers. Though alumni saw familiar faces amongst the faculty, there were many new faces and some old ones missing from campus. “A lot of them [teachers] were a huge part of my Webb experience, and I think that they were incredible teachers, so I’m really missing their presence on campus,” said Nick Lee (‘22), another alum who reconnected with Mr. Choi. Credit: Noe Chock (’23)

Webb prides itself on its tight-knit community that fosters meaningful life-long relationships for students and faculty, boasting a 6:1 student-to-faculty ratio and unique advisory programs. Acting as both educators and mentors, teachers at Webb carry dual responsibilities as they interact with students inside and outside of the classroom, cultivating an environment of unique dynamics that have recently faced challenges. 

Ever since Webb shut down due to COVID-19 in 2020, the community has experienced a mass departure of many long-standing and beloved faculty members, as well as a large influx of new faculty in their place. Webb has introduced 13 new faculty members this year, and although it is not uncommon for teachers to cycle out of a school to pursue new opportunities, its strong impact on Webb students has gone unspoken.  

Due to the pandemic’s heightened travel restrictions, some boarders are away from their homes more than ever, going months and even years without seeing their families. Day students may spend evenings and weekends on campus, sometimes spending more time at school than they do at home. To students, teachers are not simply educators — they are coaches, friends, and family. 

Teachers are part of a boarder’s support system, offering experienced perspectives and acting as potential confidants. A teacher’s departure not only raises the question of who will instruct their favorite course, but also means that a trusted friend is moving away. 

New faculty are navigating the unfamiliar environment and curriculum, memorizing students’ names and adapting to Webb’s unique culture. It may be difficult to comfortably and confidently situate themselves while simultaneously forming relationships with students who are already deeply integrated into the community. At the same time, students should not be expected to continuously fill these empty spaces with new relationships, when new teachers themselves are still adjusting to life at Webb. 

Aside from the loss of personal connections, faculty departures may also academically impact students. 

As part of their college application, Seniors must ask at least one teacher for a recommendation letter at the end of their junior year. They ponder the questions: Which class have I produced the best work in? Which teacher would represent me best to my top choice college? 

These nerve-wracking thoughts build tension until finally culminating to the question: “Will you write a letter of recommendation for me?” 

But then they are faced with the disappointing response of: “I’m sorry, I’m leaving this year.” 

The senior must scramble to find a new teacher next year, but more questions arise: Will I have enough time to connect with them? Will I make a good enough impression?  

Even in advisories, in which VWS students typically have the same advisor for three years, and WSC for two, these deeply personal relationships can be painfully shattered by a faculty advisor’s departure. It is unreasonable to expect students to simply adjust to a new advisor and move on from their past connections. 

In some instances, the advisory is completely split up, forcing students who cherished their small “families” to quickly adapt to a new advisor and a fresh group of advisees, welcoming people, surely, but not the same advisory where they once belonged.  

Advisories are intended to be a tight-knit group of students that confide in their advisors, give each other advice, and share successes and failures — a structured group to handle school and personal conflicts. Finding comfort in a group of almost 10 people is hard, and it is simply unfair to force students to break those long-standing connections.  

With the introduction of new teachers comes fresh faces and new perspectives — potential for new relationships to be built. However, students who might not have been able to develop relationships with past and current faculty may also struggle to do so with new faculty due to the lack of shared cultural and ethnic identity. We continue to notice that while Webb has a large Chinese student population, our faculty, including new additions from the last few years, does not reflect the same ethnic representation.  

Data provided by John Choi, Director of Equity, shows that 7 of 13 new faculty self-identify as people of color. 12% of 60 faculty identify as Asian, 10% as Latinx/o/a, 3% as Black/African American, and 3% as multiracial. The administration has made progress in its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts to diversify the faculty, but we still see a lack of Chinese faculty on campus to parallel the number of Chinese students. 

Data from Dr. Jamilla Everett, Director of Admission and Financial Aid, shows that last year, 32.4% of the Webb community identified as Asian — a large portion of that percentage being Chinese — with 22% of Webb’s student population being international, a number that does not factor in local Chinese students. 

It is crucial to have an educator who shares affinity with a student through common aspects of identity and ethnicity on campus. Webb should not only acknowledge the importance of upholding long-lasting friendships between students and teachers, but also work to cultivate these connections through introducing new teachers that share affinity with one of the most represented populations in our community. 

Teachers leaving have a unique, yet forceful impact on all Webb students, as we attend a school where personal relationships are the key to making Webb feel like home. We entrust faculty with our thoughts and opinions — parts of our identities. As our trust cycles out with our favorite faculty member leaving and the tiring process of building new connections starts anew, we are ultimately left with a sense of unease, knowing that even our closest relationships can easily be broken. 

Staff vote: Of the 34 voting staff members, 24 voted for publishing the editorial, and 10 voted against publishing the editorial.