Voices: Get with it: Millennials are the future of teaching

As part of an ongoing series on recruiting, training and supporting teachers, Donnell-Kay fellow Sarah Jenkins argues that the education world must adapt to the work habits of Millennial teachers. 

Millennials are credited with being many things, from lazy, entitled know-it-alls to advocates for a better world. To add some of my own labels, we Millennials are a fact of life and transformers of the status-quo. The climate in which my generation was raised has shaped our outlook on careers and how we approach educational equity.

A 2011 Pew Research Center survey revealed trends in Millennials’ career perception. Of the 808 18 to 34 year olds surveyed, only 30 percent view their current job as a career. Breaking down that data, 11 percent of 18-24 year olds, 34 percent of 25-29 year olds, and 49 percent of 30-34 year olds view their job as a career.

In light of these findings, the education world must adapt to the career habits of Millennial teachers who now make up a majority of the teacher workforce, as research from the University of Pennsylvania shows us. The University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education infographic, “The Changing Face of the Teaching Force” examines a number of meaningful shifts:

  • In 2008, the most common teacher was a first year teacher. In 1987, the most common teacher had 15 years of experience.
  • Today, more than 200,000 new teachers begin each year. Twenty-five years ago, 65,000 new teachers began each year.
  • Of the new teachers entering the workforce, 65 percent are recent college graduates.

The data from University of Pennsylvania shows that a significant number of teachers are Millennials. The Pew survey indicated that Millennials don’t equate “job” with “career.” These facts, along with Millennial teachers’ beliefs about education, require us to rethink the present and the future of the profession.

The Teach Plus report, Great Expectations: Teachers’ Views on Elevating the Teaching Profession, compares beliefs of what Teach Plus refers to as “New Majority” teachers with those of veteran teachers. With ten or fewer years of experience, New Majority teachers now make up over 50 percent of the teacher workforce, and, given the data from the University of Pennsylvania, we know that most of these teachers are Millennials.

Millennials and veterans do find some areas of agreement, like support for increased collaboration, but areas of disagreement merit an even closer look:

  • 71 percent of New Majority teachers, versus 41 percent of veteran teachers, agree that student growth should be part of teacher evaluations.
  • 72 percent of New Majority teachers, versus 41% percent of veteran teachers, agree that to increase salary, change to the compensation and tenure system should be considered.
  • 39 percent of New Majority teachers, versus 51 percent of veteran teachers, agree that licensure tests covered skills needed to be successful in the classroom.

Teach Plus recognizes that, alongside the demographic makeup, the values of teachers are changing, and we must move forward with these values in mind.

The current educational landscape in Colorado has a dearth of Millennial voice. Millennials are a new and different generation that will dominate the teaching profession in the next decade. Instead of asking this generation to adapt backwards to a system that is not aligned with its own visions, we should work forward towards policy solutions that meet the needs of the industry’s emerging workforce. At all levels we must consider the evolving face of the teaching profession, bring in new voices, and establish policies that reflect the desires of teachers.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.