Mark Sass, a teacher since 1994, teaches at Legacy High School in the Adams Five Star School District. He is a member of the Denver New Millennium Initiative.

In the Spring of 2010 I testified, with some other teachers, to the Colorado House and Senate Education Committees in support of SB 10-191, a bill that included major changes to the way teachers and principals are evaluated and retained.  I was one of a few teachers supporting the bill who had more than five years of teaching experience.

The fact that most of the teachers supporting the bill were less experienced teachers did not go unnoticed by legislators sitting on the committees.  Every time a teacher would introduce him or herself to the committee an opponent would be sure to ask how much experience he or she had.  (They failed to ask me how many years I had been teaching. Sixteen for me.) It was obvious that the opponents of the bill felt that less experienced, or younger teachers, did not have any credibility.

The assumption by opponents that more experienced teachers were against the bill had some merit.  Anecdotally, and in my exchanges with colleagues, I would agree that the less experienced and younger teachers were more favorable towards the bill. The opponents of SB 10-191 were valuing the years of teachers’ experience, which these days, flies in the face of many reform advocates who devalue veteran teachers.  Were the legislators operating off an assumption that the younger, less experienced teachers did not know any better?

Why the generational divide among teacher on SB 10-191?

I could never put my finger on why a divide existed between the various generations of teachers on the merits of SB 10-191.  There are some stark differences in how the older, veteran teachers view their profession in comparison to younger, less experienced teachers.

My thinking is based on a report that was published last spring, called Workplaces that Support High-Performing Teaching and Learning: Insights from Generation Y Teachers, published by the American Federation of Teachers and the American Institutes for Research. While the report “seeks to avoid sweeping generalizations while focusing on the trends in workplace expectations,” it does say that Gen Y-ers tend to “attribute their successes to the educational opportunities they have received; tend to be creative and tech-savvy; are committed to creating a better world around them; and are confident and idealistic that they can make this happen.”

The report focuses on why these Gen Y teachers are leaving the profession at a “rate that is 51 percent higher than older teachers, including retirees, and left their school to work at another one at a rate that was 91 percent higher than their older colleagues.” This high teacher mobility percentage can be devastating to schools. What is it about teachers’ workplaces that are failing Gen Y teachers, particularly in high-needs schools? Here’s what the report found:

  • Gen Y teachers tend to desire more frequent feedback on their teaching and impact from peers, mentors, and principals than do their more veteran colleagues.
  • Gen Y teachers tend to be more open to, and have more experience with, shared practice than do their more experienced colleagues.
  • Gen Y teachers tend to desire differentiation in rewards and sanctions for themselves and their colleagues based on effort and performance.
  • Gen Y teachers want to be evaluated, but tend to be very concerned about equity and validity in teacher evaluation.
  • Gen Y teachers tend to be very enthusiastic about instructional and social networking technology, but expect more from technology than what many schools can deliver.

SB 10-191 addresses many of the concerns that Gen Y teachers expressed in the report. Certainly, one of their greatest concerns is for a fair and valid evaluation process. I believe with time and a great deal of care, the teacher impact on student achievement component of the evaluation can be done fairly.

Look at the other provisions of SB 10-191 and compare them to what Gen Y-ers are looking for. SB 10-191 provides regular feedback; it has a provision in it that allows for peer evaluation. SB 10-191 identifies and differentiates among teachers, which could be used for differentiated pay. And SB 10-191 recognizes the importance of collaboration.

We need to be very vigilant during the implementation of SB 110-91.Valid measurement of a teacher’s impact on student achievement is a difficult endeavor. In my view, it is not insurmountable. Measuring student growth as impacted by a teacher is probably the most controversial aspect of the evaluation process.

But let’s not forget the other aspects of SB 10-191 and the positive impact it could have on all teachers, especially Gen Y-ers—those teachers who by 2020 will make up a majority of the teaching profession.