Trend Tracker: Teaching’s Generation Gap

By Bryan Toporek — November 18, 2009 4 min read
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Teachers’ views on compensation and job expectations can vary depending upon age and experience, according to a recent survey analysis. However, the study, conducted by Learning Point Associates and Public Agenda, also found that there are certain professional realms in which educators are in consensus, regardless of their age and experience, including their desire to have meaningful collaborative experiences and their strong opposition to linking pay to student performance.

The report’s findings and policy recommendations seek a better understanding of the high turnover of Generation Y public school teachers—those born between 1977 and 1995. With an attrition rate that is 44 percent greater than that of their older colleagues (Generation X and Baby Boomers), Gen Y teachers also have different traits and expectations, according to the writers of the study. They came of age during an era of rapid growth in digital technology, they tend to have a strong sense of social responsibility, and a need for frequent feedback.

Teacher Performance

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Over the last 50 years, according to the report, teachers have changed in their views of how they wish to be remunerated for their work—with views on the salary-scale model based on education level and seniority having shifted slightly. When it comes to merit pay, Generation Y teachers are generally more open than their older colleagues to the idea of being rewarded financially for their performance and responsibilities in the classroom, except when it comes to teaching hard to reach students, where nearly 70 percent of all educators surveyed feel they should be compensated for their instructional efforts.

Seventy-one percent of Gen Y teachers support the idea of rewarding teachers financially who work harder and put in more time than colleagues, where as 63 percent of older teachers support the idea. Roughly the same statistically relationship exists between Gen Y and older teachers when it comes to remunerating teachers for achieving certification from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. Receiving compensation for a positive principal evaluation elicited a positive response from 61 percent for Gen Y teachers, compared with only 52 percent of older teachers.

Yet nearly three-quarters of all teachers feel they should be rewarded financially for working with students who are hard to reach. Similarly, about 70 percent of all teachers believe they should be compensated for working in low-performing schools.

Teachers across age groups are equally and fiercely skeptical about “tying teacher rewards to student performance.” That idea ranked dead last out of 12 proposals for improving teacher effectiveness. (Others included requiring teachers to pass difficult subject-area tests, reducing class size, and making the termination of ineffective teachers easier.) Seventy-two percent of Generation Y teachers, and 80 percent of Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1965) believe it’s unfair to “attach teacher pay” to student learning because “so many things that affect student learning are beyond their control.”

Improving Teacher Effectiveness

Exploring ways to improve teacher effectiveness, the study found that teachers cross-generationally recognize the presence of ineffective teachers in their own schools and agree that terminating effective teachers would improve teacher performance overall. (Half of Gen Y teachers and only a quarter of Baby Boomers agree that teacher effectiveness can be improved with merit pay.) Almost a third of Gen Y teachers believe that “more than a few” ineffective teachers are working in their schools, while only 20 percent of older teachers agree. More than three-quarters of all teachers agree that terminating ineffective teachers would effectively improve teacher performance overall.

In the discussion of the results, the writers suggest that teachers could suffer ill-effects from being around ineffective colleagues. While close to 80 percent of teachers of all ages support removing ineffective educators from the classrooms, 66 percent of all teachers believe that the union sometimes protects ineffective teachers—a percentage, the authors note, that has grown by 18 points since 2003.

A Desire for Collaboration

Teachers across all generations also expressed a desire to work in a school district where teachers collaborate frequently, with almost 70 percent of Gen Y and older teachers interested in a collaborative environment were they to transfer to another school. Only 31 percent of older teachers would prefer less collaboration and more freedom to design their own lesson plans, while 26 percent of Gen Y teachers would prefer a school with little communication between peers.

Finally, despite the “oft-cited statistic that roughly half of all new teachers nationwide leave within their first five years in the classroom,” 68 percent of all teachers surveyed intended on staying in the classroom for 10 years or longer.

“The findings presented in this report,” the writers of the report conclude, “consistently indicate that to retain more teachers of all generations, the most powerful thing that policymakers and others can do is to support teachers’ ability to be effective with their students. Teachers who can see that they are making a difference in their students’ learning will stay in the profession longer.”

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