Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Are We Alienating Young Teachers?

vonzastrowc's picture

Young teachers aren't buying it, either. That's one of the main findings from a recent Public Agenda poll of teachers from three generations. "Generation Y" teachers are very skeptical of ideas that dominate current debates on school reform. This finding does not bode well for the reform agenda. It suggests that policy makers and pundits may be alienating the very people who must carry out the reforms.

The poll results tell us that resistance to some of the big reform ideas is by no means confined to old union stalwarts. The younger folk don't believe test scores should be the main determinant of teacher pay. They believe it should be easier to remove bad teachers, but they don't think tenure should go the way of the dodo.

It's at least as interesting to note what the young 'uns do want. They want staff development, help with discipline, constructive feedback on their teaching, and the chance to collaborate with their peers. In other words, they want the support and the conditions they need to do their jobs well. Those issues seem largely absent from national discussions of school reform.

Another finding of the Public Agenda poll struck me: Young teachers plan to stick around. Almost seven in ten planned to stay in classroom for more than a decade. The notion that those kids from "Gen Y" plan to cycle in and out of new careers every few years doesn't seem to hold here. That seems like as good news--something to build on. Do we want to squander that sentiment by suggesting that teaching should be a short-term gig?

I don't mean to say that tough topics like teacher pay should be off the table. Nor do I mean to suggest that reformers should slavishly follow the polls. But people who want to promote change have to hear the concerns of those on the front lines. It won't do to ignore them or dismiss them as the last struggles of a few bitter enders.

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Is this surprising though?

Is this surprising though? These ideas are nearly universal in teacher training programs/education schools, so its no wonder that they are the beliefs of the younger generation.

What do you know about

What do you know about teacher education programs, Jason? You've never been in one. All you know is what they tell you in education policy programs.

It's largely what we learned

It's largely what we learned in policy programs as well. I noticed you also didn't question the accuracy of my statement, rather you chose to attack me personally. Classy, Tom.

As Baby Boomers retire, we'll

As Baby Boomers retire, we'll need as many as we can get of all types of teachers of all ages with all types of career goals and all types of training. We can't afford to be aleinating anyone who wants to jump into the fray.

Now that districts will be needing to rehire teachers in a hurry, it probably won't happen, but this year would be an especially good time to recruit in a completel open-minded way.

Surprising or not, the ideas

Surprising or not, the ideas young teachers are espousing here are backed up by research; more anecdotally, my own experience supports them as well. I happen to have come through a superb M.A.T. program (yes, they do exist!), but have worked throughout my career to keep my thinking up to date. I see the results of this poll as encouraging.

Tom, I take Jason's note at

Tom, I take Jason's note at face value. Ed schools probably do teach that. Jason, if anyone took exception to your comment, it's probably because it has become common to assume that any word uttered in an ed school is stuff and nonsense. (Bill reminds us that there are, after all, excellent programs).

But I hardly think ed schools are indoctrinating teachers into those opinions--though perhaps you didn't mean to suggest that. As you note, policy programs also tend to teach that teachers need support and strong teaching conditions. That's not surprising; people want an environment that helps them succeed. In fact, there are rafts of research from a whole lot of industries other than education that point to the importance of (and employees' desire for) staff development, opportunities for collaboration and constructive feedback.

As for performance pay schemes that use test scores as the primary metric, I can't imagine that ed schools are instilling skepticism in young teachers who would otherwise embrace the idea with open arms. After all, this stuff will be very personal to them, and the science of value-added measurement is still developing.

And if ed schools are somehow convincing their students that they should want to stay in the classroom for 10 years or more, that's a good thing--though I suspect they have that desire before the pass through the ed school gates.

John makes a good point. As retirements loom and needs grow, we need as many of the best people as we can get--and we need to support them when they start working in schools. All hands on deck!

"When the largest

"When the largest stakeholders in any endeavor are seen as the opposition, you will fail."

When teachers, young, old and middle-aged, are invited to the table of reform, then we'll begin to see some changes.

I just don't see how teachers

I just don't see how teachers young or old can be taken seriously when they don't want to be held accountable for how their students do. That's not a comment on reforms, it's a comment on teachers.

I don't see how we should

I don't see how we should take your comment seriously when you refuse to be accountable - I note you post as Anonymous.

Let's be clear - teachers ARE accountable already, and we do not need test scores - which are quite often not a reflection of what students have learned in our class - to make us accountable.

First and foremost I am accountable to myself - that I take seriously my responsibilities; that I take the time to know my students so that I can insure how instruct and the lessons I do provide ways for them to connect with the learning they need to do; that I have high expectations for all my students, including that they take some responsibility for their own learning; that I provide extra help for any student who needs it and is willing to ask for it, and encourage them to ask, and providing opportunities where they can just show up.

Next I am responsible to my students - that is my greatest responsibility beyond myself. My responsibility is not to be their friend, but it makes a difference that they know I care about them, beyond the grades on any paper or the score on any test.

I am responsible to the adults who care for them, be they biological parents, other relatives, foster parents, adoptive parents. That is why I call every family at the start of the year, they all have my emails at both home schools, and if they need it they can have my cell phone, although I point out it is usually best to send me an email before we talk so I can have any information I might need to answer their concerns.

I am responsible to the administrators in my building and my school district, to the fellow teachers in my building, in my department and others.

All teachers are already accountable. Your attempting to narrow that to evaluating teachers based on student test scores does not serve the students well. And the professional evidence is there: from peer reviewed studies, from statement by psychometricians on the limitations of our tests in what they can inform us, and most of all on the clear evidence of what has happened as we have put more and more emphasis on test scores: contraction of the curriculum in eliminating arts, tech ed, shop, and phys ed; increasing numbers of students who arrive at high school without adequate background in social studies which is not tested in elementary and middle school for AYP and therefore is pushed out; increasing numbers of students needing remedial course in post-secondary institutions because the ever increasing emphasis on low-level tests means that students have not learned how to write, how to take appropriate notes from lecture or from reading, how to participate appropriately in class discussions.

I blog as teacherken. I do not hide my real name, which is Kenneth Bernstein. My user page at Daily Kos, where I blog most often and am most visible, contains an email. I not only teach, I write about education. I have been paid for work written for the Washington Post, Teacher Magazine, the New York Times, and the Learning First Alliance. I have nationally known figures in education asking me to write about their books. I stand behind my statements in education.

You take potshots that are inaccurate and demonstrate your lack of understanding in their simplistic formulation. Maybe it's good you hide behind being anonymous.

Kenneth, Your response is

Your response is eloquent and extremely valid-- you took the words right out of my mouth. I am not against accountability either, but these tests do not reflect what we do in the classroom. They are rarely helpful for me as instructor, either, as the "data" is so vague that I cannot actually use it to inform my instruction.

I find the earlier comment that teachers believe the lines they are fed about testing in teacher's college interesting for two reasons. One, it bespeaks an assumption that teachers believe whatever their unions and education programs tell them. I realize their are some "followers" in our ranks, but believe it or not, some of us are capable of thinking for ourselves.

What I've been noting lately online is how many "accountability" folks don't really think for themselves-- they merely parrot the same lines about how teachers are lazy and don't like testing because they don't want to be held accountable, etc. Simply repeating this mantra is "buying" someone else's line, too, which is what we are being accused of.

I don't criticize the testing movement because propoganda convinced me to dislike it. I criticize it because I see what it's doing to our elementary schools. The feeder schools to my middle school are now limited to 15 to 25 minutes a day for Social Studies and Science because those areas are not tested. As Kenneth said above, this narrowing of the curriculum lowers the background knowledge needed to be strong readers later, which is why high school reading scores stagnate.

And then there are the students who have one bad day, or who don't test well, and pay the price by being put in mind-numbing "intensive" reading classes every year. I had students who scored high on our writing test (a 5 or 6) but only got a 2 on the reading test because although they read well, they are not strong testers. So in high school this year, they have Honors English and Intensive Reading. How does that make sense?

My own son scored a perfect reading score in 7th grade. In 8th grade he missed two questions and dropped from a level 5 to a level 4. I was his English teacher both years. How was I supposed to use the data from his perfect score in 7th grade to help him not drop a level in 8th? He apparently had no weaknesses to address. This year he got a perfect score again, and a perfect score in Math. He doen't need his teachers focusing on testing skills, and neither do other kids like him. He needs to go beyond what can be tested on a standardized test. We are boring our best and brightest to tears with this nonsense of focusing everything on the test.

I know my experiences are anecdotal, but remember, individuals matter as much as statistics. And statistics give a big picture, but don't apply to every individual. Pundits tell us we are losing sight of the individual student, and data forces us to focus on them. There is some truth in that. But relying too much on statistics and data can also make us lose sight of the individual student. These are people, not scores we are dealing with. When I catch myself saying, "He's a 1," I wince.

I think for myself. I am not against the out of control testing because my union or my teachers college told me to be. Is there room for testing? Certainly. I pride myself on my scores, which are above the state and county average. But my scores are high not because I focus on the test, but because I teach real world literacy, and test scores come along for the ride.

Please, please stop assuming all teachers are stupid. We aren't. And we are capable of thinking for ourselves.

Anonymous--This comment

Anonymous--This comment wasn't meant to be an attack on tests. It wasn't even meant to be an attack on the use of value-added measures in evaluation, etc--though it does seem hasty to make those measures the main component of pay and evaluation even after research demonstrates their very troubling instability right now. The post was meant to suggest that many proponents of those measures haven't made their case for those measures to the people who will be most directly affected.

Part of the problem is, I think, the fact that many proponents oversell the measures--and then some policy makers run with them as if they had found the holy grail. You can't blame teachers for being skeptical. (There are, by the way, merit pay schemes designed by and with teachers in Colorado, Minnesota and elsewhere--and they make scores one of a broader set of measures).

I am perplexed when people

I am perplexed when people say teachers don't want to be accountable. What does this mean?

For 42 years I was held accountable by parents, administrators and other teachers. District, county and state supervisors evaluated my work frequently. Parents, many of whom observed teachers on a daily basis, knew who the good teachers were and spread the word around quickly. Even the superintendent seemed familiar with my students' work when he complimented me on their writing. When principals evaluated me, they always observed lessons and student work throughout the year. How else would you evaluate a teacher? How on earth could a teacher refuse to be accountable for the job she's doing? Does she have a choice?

Some people want teachers evaluated on the basis of standardized tests but of course there is no group test at the present time that is designed to measure a teacher's effectiveness. Almost all testing experts agree on this point. A psychologist or trained teacher could test each child in the fall and then again in the spring to give some information about the child's school progress (as opposed to home and school) but it would be very costly. Why would anyone want a teacher evaluated on the basis of a test that is not designed to do that?

The accountability in the teaching profession is extremely high and explains the fact that almost half of all new teachers drop out during the first five years. Many of these people are "counseled out" by administrators and colleagues. Others know intuitively that the job is not for them, especially when they get many complaints from parents and other teachers. Because they sign contracts, very few teachers are "fired." Rather, their contracts are not renewed. I believe this is the source of the myth that teachers can't be fired.

The teaching profession is the most self-selective of all the professions. Accountability is quite strong.

Ken and David, I hope the

Ken and David,

I hope the policy wonks that read your posts read them in the spirit of philosophers (i.e. lovers of wisdom), and will be willing to complicate their mental model of how schools work with the empirical evidence that you provide.

As for accountability: I really do believe that education schools are to blame for much that ails American education. I was the class gadfly in my ed school cohort, and yet I internalized much that they preached there. After many years I finally extricated my mind from their manacles, but how much less able my more conventional and polite classmates must be. I believe that ed school doctrine does reign supreme in the souls of most of our teaching corps. Teachers are just being good soldiers, executing their marching orders. Accountability should begin with the education school professors, many of whom are active enemies of truth and cynical careerists who do great harm to this country by purveying shoddy and contaminated intellectual merchandise. (And you right-wing/libertarian paid policy wonks aren't paragons of intellectual honesty either --ideology is the enemy of truth).

New teachers while supporting

New teachers while supporting tenure are also somewhat hesitant to suppport the idea of seniority. Gen Y teachers believe that only the best should be retained, and retention should not be based solely on and/or driven by seniority. New teachers are more willing to work longer hours, more days and a longer school year if all that would help the students with the greatest needs. Lastly, new teachers support alternatives to traditional public school programs and models. If non traditional programs and delivery systems can help students learn they are willing to support them. Ed reformers, policy makers, professional organizations and teachers' unions must understand where young teachers are on all the issues and modify their own organizational views and values based on the new membership. Only then will progress be made.

Are the newer crops of

Are the newer crops of credentialed teachers receiving better training than had been received by the seasoned teachers? I believe the answer is yes, but is this training alone sufficient to be an exemplary teacher. Most would agree that the experience received in the classroom is invaluable and necessary to become an exemplary teacher. New teacher are graduating with huge student loans, they want to be exemplary in the hope that their pay will reflect their efforts. They know that they need the in class experiences and all the training offered by their school to become more valuable and able to command higher pay. The new teachers must be stretched thin in this economy and being saddled with student loans it can’t be easy. So sure teachers stay, they grow their knowledge and they are nurtured as has been espoused in previous blogs. I believe the real question is how these teachers are kept after becoming exemplary. Is teacher pay, quality of the work environment, or degrees of freedom offered that keep the teachers from moving?

I will be starting my fourth

I will be starting my fourth year of education next week. I am both excited and nervous to undertake the exciting path of teaching that I have chosen for myself. I feel I am qualified to answer the questions as to what is being taught to the 'new teachers' and if it is better than what was taught years ago. I am a mature student and I have several friends that have been teachers for years and when I have an exciting idea to share with them, something I think is cutting edge, they can quote me the text book that it came from - most times. I have now come to firmly believe that many of the 'new principles' that are being taught to us have been taught over at least the past 10 years. The question I have is if these ideas have been extolled for so many years to countless numbers of teachers why are so many of the classrooms the same as when I went to school oh so long ago?

The reason that I have chosen to be a teacher, at this point in my life, is because I truly believe that we have to change how we teach. We need to meet these children where they are at and not try to force them to come to where I think they should be. This means differentiated instruction, modifications, individual plans etc. We, as educators, need to be part of the solution.

I agree with much of what has

I agree with much of what has been said.

Standardized test scores have nothing to do with teacher accountability. Perhaps if they took the students experiences into account, the strides they have made in specific periods of times, their readiness for the test into consideration they may begin to speak to accountability.

This post in particular

This post in particular confuses me. Let's look at a good application of value-added, for example. "Student experiences"-- by this I think that you mean that some students have tougher home lives that make it harder to learn in school. Value-added adds in demographic factors and often geographic factors (what district and school you attend) to capture the effects of poverty, bad neighborhoods, and challenging environmentments.

"Strides they have made in specific periods of times" -- this is precisely what a yearly exam does, measure strides over a specific period of time, in this case 1 year. Some states are looking to dig even a bit deeper and may include things like local (or statewide) built-out interim assessments that assess students 3 or 4 times a year.

"Readiness for the test"-- I'm not really sure this makes sense at all. Giving you the benefit of the doubt, then I think you're suggesting that we should control for prior test scores which value-added does. Otherwise, isn't "readiness" precisely what a test is meant to measure. Have you mastered this content at this point in time so that you are ready to be promoted to the next year and be successful mastering a new set of material that requires this material as a foundation?

Doesn't every dedicated and

Doesn't every dedicated and committed teacher who wants to stay motivated, be appreciated and do a good job want these things? Personal development is an aspiration for all teachers who want to grow personally, do better for themselves and their pupils. Help with discipline surely means that no teacher wants to feel alone and isolated and reactive and they need support from their school heads. It is unbelievable that these `soft' needs and requirements are not even factored into reforms.