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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