Changing the Status Quo: Supporting Millennial Teachers

In a previous post, I made a shocking admission: I am a millennial. This jaw-dropping information may cause some to gasp or even stop reading, but I am proud of my generational status.

However recently, my millennial-pride caused me to delve into a research rabbit hole I couldn’t escape. I had engaged in a spirited discussion centered around change or lack thereof in our schools, and I left feeling misunderstood. I raced home and hopped on my computer (Don’t forget, us millennials love technology) and began to research and learn about millennials in the workplace, specifically schools. What I learned gave me insight into how schools can better support my generation as educators.

A 2016 Gallup survey found most new teachers are millennials, yet only six percent of superintendents strongly agree their district understands the needs of my generation. This poses a major issue as the majority of new teachers belong to the millennial generation. When districts and their leadership do not understand the needs of their employees, the employees cannot be fully supported. As we know Arizona struggles to hire and keep qualified, effective teachers. Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy “found 23% of teachers hired between 2013-2015 were not teaching in Arizona after one year.” Even more disturbing is the fact “42% of Arizona teachers hired in 2013 left the profession within three years.”

When looking at this data, it makes me wonder what would happen if we effectively supported, motivated, and celebrated new teachers, in particular, millennial teachers entering the workforce? Could we change these unfortunate statistics?  

I think the answer is clear. So, how can we do this? Do we need a magic potion? The answer is simple: No. Rather we must have leaders who seek to understand and value my generation.

The Gallup survey found several interesting characteristics about millennials. First, we do not accept the phrase, “That’s the way it’s always been done.”  In fact, we LOVE change. We thrive in an environment that supports change and thus must be encouraged and supported when we seek to change the status quo.

Recently, a colleague pointed out that my favorite word is “Why?” I, like my fellow buddies, seek to understand the purpose in nearly everything I do. We are not the generation that simply sees work as a paycheck or a means to an end. But rather we must find purpose in our work, in our teaching, and in our lives. If we don’t understand why we are doing something, we often shut down or push back. This is not because we are mean, lazy, or simply don’t want to work. In fact, we want to work hard and prove ourselves. But we can’t do something simply because we have been told. We seek to understand.

We also want feedback through coaching. We want to partner with our mentors in order to develop our skills and work toward goals. An annual review doesn’t have much meaning or effect as a way to provide feedback and guidance. We seek constant feedback about how we can improve and when we fall or stumble, we want to feel supported by learning from this process by talking about how we can overcome obstacles.  

As I reflect upon my generation while writing this piece, I am starting to think, maybe it’s not just a “millennial thing,” seeking change, purpose, and coaching but rather something our profession has in common. As teachers, we constantly reflect, seek new ideas and reevaluate purpose, and use feedback to guide our practice. Maybe our leaders need to spend time listening to their teachers, novice and seasoned, so we can improve the condition of our profession and see more teachers staying in the profession for a lifetime.

 

Leah Clark

Leah Clark

Phoenix, Arizona

I joined the teaching profession after spending several years in luxury retail. While the free clothes and handbags were definite job perks, I felt burned out and tired of long hours, weekends and holidays. So, I went back to school to become a teacher and have never looked back. I love my job!
My teaching philosophy is simple: Do what’s best for kids. While it’s not eloquent, this humble phrase directs every decision I make about teaching and students. As a Language Arts teacher at a central Phoenix high school, it’s my honor and passion to create opportunities for students to communicate, collaborate, create and connect with one another and the world around them.
When I am not grading a stack of essays, planning a new lesson, or chaperoning a school dance, I love riding my yellow Huffy bicycle around town, sampling a new restaurant, and traveling to Flagstaff with my husband.

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