Guest Co-Author: Jesse Cameron Unkel, M.Ed.
Today is UNESCO's World Teachers' Day. https://en.unesco.org/commemorations/worldteachersday
The theme, “Young Teachers: The Future of the Profession,” opens a discussion about the future of education and how the needs of a new generation of teachers. As oldest members of Generation Z begin to fill the seats across college campuses and enter the workforce, understanding their characteristics, desires, and needs is critical to recruiting these digital natives to careers in education. Generation Z, often called the Post-Millennials, are those children born between approximately 1995 to 2010 (Seemiller & Grace, 2016). These are the children of No Child Left Behind. Their school life has been guided by data tracking their progress on the mastery continuum, the charter movement, and a revolving door of teachers.
Similar to the children of the Great Depression, Generation Z have been deeply shaped by the Great Recession and desire to avoid debt after having witnessed their parents struggle through the economic downturns of the past decades. From the moment of birth, these digital natives have had the world literally at their fingertips. Cell phones have essentially become an extension of them as this generation spends more time on their smartphones than any other device. Unlike their grandparents and parents, television does not entertain them, rather these young people follow YouTubers for everything from entertainment to hobbies. Yet, Gen Z has also be shaped by 9/11 and worry about security, both personal and professional (Seemiller & Grace, 2016).
Seemiller & Grace (2016), describe Gen Z members as loyal, compassionate, thoughtful, responsible, determined, and open-minded. These up and coming adults are competitive, motivated by clear rewards, and multi-task very well. They have an entrepreneurial spirit far greater than the previous generation. Interestingly enough, these digital natives, who typically solicit answers from Google, also seek out face-to-face discussions more than Millenials. Generation Z desires opportunities to grow and advance, due to their competitive needs. This Generation is also more cautious and more adverse to taking risks as demonstrated through lower levels of risky behaviors. Finally, they desire to be engaged and purposeful. Before we scoff at changing a profession to suit the workforce, we must remember this generation has more opportunity and choices than any other generation before them. Making teaching attractive will require changes in the way educators work and interact.
Teacher Quality and Critical Shortages
We know teacher quality in each classroom is key, thus the pathway to becoming a certified teacher has become more rigorous since the installation of No Child Left Behind in 2001, as have requirements to remain on the job including value-added measures and the elimination of tenure in many states. Accountability has raised the level of expectations. However, these more rigorous requirements and higher classroom expectations have not come with additional pay increases or better working conditions. Teacher shortages in many areas, particularly in high needs schools, are moving towards the extreme. Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond (2017) stated nationally, teachers, who start their careers in Title 1 schools, will leave the profession at 50% higher rates. Teachers teaching in schools with high concentrations of student of color have a 70% high turnover rate.
Redesigning a Profession for the Long-term
We have already increased the rigor required in the profession, but we must also reconsider the working conditions as a whole. Reasons for leaving the profession include factors such as lack of administrative support, working in districts with lower salaries, dissatisfactions with testing and accountability pressures, lack of opportunities for advancement, and dissatisfaction with working conditions as given as reasons for leaving (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017). These run obviously counter to the desires of Generation Z and we will have difficult time recruiting and retaining these people if teaching does not change. If we desire to recruit, retain, and support future teachers from Generation Z, we must reconsider the profession as a whole to create on more enticing and Gen Z-friendly.
When exiting high school, Gen Z is focused on limited debt. One way to encourage these students to enter the teaching profession is to offer scholarships in critical shortage areas. The scholarships would be offered to top-level students and hold rigorous requirements, thus making these prestigious and coveted. The scholarships would be for degrees in core content with a double major in education. The student would be required to teach in a state school for four years post-graduation. During the internship year and first year of teaching, place the scholarship recipients with strong mentors in strong schools. During the teacher’s second to fourth years, place them in critical areas. Throwing young teachers into difficult schools with little support only increases the chances of them leaving the profession.
Stratify and Negotiate Salaries
Generation Z wants to be able to be rewarded for their work and not treated as a group. Blanket salary schedules with no consideration of job tasks, dedication, or effectiveness do not appeal to these individuals. When the rigorous requirements to become a teacher are considered, young people may wonder why would they work to pass rigorous coursework to earn $45000 (or less) a year in a field requiring many hours of unpaid overtime, when they could work in other fields making double the salary with time free for family and friends.
All teaching positions are not equal. Currently, most districts have standard pay schedule where all teachers, regardless of level or responsibility, are paid according to years in the classroom. If core content is critical and worth the millions we spend on standard assessments, then surely teachers teaching those courses should be compensated for the required expertise and added stress. Paying for such expertise and effort would be one way to stratify salaries. Teachers teaching courses with more responsibilities and greater stakes should be paid more than teachers who have limited after-school work such as grading and extensive lesson planning. The after-hours workload varies tremendously and offers little to no compensation from subject to subject. The life outside of school is grueling for core content teachers. An AP English teacher, with 125 students a day, will need over 6+ hours outside of school to grade a single 5 page essay assignment, in addition to lesson planning, grading of exams, pre-reading, material prep-work, and parental contacts. The out of school time jumps quickly to 20+ hours for little compensation. Conversely, some teaching positions require little outside work, but the pay is the same.
Allow teachers to negotiate work loads, including course load, extracurriculars, additional duties, and professional development. Rather than trying to treat everyone the same, understand different teaching jobs require different skills and different levels of time and work.
A recent study found Generation Z places high value on job security (Forbes, 2017). This is a plus as security in teaching is a fairly easy sell. While salaries will need to increase to attract these students, benefits, such as healthcare and job security, are positive in the profession and are important to this group. Stressing these elements to potential candidates is a positive.
Generation Z also desires strong work relationships and prefers to work with mentors. A positive step towards meeting this need is to move towards full year residency programs for undergraduate degrees, rather than the more traditional single semester of student teaching. Allowing first year teachers to remain under a mentor for an additional year would be an effective way to scaffold support and build expertise in the young teachers. The mentor should then continued to work with the novice teacher for three more years, thus helping the novice transition through the critical fourth year.
Gen Z also highly values autonomy and innovation (Seemiller & Grace, 2016). The current trends towards scripted lessons delivered to teachers via email, which they read verbatim, or top-down driven decisions is extremely undesirable to this generation. These individuals are primed to flourish in schools of innovation and redesign. Unfortunately, innovation does not match the current hyper-accountability movement. However, this does not mean the two are incompatible; it is in fact the very opposite. The very essence of accountability is to have individuals take ownership in their independent contributions. Accountability is necessary to promote professional growth, recognize the distinctive quality of high-caliber work, and identify the level of impact an individual is making in their profession: all characteristics Generation Z employees are eagerly searching for in their professional career. In fact, true accountability requires autonomy and innovation in order to develop effective feedback that can be used to continuously grow schools, teachers, and students.
Generation Z is also highly competitive and desire recognition for their efforts (Seemiller & Grace, 2016). Unfortunately, teaching is currently a profession where everyone is treated equally with little to no individual recognition. The restrictive nature inherent to scripted instructional plans can lead to a lack of teacher identity, where each teacher is indistinguishable from the next. This creates a professional environment that runs counter to the generational attributes of this dynamic young workforce as the merits of a curriculum are recognized over the merits of the professional teacher.
Generation Z’s competitiveness can be valued as an asset and used in conjunction with accountability as their desire to be the best leads to the hard work ethic it takes to achieve the best. Using this trait to create autonomous, problem-solving, effective teachers will be critical in staffing classrooms. If young teachers can meet the rigor of becoming a teacher, work with strong mentors during the first two to three years, and meet accountability requirements, they should be trusted to make decisions in the classroom. In the revolution of the teaching profession, developing systematic methods for innovation and development like those found in Finland and Japan is critical to engaging these potential teachers.
We have to release our traditional notions of what teaching is. For forty years we have sought one reform movement after another with little impact. We will continue to fail unless we redefine and reinvent the job of teaching in the United States of America into a highly-respected, highly favored, and highly effective profession. Generation Z has the potential to revolutionize our education system, effectually transforming it into one of the highest-performing in the world, if we will unleash their strengths. All of their characteristics support their need to find a purpose and fulfill it for the betterment of their world. Teaching is such a profession. If we leveraged all of the potential of this amazing generation to create something new and powerful grounded in the foundations of what we know is effective teaching, we may create a reform movement that is successful and ultimately purposeful.
Carver-Thomas, D. & Darling-Hammond, L., (2017, August). Teacher turnover: Why it matters and what we can do about it. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/Teacher_Turnover_REPORT.pdf
Forbes Coaches Council. (2017, March 3). Generation Z: 12 Important things companies need to understand. Forbes Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2017/03/03/generation-z-12-important-things-companies-need-to-understand/#776323271fe3
Seemiller, C., & Grace, M. (2016). Generation Z goes to college. San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass.
Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond, L., & Carver-Thomas, D. (2016, September). A coming crisis in teaching? Teacher supply, demand, and shortages in the U.S. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. Retrieved from https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/A_Coming_Crisis_in_Teaching_REPORT.pdf
I am a teacher, which in a single word, sums up my passions and my belief in the future.