Today the American Federation of Teachers and the American Institutes for Research released a very important report on the future of teaching — revealing what Generation Y teachers believe they need in order to teach effectively. The report, built on a plethora of surveys, focus groups, and case studies, should serve as a wake-up call for those who tend to simplify the problems facing the profession.
Here are key findings:
1. Gen Y teachers seek “more frequent feedback on their teaching” than their more veteran colleagues — but also want more assistance from their peers (not just from administrators);
2. Gen Y teachers want more time and opportunities to improve their practice through meaningful collaboration;
3. Gen Y teachers embrace performance pay plans, but believe that their effectiveness cannot be accurately measured through standardized test scores alone;
4. Gen Y teachers are enthusiastic about new networking technologies that can improve teaching and learning.
These findings mirror what we are learning from the young teachers involved in our New Millennium Initiative. Generation Y teachers have no problem whatsoever with calls for more accountability among the teaching ranks. However, having studied assessment and accountability issues in depth, they are deeply skeptical of the mechanical tools being used in states like Florida, where the governor was recently called to task by Rick Hess for “setting one-size-fits-all prescriptions” for teacher evaluation.
I’m inspired by what this report reveals about Generation Y teachers’ attitudes toward their profession. Compared with young teachers in 1999-2000, Generation Y teachers in 2008 were more likely to say they hoped to “stay in teaching as long as I am able” and less likely to report being “undecided” about their career plans.
How can we help each talented young teacher to “stay in teaching as long as I am able”? This study offers concrete answers from the teachers themselves. And the very conditions highlighted by Generation Y teachers (collaboration with peers, frequent feedback on their teaching, equitable and reliable assessment, and technology-imbedded learning environments) are right in line with what research tells us works for students.
Through TEACHING 2030, we are developing a vision that considers the needs of 21st-century students and the new generation of teachers who will serve them. We must invest in working conditions and policies that will help students and teachers succeed in meeting 21st-century expectations. We must be willing to rethink ways to structure teachers’ work so we make the most of their talents while benefiting all students. (For example, teacherpreneurs could work with students while also serving as learning architects, web curators, teacher educators, researchers, policy mavens, and other innovative roles… opportunities that will appeal to the Generation Y teachers who are destined to be among the profession’s leaders.)
As we imagine a brighter future for America’s students and schools, it is time to listen to the hopeful voices of our Generation Y teachers — and to acknowledge the sincere efforts of teacher unions whose leaders are increasingly committed to making sure these voices are heard.