When I decided to become a teacher at an early age, I didn’t consider many factors. I just knew that teachers had made a difference in my life, and I wanted a chance to do that. New, young teachers seem far more savvy than I was, and they have more career options as well. Microsoft Education, in partnership with the Economist Intelligence Unit, surveyed over a thousand student teachers and early career teachers around the world. Their findings surprise me only in their universality.
“The younger generation of teachers are digital, global, social, mobile, and visual,” said Mark Sparvell, an education leader at Microsoft. “They prioritize social-emotional learning, … they prioritize global issues. This is a very values-oriented generation—they seek to work with purpose and passion, and without that, they’ll leave.” We need young teachers to stay and thrive. Our students can’t afford the revolving door any more.
This survey offers insights into what these young teachers really want and need. More than half the teachers surveyed “chose the profession because they enjoy working with children, and 46 percent said they want to make an impact on future generations.” But 45 percent are worried about low salaries and about stress and burnout. They are clear on their top priorities: improving physical learning spaces, increasing the size of the workforce, and having more technology in the classroom. Yet the respondents, who really want to use technology for higher order thinking skills, feel inadequately trained to do that and find a lack of sufficient technology tools and support. They also anticipate increasing classroom diversity but feel insufficiently prepared to teach in a multi-cultural and/or multi-language setting. What will we do to address these concerns?
These concerns matter. Students whose teachers have adequate training and tools will benefit. And teachers who feel they have adequate training and tools may stay in the profession. As a group, teachers are getting younger: “According to research done by University of Pennsylvania professor Richard Ingersoll, the most common age of a public-school teacher now ranges from the mid-30s to the mid-40s. In 2007-08, the most common age was 55. In 2015-16, about 60 percent of newly hired teachers in public schools were younger than age 29.” The National Teacher Principal Survey tells us that 44% of teachers leave the profession within five years, a rate higher than the national average for career changes. For schools and students to succeed, we must commit to address the concerns of these younger teachers or risk having a less experienced, less stable teaching force.
As a country, we need well-educated students who are prepared for the future. We need teachers to stay in the profession and to continue to grow. Money could address the concerns they have expressed for better physical spaces, increased hiring, and more availability of technology. Meeting professional development [PD] needs, however, gets trickier. During my career, PD too often consisted of one-hit wonders as we looked at a different issue every semester or new school year. Only my training in Problem-Based Learning was ongoing with mentors and a peer group. That training really transformed my teaching. We must provide relevant and ongoing PD for all teachers, especially those younger teachers with limited experience, to thrive.
Surprisingly, these survey respondents don’t see a need for professional development to address the concerns they’ve expressed, perhaps because they’ve experienced the kind of fragmented, often irrelevant or abstract PD that turns teachers off. We can and must do better. According to Roxanna Elden, a former teacher and a writer who provides resources for beginning teachers, “new teachers want advice, but they are often intimidated to admit that they are struggling or don’t know everything. Online communities can give them concrete, nonjudgmental advice.” Young teachers need release time to work with non-supervisory mentors in a low-risk situation, to observe, to be observed, and to discuss all those observations. That, too, takes commitment and money. Too often glib statements emerge about how much Americans care about education. For those statements to stand, we must back them up with resources. The alternative is far more expensive in the long run.