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Teacher Generation Gap Not Surprising

Two new national surveys found that attitudes about controversial issues affecting the teaching profession divided along generation lines. According to Teach Plus and Education Sector, newer teachers are more open to changes than veteran teachers when it comes to tenure, ratings and compensation ("Surveys Find Generation Gap on Contested Teacher Policies," Education Week, Nov. 13).

Although the results are interesting, they are totally predictable. There will always be exceptions, of course, but in any profession veteran practitioners tend to be far less idealistic than novices. Reality has a way of eroding idealism. Certainly this is the case in teaching, where most new teachers are fresh out of college and not much older than their students. However noble their reasons for choosing teaching, they find it hard to maintain their initial enthusiasm.

What I find especially notable is the divide about unions. New teachers take for granted the rights and benefits they possess. But I can assure them that school districts didn't bestow such things out of the goodness of their hearts. They were won by hard negotiations that sometimes led to protracted strikes. I know that was the case in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where I taught for 28 years. Before unions, there was collective begging - not collective bargaining. Teachers were treated like hired hands, without any meaningful influence on policies.

One finding by Education Sector stands out. It reported that newer teachers are significantly more supportive of increasing pay for "teachers who consistently receive outstanding evaluations by their principals." I wonder if they realize how much a role favoritism would play in this strategy? I taught under principals who ranged from stellar to atrocious. If teachers happen to get a principal who is fair and open-minded, that's one thing. But it's quite another if they happen to inherit a bully. Without a strong union to back them up, teachers' lives in the classroom can be made miserable.

I think Richard M. Ingersoll, professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, said it best: Veterans have good reason to be wary. They've seen too much highly touted reform that turned out to be a total disappointment. It will be interesting to see if newer teachers change their opinions after they've spent more time in the classroom.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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