« Teachers and E-mail | Main | Do Parents Matter? »

Is There a Generation Gap in Teaching?


Teachers entering the profession today have far different career expectations than the large cohort that is now nearing retirement, according to Harvard education professor Susan Moore Johnson. Among other things, she says, new teachers need greater interaction with colleagues and expect career advancement through new positions.

What's your view? Is the teaching profession changing in terms of career expectations and needs? Is there a generational divide among teachers? Why is the attrition rate among new teachers so great? What can school systems do?


this is gonna be interesting. at 50, getting into teaching, i have seen an entire pendulum swing in the corporate world, where career-long dedication (with the fully vested retirement) has been overtaken by the dotcom leapfrog advancement.

I suppose there is a career ladder in the teaching world, as well as elsewhere. but does that mean teacher > admin...?

going from "doer" to "manager" may have made more money (in my previous life), but many of my peers wouldn't go 'there', as they would rather "do".

if you really want to teach, it makes sense that there is a ladder within the realm of teaching. does that vary from district to district, or is it merely a dream?



I’ve just retired after 35 years, but I still remember how we were stereotyped back in the late 60’s. I wouldn’t want to do that to another generation. The biggest change I see is in the gains made by white women outside education. They were the prime beneficiaries of affirmative actions programs (maybe the only ones). That left education with a significant brain drain of talent. Now that men are also bailing from education, I can see where there might be some real differences between the generations.

I don’t see any real difference in what young teachers need. We all needed interaction with our colleagues and a sense that we are all in the same boat. Of course, that interaction needs to be positive. The stereotype of the toxic teachers lounge is all too common. Young and old teachers need positive feedback and encouragement. That really isn’t happening much today. We get programmed texts and managed curriculum guides. The pay is never going to be that great and that internet with its cadre of 20-something millionaires isn’t helping at all. But instead of making schools more nurturing and nicer places to be, there is only talk of accountability and consequences. I heard that same kind of talk about students for 35 years and it is just as bankrupt an idea for students as it is for teachers. Teachers don’t need discipline and electric prod consequences. They need an open air of experimentation and creativity, but that seems to be the last thing going on today.

It seems to me the attrition rate was always pretty high for young teachers, but if it’s higher today, I have some guesses:

1. Teaching is a lot harder than most people think. And it really doesn’t matter whether you love the kids or not. It’s more fun to love them but that doesn’t make the job any easier. If you view the kids as the “problem,” and try to find a quick fix, you’ll still find your job incredibly hard. The disparity between how difficult the job is and how easy most people think it is will drive younger teachers away.

2. The topdown management structure has never changed in our schools. Forget the New Teachers Project and all the reports of how unions control everything and management can do nothing. I was there from the beginning as a union rep on the bargaining team and as the union grievance chair for almost 15 years. Management has always hated even the idea of collective bargaining. So, teachers face a persistent and relentless bullying. The only way to deal with it is to become Buddhist-like and neither ask nor expect anything. If you never want anything (like a fair wage or your own classroom, special assignments or a transfer to a “good” school, equipmetn that works), then you can’t be bribed or threatened. I stayed in my ghetto school for 35 years and never asked for a transfer and lived happily with my ghetto students who were just as interesting as anyone else. The arbitrary, and usually capricious, actions of management just wear you down, especially if you want “advancement.”

I guess it is the best and the worst thing about teaching. There are no real levels of advancement or promotion. If you are already the captain of a ship, you may want to be an admiral, but you don’t ever really need it. The title of teacher (it sounds so much more important in Spanish: profesor) should suffice. Now, if you’re not going to reward the status of teacher with money, you should at least reward it with freedom, trust and comfort. But we have none of these. You can tell immediately how much society values our services. Take a look at any classroom, at the condition of the desks and chairs, the walls and the equipment. As an English teacher perhaps I read these things too metaphorically, but one look at the typical student desk will tell you volumes about schools and values.

3. The rules. Why do schools have to be so authoritarian in structure? Put the fun back in grade school an make middle and high schools like college. I know. I know all about the problems. Like we don’t have problems now? Colleges are nice schools and they may have some problems of their own, but people like colleges—the students like them and teachers like being there. We’ve had this model for hundreds of years now, so why haven’t we made some changes in that direction?

Do we really need hall passes so our kids can pee?

As a teacher in her second year, I find a lot of these questions relevant to me in a personal way.
Let me start by saying, in some ways I love my job. I love teaching my students and seeing their eyes light up when they understand something as esoteric as subjunctives in a result clause. However, there are many things I don't love about my job, and these could potentially drive me from the field. First, I do not love the pay. I am a single woman, and trying to make ends meet is challenging at best. One shouldn't need a spouse to live without getting an ulcer from worrying about the bills. Yet, the pay is low enough that this is the reality of the situation.
Second, I don't love the idea that students and teachers have about being well qualified. I am currently finishing my Master's in Education. I also have a Masters in my content area, and around 20 credit hours beyond the Masters in my content area. Because of this, I am constantly asked why I am not teaching in a 1)college or 2)richer school district or 3)private school. I teach at my school because my students are just as smart and just as deserving as any other student Truth be told, a whole lot of college professors could care less about teaching, as they are judged on the quality of their research not their teaching in determining their job advancement and what not. These questions also reveal that the belief that teachers are those who failed at the "real world" is still very much alive.
Finally, the sheer amount of overwork. I get only one planning period every other day, and that is sometimes co-opted for standardized testing or other situations. It is hard to get everything done in the time allotted. Stress kills and it certainly negatively impacts most of the teachers I know. Plus, as was mentioned, there isn't always a great deal of positive encouragement and recognition. More should be done to recognize how much time, effort, love, attention, though, blood, sweat, and tears most teachers put into their classes.

I am tring to secure a job as a business education teacher in the state of New Jersey by the alternative route. You need a certificate of eligiility which I have. It has been hard because many school distircts do not want to take a chance on people like me who do not have any formal teaching education. You are to be provided with someone to be in the classroom with for the first twenty days and a mentor for the rest of the year. There is much that I can bring to the classroom in the pratical aspects that I have learned over the years. I am in muy late fifty's. I have had some interviews but have not been able to secure employment. Students need to know what is in the text books but also what it really is like. The systems are different for different types of businesses. People who are older have a welath of knowledge to bring to the students not only in content but aspects of life.

As a "retired" 34 year veteran teacher, I whole-heartedly/110% agree with Bill Kander's response. By the way Bill, from what I could glean from your response, have you ever thought about writing a book? I like your writing style.

After thirty plus years of teaching one of many areas that has fascinated me is how little education has changed structurally and institutionally. We have tinkered here and there, but the outlines of the structure remain, from the school year, to the school day, to grades, segregated disciplines, and the list goes on....the world around us has changed dramatically, as we have and as our students and their families have. We as a society have failed to respond adequately to those changes in my opinion. And we are in danger of failing to respond to the voices of the new generation of teachers as well. Putting aside the issue of making sweeping generalizations, the new generation of educators not only demands, but deserves to be treated as professionals, and well paid ones as well. If the politicians are going to impose requirement upon requirement regarding the qualifications of teachers I believe that it is also incumbent upon those same people to create a system of professional advancement that does not mean a teacher has to leave the classroom to attain. There are numerous models out there that could be adopted to address the reality that I, and my colleagues, were basically in the same position at the end of our careers as we were the first day we started. It is a reprehensible lack of honesty, wisdom, and courage on the part of those who govern us that they have only created the stick without much thought to the incentives that most other professional areas possess. The debates over NCLB have often obscured the many equally daunting challenges that face American schools and educators. Until those other issues are faced we will encounter the double crisis of teachers retiring in large numbers and their replacements leaving the profession long before retirement age.

Yes, teachers are looking at a different career. I was not required to teach reading in my content area. Students(high school) were more polite and they were sent home if they were belligerant,etc. There were fewer issues with ESOL students and how to differentiate the teaching at that level. There was a bit more academic freedom. We could teach the curriculum but have fun in an area of content that the students enjoyed. Pay was less but the satisfaction factor was higher. Today the complexity of what must happen in the classroom to meet all the academic needs of all the students is mind boggling and overwhelming. More teachers are trying out another career before coming into teaching and often are stunned at how hard it really is to do it well. They and their families become disgruntled at not "having a life" because of the time required. Many enter education on the way to somewhere else. The bottom line is that lack of interest in teaching,lack of teacher preparation, lack of realistic expectations and lack of funding and a workable career ladder, has created a vacuum in the educational field. If we as teachers are the practitioners on the line, then we must get the support, remuneration, and respect in the larger community that other professionals get.(e.g. surgeon)

Wow, I am so overwhelmed by your responses, especially Magistra's. I wholeheartedly agree with you. Let me just say this to you and all my fellow teachers out there...



I am a 34 year-old teacher who came into the profession through an alternative route (BA and MA in another field then returned to another university to take 30 hours of post-bac coursework leading to teaching certification). I have been in the classroom and in a teacher-leadership position for 5 years and am now in a new administrative position focusing on school reform and working on an MEd in school administration. The greatest challenge that I see for Gen X and Gen Y teachers is that the current adminstration is primarily made up of people who only know top-down management -- but what is sorely needed in our field is more collaborative teacher-led school imrovement with administrators simply providing the support and structure needed for teachers to be the knowledgeable and capable professionals that we have all been trained to be.

Our school has a very dynamic teaching staff who impress me daily with their creativity and intelligence -- and they also strive to develop strong relationships with their students. But this creativity and intelligence is not valued by our "traditional" administrative team and I have recently witnessed administrative directives handed to the teachers that have the effect of "killing" the innovative spirit of these energetic and passionate teachers.

I should also note that while we do have a large portion of teachers who are younger, we also have some older faculty who bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to our team. We are fortunate that these educators who are close to retirement are open to collaboration and innovation. They are also excellent mentors for our younger teachers. Our younger and older teachers all demonstrate a great deal of respect for each other -- and the perspectives of the different generations are valued by each.

The "gap" from my vantage point is more between younger teachers and older teachers who have moved into management. One very clear example of this is the difference styles of facilitating meetings. The teacher-leaders on our staff who are responsible for facilitating team meetings always engage the teams in collaborative dialogue that results in new learning and sharing among the teachers -- and it always includes some "product". For example -- the facilitator may lead the team through an activity where interdisciplinary groups share lesson plans and help each other refine the lesson plans (increasing rigor and making interdisciplinary connections) -- and then the following week they will share the results of how the lesson plan worked in the classroom and then work together on using that new knowledge to refine more lesson plans. Our administrators view meetings as time for the administration to give teachers directives and information that could be distributed via email -- the information transfer is one-way and teachers are discouraged from voicing opinions or questioning the directives.

What is happening in education right now is criminal. Our federal government is "feeding" the traditional management approach by mandating NCLB. What districts and states are being made to do with this law is killing innovation in education and will result in widing the student achievement gaps.

If we don't reverse this trend soon, we will see more and more teachers of all ages leaving the profession to preserve their physical and mental health.

Great discussion. I've been teaching 8 years, and consider myself finally out of the "novice" category.
Comments above were right on, in my opinion - that more room for collaboration, teacher-made decisions, and career advancement are needed to bring motivated, interested young teachers into the fold and to keep us all here.

Collaboration and teachers leading: I taught in one school where the principal had previously been a teacher at that school, and still considered herself a colleague of the teachers rather than their boss. She acted as a facilitator and encouraged teacher autonomy, but also was capable of making executive decisions when necessary. Best of all, she knew when to do which.

Advancement: The impossible dream? Why does it seem that the only current way to advance is to leave the classroom for administration? I read a book a few years ago (maybe someone out there knows its title) about improving the teaching profession, proposing reforms. Built into the system were real, not token, opportunities for advancement (as well as team teaching). Beginning teachers had a significantly reduced teaching load - 50 or 75% - but were required to observe advanced teachers. They were paid for their time observing as well as time teaching, which is key - the observing was not ON TOP OF a full week of teaching. After a few years, or whenever ready, they would work up to a full teaching load, including peer observing and coaching. Then there was a master teacher level, who would officially take on mentoring, professional development, curriculum, etc responsibilities, (ones often typical of principals) but without abandoning the classroom. (May have had reduced classroom responsibilities - I'm a bit hazy on that part) There may have been sub-categories too.
Opportunity to move up this kind of a ladder, on one's own timetable, would be much more inspiring than the current basic system, where all teachers, from the fresh-faced newbie to the 35-year veteran, the Bachelor's degree to the PhD or National Board Certified Teacher, "advance" in pay on a predictable schedule but are equal in rank.

I could have retired a couple of years ago but continue to walk into the classroom to this day. I believe the teaching profession will continue to evolve pushed by standardized testing and the No Child Left Behind act. Teachers will be more assembly line facilitators than the traditional teacher of yesteryear. They will be provided specific lesson plans to be completed at specific times following a specific timeline. The quality check will be the students test scores on a standardized exam. However, instead of using the information to continuously improve the curriculum, instruction, and student, school boards will use it as a punitive tool to evaluate the teacher and school. Politicians, realizing that test scores are a gut issue for parents, will continue to scare parents in an effort to garner votes. Many teachers will see administrators developing wrinkles on their faces and premature silver in their hair due to the pressures of higher scores on standardized tests. They will see principals axed because of low scores and replaced by a new administrator that will soon have fear in his or her eyes. Teachers will think twice about being promoted to a managerial position.

To address the question, many who've been teaching up to 15 years (when grade levels started working in teams) enjoy the collaboration, not just new teachers. Also, plenty of us experienced teachers are interested in promotions, but the opportunities are very limited beyond administration. Most of us would rather stay in the classroom than sacrifice our values, mental, physical and emotional health by implementing public school system policies.

It's the sheer enjoyment we get from the challenge of learning how students think and using that knowledge to guide their learning that keeps us teaching. I work in a 95% poverty level, "failing" according to state testing school. We overlook old buildings with temperature problems, mold, elecrical and plumbing systems that don't work right, lead poisoned water, windows that won't close, roof leaks, etc. etc. The health problems that result for students and for teachers affect performance, but we work well and progress. Who says teachers don't earn tenure over time? No other profession works in such conditions.

New teachers leave because curriculum lessons require specialized training, because they don't know how to deal with classroom management, because their personalities don't lend themselves to collaboration, they don't understand or relate to children, or because they burn out.

Older teachers face constant age discrimination by those from the outside looking in, clueless as to the meaning of what they see.

If my experiences are typical, and I am sure they are all too common, it's no wonder teachers leave the profession.

I left a profitable career to enter teaching. This meant returning to university and then taking a year + credential program. I was not looking for a high salary; my goal was to work with young people who needed a talented and caring teacher. While I was taking the credential course, I was dismayed by the negative comments our instructors made about the "old" teachers and "wrong" methods current teachers were using in our schools. According to the instructors, we would be faced with uncaring, incompetent, and inflexible co-workers. Our instructors inculcated in us a contempt for our future colleagues. It would have been better if they had prepared us for the actual school environment, rather than their ivory-tower misperceptions.

Reality hit when I took my first teaching position. Yes, I did face some of the above, but the worst was the lack of support from administrators. As a beginning teacher, I was given five classes of remedial students--the worst behavior problems in the school. In addition, I had recess supervision in rain, hail, or baking sun. I had after school and weekend assignments, and additional state required courses (at my own expense). I had no life.

When I looked for another position, I faced age and race discrimination--I'm a middle-aged white woman, and have discovered that California
schools would rather hire an uncredentialed minority. My age and race counted against me more than my capabilities, excellent education, and wonderful references counted for me.

I am still in teaching, at college level, and I will never again tolerate the way that I, and other teachers, get treated in our public schools. We are on the receiving end of insults from the public, parents, media, school boards, students, and administration. And, let's not forget the threat of violence, especially since there is no support for discipline. After all, the teachers' lack of classroom management skills are to blame, right?

Although I love my current position, if I were younger, I'd get out of teaching and go back to my former, more lucrative, career. I feel so sad when I think of how the educational system has crushed my dreams and will continue to crush the dreams of many new teachers.

This is the only place I could find to express an opinion on the age discrimination teachers face. For example, note the following comments made in the "A Decade of Standards" interview with Quality Counts reps Lynn Olson, executive project editor of Quality Counts, and Christopher B. Swanson, director of the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center.

First, "Considerable state effort in the past decade has been devoted to strengthening teacher licensing standards and taking other measures to improve the quality of the incoming teaching force. But because these policies are not geared toward veteran teachers, they may not have as much of an impact on the overall quality of the teaching profession." The message here is that veteran teachers are not as good as new teachers. Elsewhere in the interview, the two Quality Counts reps admit that no valid measures exist for teacher quality.

Then, "Teachers often tell me that the standards have forced them to really think about what they want students to know and be able to do, and to work backwards from there, rather than just teaching their favorite lessons or pet topics." Consider this: Most of those favorite lessons or topics help to provide a well-rounded education for students, including knowledge in social studies based areas (places, history, culture, etc). Research shows that social studies is essential to background KNOWLEDGE for reading, providing an understanding of setting, context, and vocabulary—especially for students with few experiences outside of the home. Standards-based education is ususally limited to the acquisition of SKILLS in reading and math. Students benefit from exposure to the specialized knowledge of each individual teacher with whom he/she spends a year.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • 3rd Grade Teacher: This is the only place I could find to express read more
  • Marie, recent high school teacher: If my experiences are typical, and I am sure they read more
  • Laurie, Elementary Mentor Teacher: To address the question, many who've been teaching up to read more
  • Tony Ramirez: I could have retired a couple of years ago but read more
  • Keira Brown: Great discussion. I've been teaching 8 years, and consider myself read more




Technorati search

» Blogs that link here