Saturday, July 9, 2022

Does Teaching Have A Millennial Problem?

The folks born between 1980-ish and 1996-ish are now in their twenties and thirties, meaning that the young end of the teaching force is occupied by Millennials.

We never talk about that specific issue in education, even as we gnash our teeth over the teacher hiring crisis, and yet the interwebs are jam packed with people in the corporate world writing think pieces about how to hang on to Millennials and manage Millennials and keep Millennials happy so they don't quit, and some of the items brought up in those articles ring a bell.

Many articles challenge the standard wisdom that Millennials are lazy, saying instead that Millennials want to have an actual life outside of work. That's not very compatible with teaching, which comes complete with hours and hours of work outside school hours--and that's before we even start talking about extras like extracurriculars or union involvement. And keep in mind that Millennials are at prime family-starting age, which creates more pressure to get home after work.

Millennials are said to value doing important work (though I'm not entirely convinced that's strictly a Millennial thing). Teaching seems perfectly aligned with that, until you consider the last twenty years of micromanaged test prep. If you showed up in schools in the last decade, you may have walked in the door thinking "And now I am going to change young lives and build a better world" only to be handed a packet of materials you'll be required to use to coach kids toward getting more kids to answer more multipole choice questions with the preferred response.

The big rap on Millennials is that they are disloyal job hoppers. This is brilliantly addressed by this Oatmeal-style cartoon at The Woke Salaryman. Millennials, it explains, expect their loyalty to be earned. Instead employers do things like:

Depressing salaries, finding all sorts of ways to justify paying lower salaries. Ditto benefits.

When employers do talk about salary increase, they talk in terms of what percentage raise the employer wants, instead of talking about what they're worth.

Meaning that Millennials can only get real raises by job hopping. 

Then there's this: "If you can't pay us well, at least treat us well." A caring boss, a decent work culture--these things matter to Millennials in ways beyond what, say, us old "suck it up and do the job" boomers settled for. 

Businesses used to earn loyalty by rewarding people with pay and pensions for sticking around to climb to the top. Now businesses promote from outside (how many principals in your building are former teachers from in your building). And of course pensions are toast. My pension is actually a damn good one; my wife will see nothing like it when she retires.

The piece makes one other solid point--the people who stay under lousy conditions aren't loyal. They're just trapped. Which doesn't make for great employees.

Any of this seem familiar?

Years ago I happened to meet up with a former student in North Carolina. We joined her, her husband and several other couples around the table. Almost all of them were former teachers who had left the profession early because they could see there were better ways to have the quality of life they wanted to have.

I don't know that there's a special Millennial approach to recruiting and retaining teachers. But I do believe that those of us from earlier generations were more willing power through features like, say, being treated like a flunky or a child instead of a full-grown professional.

If Millennials really are different in the workplace than the generations that came before, maybe that needs to be factored into recruiting and retention efforts. Maybe it's possible that some of the features that have made teaching unattractive are particularly off-putting for Millennials. Would it be useful to treat "how do we keep 50 year old vets from leaving" and "how do we recruit and retain twenty-somethings" as two different questions. I don't know if that's an answer, but I do know that surprisingly few people are considering the question. 


  1. Yeah, we Gen Xers are just stuck in the middle, like always have been. As teachers s, most of us are too young to retire, but in the profession long enough to make it hard to switch out. All while we watch education collapsing around us

  2. So, I'm either a Gen-Xer or an old millennial. I was raised to believe that you give 110%. When my mom, a Boomer, saw how much time we were expected to volunteer, she advised me quickly to rethink that philosophy. Our families are only around for a little while, and that "work until bed and start all over" mentality is not sustainable.

  3. Public education has always been a political orphan. The social forces of pandemic schooling has hung it out to dry. Attracting Millenials to the "profession" will be a huge lift given the shell that remains after two decades of test-and-punish and two years of pure punishment.

  4. Amen to that. I'll just be putting on my Converse and hanging in for another round of crazy--hoping like hell to do some good.