The Misunderstood Millennial Teacher:
“ ‘I Uber to get back to my apt. From there if I don’t feel like going to the grocery store, I Amazon Whole Food to my house or I DoorDash my food. I can put my check into Wells Fargo by direct deposit or take a picture of it. It is normal everywhere else. However, with school districts it’s different.’ This operational difference leads to a disconnect for the millennial teacher.”
Jennifer Abrams, Educational Influencer, Palo Alto, CA
We sat down with international education consultant Jennifer Abrams to discuss what is needed for schools to keep and retain the millennial teacher and help this generation thrive. Millennials make up the largest percentage of teachers, yet only 6% of superintendents think their district understands the needs of millennial teachers (‘16 Gallup Poll). Most states are experiencing a teacher shortage, and new teachers entering the profession don’t stick around longer than five years. What can school districts do? Jennifer Abrams walks us through the problem and a solution to keep the millennial teacher in schools.
The Problem: 6% of Superintendents Understand Millennial Teachers Needs
CW: Only 6% of superintendents think their district understands the needs of millennial teachers. In your work consulting with school districts throughout the U.S., have you seen this to be true?
JA: “Yes. Superintendents are at one level of the school hierarchy. Then there are the principals who are on the ground. The principals could be Gen Xers, millennials or veteran Baby Boomers. Depending on the generation they are going to have their own viewpoint of what a classroom should look like and how a teacher should behave. Where this shows up is for things not stated. For example, ‘How much should a teacher collaborate? How professional should they be?’ It is going to depend on whom you are talking to and the generation they are from, and this is important in attracting and retaining teachers. For the millennial teacher what they expect from their school is going to be different.”
Background: Understanding the Millennial Teacher
CW: Why does the millennial teacher seem so different than previous generations?
JA: “Let’s look at the millennial teacher and the experience they had in school. For the millennial, from day one if they had a special need, it was handled with an IEP, which means “Individualized Education Program.” The millennial student always was appreciated as the student of the day or student of the month. Personalized awards, confidence building activities and collaborative group work millennials experienced their entire lives.”
“Then there is a disconnect. The millennial teacher shows up at a school to teach, and the values they learned in school are not part of the school culture. It is how schools work with students but not how schools work with school staff. The millennial generation doesn’t get it. They wonder: ‘Why aren’t we using technology as more of a tool? Why aren’t we collaborating across all ages of faculty? Why aren’t we cross-disciplinary? Why aren’t we shining? Where is the love? Why are you evaluating me only so many times a year?’ It is a complete shift between how the traditional school operates and what millennials learn in their classroom experience.”
A Solution: How Can School Leaders Respond?
CW: Given this insight, how is it best to respond?
JA: “You have to understand how the millennial was raised to not be angry at the expectations millennials hope to have from their school. Schools need the millennial teachers. We are in the middle of an era of teacher shortages. The idea of recruiting and retaining millennials needs to change to keep teachers in the profession. Districts need to change onboarding, orientations, the use of technology, the speed with which schools provide opportunities for development, and the personalization of how we support different career trajectories.”
For example, “If as a district you say, “We have purchase orders. You can only get a certain amount of money for classroom supplies. We have always done things a certain way, and we aren’t going to change. You have to go sit in workshops that may or may not relate to you because that’s how we’ve always done it.” You are going to lose your millennial teachers. It is that simple. They will leave teaching.”
CW: When do you think things will change? When will more than 6% of superintendents understand the needs of teachers?
JA: “It is going to shift when millennials get to be part of the district office. Because they are going to move quickly. Think about a millennial and their need to grow. They think like this: ‘I have taught, now I will become an AP teacher, now I will become a principal, and now I will go to the district office.’ This career trajectory could take five to ten years, but things will change when millennials are in charge.”
CW: How can districts improve the situation now?
JA: “I always say, take a field trip to the other person’s workplace. Yes, you could physically take a field trip, but I usually say take a field trip to the head of someone else. Take a field trip to the head of the superintendent. Take a field trip to the life of somebody. This practice is called allocentric, which means focusing on others.”
“It is important for superintendents and school leaders to change their lens of perception. Think about questions like, What is going on in their life? What language will work for them? What are their fears right now? What are their concerns? How can I provide support? In my work with districts throughout the U.S., I help school leaders roll out initiatives with an understanding of the millennial teacher. They might want to say, “It’s right for kids, or it’s financially sound.” However, that’s not going to work. There is much more to the puzzle. You have to go allocentric. You have to take a field trip to the other side.”
Jennifer Abrams was lead coach for over 20 years in the Palo Alto School District and currently is an international education consultant and author.
For more information on Jennifer Abrams’ work visit: http://jenniferabrams.com
You can find Jennifer at https://twitter.com/jenniferabrams or firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer’s books include Hard Conversations Unpacked and The Multigenerational Workplace. She has also written on What Matters to Millennial Teachers for ASCD.