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Retaining Teacher Talent

The View From Generation Y

Finding 6: Most Gen Y teachers believe they will stay in education, if not the classroom, for the long haul.

In general, Gen Y is seen as less oriented toward long-term careers (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 2007), and yet Gen Y is also seen as a highly education-minded group (Wong & Wong, 2007a, 2007b). Of those in this generation who have entered teaching, 98 percent plan to work in the education field for life.

Their views toward remaining in the classroom, however, are more ambivalent. The survey results shown in Figure 16 indicate that 4 percent of Gen Y teachers planned to stay in the classroom for one more year or so; 11 percent planned to stay for two to four more years; 17 percent planned to stay for five to 10 more years; and the large majority, 68 percent, plan to remain classroom teachers for more than 10 years. Indeed, 56 percent of Gen Y teachers planned to remain a classroom teacher for life (see Figure 17). One National Board certified elementary teacher from North Carolina who viewed classroom teaching as a lifelong career choice said, "I can't imagine doing anything else and liking it as much."

This finding that more than half of Gen Y teachers (and three fourths of non-Gen Y teachers) plan to teach for life is somewhat surprising, though hopeful, in light of the oft-cited statistic that roughly half of all new teachers nationwide leave within their first five years in the classroom (Ingersoll, 2003). School leaders who are concerned about retaining Gen Y teachers should be reassured by this data.

Of the teachers who planned to stay in education but leave the classroom, their rationales were to seek new challenges and opportunities and to avoid boredom or burnout. An elementary school teacher from Colorado said the following:

I just don't think that I'll always be a classroom teacher, because I don't know—I've been doing it five years, and I can already see it's starting to wear on me to be quite honest. I just think sometimes people who are always classroom teachers and never branch out to any other parts of education…start to get a little wacky after a while.

Commonly cited opportunities in education outside of the classroom included university teaching, school psychology or speech therapy, or academic advising. Taking on a school principalship was generally not an expected career path for these teachers. Most of the teachers in the focus groups said they would like to keep one foot in the classroom, yet have opportunities to take on additional roles, responsibilities, and challenges. School leaders may want to think creatively about how to differentiate roles for teachers to provide these opportunities, make the most of specialized skills, and keep teachers in the classroom for at least part of the day (Coggshall, Lasagna, & Laine, 2009). Teachers in Singapore, for example, have well-articulated career paths that allow those who demonstrate they have the required level of expertise and skill to become coaches and master teachers (Sclafani & Lim, 2008). Such a system, coupled with myriad other human capital management strategies, has helped Singapore to maintain a highly professional and effective teacher workforce.

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