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Retaining Teacher Talent

The View From Generation Y

Introduction

Members of Generation Y (those born between 1977 and 1995) have been characterized as creative, innovative, self-confident, highly educated, and educationally minded.1 They like to share what they've learned in small groups and are dissatisfied with workplaces that are technologically inferior. They have a strong moral drive to make a difference in society. Because members of Gen Y are accustomed to positive reinforcement, they desire constant feedback and want to be rewarded when they do things well. They prefer to "text" with their thumbs rather than with their pointer finger, and they do not see any career as a lifelong pursuit.

Little empirical evidence to support these claims exists, yet considering how critical this generation is to the workforce in general and to the teaching profession in particular—Gen Y teachers currently make up more than 18 percent of the teaching force, doubling in proportion in just the last four years2—keen attention must be paid to Gen Y teachers' needs and preferences to ensure that the most effective Gen Y teachers continue to teach for more than just a few years. Retaining Gen Y teachers is a concern because in 2004–05, turnover among public school teachers under age 30 was 44 percent higher than the average teacher turnover rate (which includes retirees).3 The loss that this teacher attrition and mobility represents in terms of human and financial capital is staggering (see Barnes, Crowe, & Schaefer, 2007; Milanowski & Odden, 2007). To gain a better understanding of why this may be occurring and what human resources practices may stem the loss, researchers from Learning Point Associates and Public Agenda partnered together with the support of The Joyce Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to conduct the Retaining Teacher Talent study. This report describes some of the most telling findings from this work.

The Retaining Teacher Talent study was an exploratory mixed-method research project. We conducted eight focus-group interviews across the country using hypothetical scenarios to provide a context-rich point of departure for the group discussions (although this report does not include data from the final two focus groups). Based on initial findings from the first six focus groups, we designed a teacher survey to paint a national picture of Gen Y teachers. The observations in this report are based on a national, random-sample survey of 890 public school teachers conducted in spring and summer 2009; the survey included an over-sample of 241 teachers aged 32 and under and those first six focus groups.4

Two overarching themes were uncovered in this analysis of teachers' views on emerging policy and practice strategies intended to inform the successful management and retention of the most talented teachers:

  • Teachers' views on the "hard factors" of their employment are evolving, particularly in terms of how they wish to be compensated.
  • Teachers' views on the "soft factors" of their employment are influenced by their generation and experiences.

However, in both cases, there is strong evidence of a confluence and constancy of teacher views that span the generations. The six key findings in this report indicate that supporting teacher effectiveness will have a profound impact on teacher retention for Gen Y teachers as well as their colleagues.

 

1 See Behrstock and Clifford (2009) for a review.
2 Coopersmith and Gruber (2009) analyzed the 2007–08 national Schools and Staffing Survey data set and found that 18 percent of public school teachers are under the age of 30. In 2003–04, Gen Y teachers made up roughly 9 percent of the workforce (internal Learning Point Associates analysis).
3 According to Marvel et al. (2007), between the 2003–04 and 2004–05 school years, the total percent leavers + movers for all teachers = 16.5 percent. For teachers under 30, this figure is 23.7 percent (which is 44 percent higher than the average). These data underestimate total turnover, as they do not capture the teachers who left before the survey was administered.
4 A description of the methodology can be found at http://www.publicagenda.org/pages/teaching-a-living-methodology.

 

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