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What Gen Y Teachers Want, Reveals Survey

October 30, 2007

Washington, D.C.—Generation Y teachers want to shake up the stagnant education system, according to a survey of first-year teachers commissioned by the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality, funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The freedom to be creative, the power to make a difference, opportunities to grow, rewards, and an end to the one-size-fits-all model of instruction is what new teachers say in chorus will improve the quality of education, according to a survey of 865 teachers in high-needs schools in their first year in the classroom, conducted by Public Agenda. Most telling is that 79 percent of the respondents would choose supportive administrators over significant salary increases. Most of the survey sample is younger than 29.

"There seems to be a chronic inability or unwillingness for the education system to embrace new ideas, which is a tragic mismanagement of human capital, especially on the brink of the largest labor shortage in history" said Sabrina Laine, Ph.D., National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality Director. "Programming these new teachers to pledge allegiance to a broken and outdated system rather than harnessing their boundless potential will set education back another decade. Whether or not educational leaders nurture or negate the ideas of Gen Y teachers will be a litmus test for their ability to lead in a knowledge-driven economy."

Most first-year teachers feel their creativity is suffocated in the classroom, and a significant majority of new teachers who came to the profession through alternate routes feel a lack of support from administrators, according to the data. While only 16 percent of first-year teachers overall say they plan to leave teaching within the next five years, 54 percent of those who came from schools of education and are currently in high-needs schools and 79 percent of those who came from alternative routes and are in high-needs schools said that the lack of support from administrators is a drawback to the profession.

One out of four first-year teachers in our nationwide sample do not feel that their administrators support them in handling student discipline problems. In addition, almost as many teachers feel that their leaders do not provide adequate resources such as textbooks or well-equipped classrooms. Still, new teachers don't put the responsibility solely on the shoulders of administrators—84 percent believe that making it easier to terminate unmotivated or incompetent teachers would improve teacher quality overall, and more than half of new teachers believe that tying their salary increases to the assessments of principals and colleagues also would be an effective way to improve matters. More than 90 percent of survey respondents cited more professional learning opportunities, particularly better preparation to meet the needs of a diverse classroom, as effective ways to increase the quality of education.

The survey also reveals that most new teachers are not giving up on their dreams of making a difference and intend to stay in education.

The majority of traditionally certified teachers say they wouldn't want to do anything else but teach, and they expect to spend more than a decade in the classroom. On the flipside, while 64 percent of alternatively trained teachers in their first year at a high-needs school cite a lack of leadership from administrators, and only 16 percent see teaching as a lifelong career, another 48 percent anticipate staying in education in some capacity.

"The education establishment should listen to what teachers say they need and afford them the freedom, resources, and true support to provide our children with a quality education," said Laine. "Too often, teachers are treated like commodities, but they are the architects of America's intellectual capital and should not be undervalued."

The survey includes these other key findings:

  • Eighty-six percent of first-year teachers from our nationwide sample say that "testing and not enough freedom to be creative" is either a major or a minor drawback to teaching.
  • More than 80 percent of them felt that making it easier to fire unmotivated or incompetent teachers would improve the profession.
  • Over two-thirds of first-year teachers say it is very possible to make a reasonable living as a teacher.
  • Fifty percent of teachers who took an alternative route to the classroom and are in high-needs schools felt prepared for class compared to 80 percent of traditionally certified teachers also in high-needs schools.
  • Both alternatively trained and traditionally certified teachers were more likely to say that reducing class size and preparing teachers to adapt their instruction to meet the needs of a diverse classroom are effective ways of increasing teacher quality.

About the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality
The National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality was launched on October 2, 2005, after Education Commission of the States, ETS, Learning Point Associates, and Vanderbilt University entered into a five-year cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to operate the teacher quality content center. NCCTQ was created to serve as the premier national resource to which the regional comprehensive centers, states, and other education stakeholders turn for strengthening the quality of teaching—especially in high-poverty, low-performing, and hard-to-staff schools—and for finding guidance in addressing specific needs, thereby ensuring highly qualified teachers are serving students with special needs. The aforementioned survey findings along with additional teacher quality information are part of National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality's biennial report, America's Challenge: Effective Teachers for At-Risk Schools and Students.

Public Agenda Survey Methodology
The findings in Issue 1 of Lessons Learned: New Teachers Talk About Their Jobs, Their Challenges and Their Long-Term Plans are based on a national survey of 865 first-year teachers and 224 teachers from three alternative route programs. Interviews were conducted between March 12 and April 23, 2007. It included 111 items covering issues related to teacher training, recruitment, professional development and retention. The study explored why new teachers come into the profession, what their expectations are, and what factors contribute to their desire to either stay in teaching or leaving it. The margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points for the national survey and plus or minus six percentage points for the alternative route programs; it is higher when comparing percentages across subgroups.

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