Changing the Status Quo: Supporting Millennial Teachers

Leah Clark Uncategorized

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In a previous post, I made a shocking admission: I am a millennial. This jaw-dropping information may cause some to gasp or even stop reading, but I am proud of my generational status.

However recently, my millennial-pride caused me to delve into a research rabbit hole I couldn’t escape. I had engaged in a spirited discussion centered around change or lack thereof in our schools, and I left feeling misunderstood. I raced home and hopped on my computer (Don’t forget, us millennials love technology) and began to research and learn about millennials in the workplace, specifically schools. What I learned gave me insight into how schools can better support my generation as educators.

A 2016 Gallup survey found most new teachers are millennials, yet only six percent of superintendents strongly agree their district understands the needs of my generation. This poses a major issue as the majority of new teachers belong to the millennial generation. When districts and their leadership do not understand the needs of their employees, the employees cannot be fully supported. As we know Arizona struggles to hire and keep qualified, effective teachers. Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy “found 23% of teachers hired between 2013-2015 were not teaching in Arizona after one year.” Even more disturbing is the fact “42% of Arizona teachers hired in 2013 left the profession within three years.”

When looking at this data, it makes me wonder what would happen if we effectively supported, motivated, and celebrated new teachers, in particular, millennial teachers entering the workforce? Could we change these unfortunate statistics?  

I think the answer is clear. So, how can we do this? Do we need a magic potion? The answer is simple: No. Rather we must have leaders who seek to understand and value my generation.

The Gallup survey found several interesting characteristics about millennials. First, we do not accept the phrase, “That’s the way it’s always been done.”  In fact, we LOVE change. We thrive in an environment that supports change and thus must be encouraged and supported when we seek to change the status quo.

Recently, a colleague pointed out that my favorite word is “Why?” I, like my fellow buddies, seek to understand the purpose in nearly everything I do. We are not the generation that simply sees work as a paycheck or a means to an end. But rather we must find purpose in our work, in our teaching, and in our lives. If we don’t understand why we are doing something, we often shut down or push back. This is not because we are mean, lazy, or simply don’t want to work. In fact, we want to work hard and prove ourselves. But we can’t do something simply because we have been told. We seek to understand.

We also want feedback through coaching. We want to partner with our mentors in order to develop our skills and work toward goals. An annual review doesn’t have much meaning or effect as a way to provide feedback and guidance. We seek constant feedback about how we can improve and when we fall or stumble, we want to feel supported by learning from this process by talking about how we can overcome obstacles.  

As I reflect upon my generation while writing this piece, I am starting to think, maybe it’s not just a “millennial thing,” seeking change, purpose, and coaching but rather something our profession has in common. As teachers, we constantly reflect, seek new ideas and reevaluate purpose, and use feedback to guide our practice. Maybe our leaders need to spend time listening to their teachers, novice and seasoned, so we can improve the condition of our profession and see more teachers staying in the profession for a lifetime.


Leah Clark

Phoenix, Arizona

I joined the teaching profession after spending several years in luxury retail. While the free clothes and handbags were definite job perks, I felt burned out and tired of long hours, weekends and holidays. So, I went back to school to become a teacher and have never looked back. I love my job!
My teaching philosophy is simple: Do what’s best for kids. While it’s not eloquent, this humble phrase directs every decision I make about teaching and students. As a Language Arts teacher at a central Phoenix high school, it’s my honor and passion to create opportunities for students to communicate, collaborate, create and connect with one another and the world around them.
When I am not grading a stack of essays, planning a new lesson, or chaperoning a school dance, I love riding my yellow Huffy bicycle around town, sampling a new restaurant, and traveling to Flagstaff with my husband.

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  • Austine Etcheverry

    I found your post to be very interested and it made me think about the types of educators that I have working at my school. While they’re are several Millennials working there, I also have a mixture of other generations. What I see now after reflecting on your words is that the teams I have together don’t necessarily see the world from the others perspective and these generational gaps create some conflict at times. But if I as the administrator can provide understanding around the generational views together maybe we can better support our teammates.

    • Leah Clark

      When I began writing this piece, I believed it was an “us vs them” problem, in particular millennials vs baby boomers. But as I wrote and reflected, I started to see it differently. We have several
      generations teaching and working together, and this creates an interesting dynamic. I came to realize that all teachers want to be understood and valued, regardless of our generation. However, my generation does have unique experiences and are the future of education, and thus I aim to bring awareness to how we can best supported to hopefully stay and become master teachers as many of the previous generations have done.
      Thank you for the comment! I hope this post sprurs lots of conversation.

  • http://storiesfromschoolaz.org Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    I was reading and nodding and reading and nodding… and then thinking, a lot of that sounds like me, too, and I am not a millennial, so I love your last paragraph. But I think those numbers about retention still speak loudly to the need to support young and early career educators! Perhaps millennial will be the ones to help us realize how!

    It occurs to me a larger paycheck should go hand in hand with any other professional supports.

    • Leah Clark

      Thank you for your comment! Through my writing and thinking process, I began to realize this isn’t necessarily a millennial problem but rather a professional one. However, the numbers reveal a stark truth. We must, as a profession, start the conversations with new teachers about why they stay and why the leave our awesome career.

  • Jaime Festa-Daigle

    My core group of teacher friends and I are Gen-Xers and we were all the young teachers once. As we have become the veterans, we discuss this all the time. For many of us, we still view ourselves as trying to prove ourselves and trying to do our best work, but for many of us, we did not start our careers with coaches and mentors and now we are coaches and mentors. We have made a realization that we don’t value making connections with new teachers because for many of us, we have our tight connections. But that is not at all healthy for growing a school family. We are very mindful of our habits and being open to all ideas, even if it goes against our Gen X, non trusting gut reaction. People will stay and work at a place that feels like home and as a leader, I have an obligation to do just that.

    • Leah Clark

      Thank you so much for your comments! I100% agree that people will stay and work at a place that feels like home. Everyone from Baby Boomers to Millennials and from administrators to support staff must strive to create a place where everyone feels valued, appreciated and supported.

  • http://www.leadfromINtheclassroom.com/ Jess Ledbetter

    LOVE THIS: “Maybe our leaders need to spend time listening to their teachers, novice and seasoned, so we can improve the condition of our profession and see more teachers staying in the profession for a lifetime.” What a timely blog. Super interesting to me! One makes me think also about how we change the culture of teachers who are NOT millennials inside the school so that teams can collaborate instead of roll their eyes at each other :) Great piece!