Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Care and Feeding of Millennium Generation Teachers

I used to have my doubts about the new generation of teachers who are just beginning to occupy America’s classrooms. My first encounters with these young people were not positive. I found them to be noticeably self-centered and very sure they had sprung into the teaching profession fully formed. These teachers never sought the guidance of experienced teachers, shunned that guidance no matter how gently offered, and gave the clear impression that they had chosen teaching because the profession allowed them to live a more leisurely lifestyle with plenty of time off to travel and engage in pursuits other than teaching. I worried how the deadly combination of arrogance and lack of skill would impact the lives of our students.

In my search to understand this behavior, I began to look into the research on the Millennium Generation. I discovered that this generation, also known as Generation Y, is comprised of nearly 73 million people born between 1977 and 1994. In comparison, the Baby Boom Generation gave birth to a little over 78 million people. Those numbers are a pretty neat match. A new generation has arrived on the scene that can almost replace the one that is getting ready to drive its convertible Cadillac into the sunset of retirement. Research says the Millennium kids are technologically savvy, great team players, and full of social conscience. They are the first products of the “self esteem” movement, and have spent their lives being praised for every accomplishment and rewarded for their smallest acts of selflessness. They have been deeply loved and nurtured by their parents and teachers. All this information seemed to be in great conflict with my first-hand experiences, or shall I say clashes, with this generation. It seemed to me that far from being the new “greatest generation,” these youngsters had been spoiled, (a word used here to mean ruined).

I was wrong. I stick by my impressions of those first encounters with twenty-something teachers, concluding that those young teachers are simply not good representatives of their generation. They are an aberration and proof that every generation has its bad apples. But what caused my Millennium Generation epiphany?

In the past year, I have had the privilege of working with a group of Gen Y teachers who I believe are as good, and probably better, than any representative of my generation of teachers. These kids are gifted teachers. They work hard and are completely fearless when it comes to trying new ideas. They understand that their lessons must be relevant to the lives lived by their 21st Century students. They expect to use real world technology applications in their classrooms and are eager to show the rest of us the way. They respect and even seek the guidance of their more experienced colleagues, and they don’t even mind me calling them kids. I love them, and I don’t want them to give up on the teaching profession.

So how do we continue to nurture this priceless human resource? First, we must give them what they need. They will not wait twenty years to become teacher leaders. If they make a valuable suggestion and see it handed off to some other member of the faculty, they will take their good ideas elsewhere. Administrators must respect them and listen to them, and make every endeavor to allow the valuable input of these young teachers to come to fruition in the life of the school. These young people already know that wise administrators clearly communicate, not only in words, but also in actions, how much they value talented teachers. Gen Y teachers expect things to make sense. Because when they don’t make sense, they will shop their skills to the highest bidder. Every administrator should have a “Have You Hugged Your Millennium Generation Teacher, Today?” bumper sticker as a reminder of how intently they must pay attention to the growth of these teachers.

All of this behavior is consistent with the generation of children who grew up being securely buckled into the back seat of the family’s mini-van. Administrators and experienced teachers must recognize their roles in continuing the nurturing environment which produced this generation of teachers. Gen Y teachers have arrived in our classrooms just in the nick of time. They will provide the energy, skill, and intelligence our students need to be prepared to compete successfully on the global stage which awaits them. We must provide the support our young teachers need. If we fail to do this, we simply will not have the resources to deliver the education our students

1 comment:

Kathleen Schulweis, CPCC, PCC said...

Here here. Good for you. I concur completely. These young adults are absolutely amazing. Fearless is so true. Also exploratory, excited, dedicated, committed, and talented. What a gift to us all.