Generation Y Teachers – a label that generates many assumptions! (…and they are not always true)

Many of the reports and research published about Gen Y and the future of them as teachers is American based. Very little reports about the Australian context have been carried out, it is an interesting field and I have thought a lot about it and would like to do some research into this area in the future – to actually see what the young teachers think about the future of teaching and what type of teacher they’ll make. I’d also love to myth bust the label with some reality rather than assumptions that apparently refer to every young person who falls into a specific age range (but that is for another post). Much discussion centers around retention rates, qualities they bring, and if they will be as “good” as the baby boomers who have for so long been the teachers we compare everything to.

The Gen Y Teacher…someone who we can’t relate to or someone familiar? (Street art in Misison District, San Francisco. Image taken by N.Lemon, 2012)

I think the way we interact with Gen Y in the university context and in training them as teachers needs to be looked at and acknowledged as well. I think we as educators, academics and teachers, need to look at the way we engage with Gen Y in order to build their strengths, and approach to life and future, and to also be able to push them academically in their approaches to educational theory and learning theory. Gen Y definitely show they interact more with practical ideas and experiences, and actually thrive in personally carrying out strategies that could be used in the classroom, rather than traditional formats of teacher training such as lectures. Gen Y want to know and see the relevance and how they can use what they are being taught in order to become teachers of the future.  There is still though tensions around new innovative practices and other pedagogical approaches that are less based on social interactions, cooperative teaching and learning, and valuing the student voice (the worksheet is a great example and one that deserves it’s own post). The politics also of how a school or educational site “runs things” in reality also offer complications. All these areas will also have an impact, I imagine, on the type of teacher they will actually be over time.

Being a Gen Xer myself, and not too far connecting to many of the issues surrounding the Gen Y labelling, I often talk to the students studying to be teachers about teaching in regards to the age and generation label and the pressures and assumptions associated with the occupation.

Some thoughts and observations for us to consider…

What attracts young teachers to the profession:

  • A strong fascination and want to find out what makes children think and a fascination around why they think, react, and question in the manner they do;
  • When Gen Y knows the purpose around why they need to do something, and they ask a lot of questions but more so one on one and with each other than publically, they carry out the curriculum design or innovation with creativity and enthusiasm;
  • Pre-service teachers coming through under the label of Gen Y, don’t necessarily think about themselves under this category, rather that they engage with like minded people who promote and support what they want to achieve in the profession;
  • A passion to contribute back to the education industry whether this be within a school context or in related educational fields;
  • Pre-service teachers talk about wanting to create an inclusive learning environment that embraces the diversity of children and their learning needs and backgrounds but they do talk about how this would be possible as personal experiences in school haven’t always demonstrated this outlook. There seems to be a tendency to change the wrong doing they personally experienced or observed with friends or family members; and
  • There is a strong want to work with young teachers already out in schools and the education fields. Gen Y pre-service teachers often comment about feeling judged by older Baby Boomer teachers for their different approaches to teaching styles and strategies. Not all older practicing teachers respond in such way but there is a genuine surprise when an older more experienced teacher shows an interest in a new idea, approach or teaching strategy that the Gen Y has offered or used while teaching.

Some of the struggles young teachers face when entering the workforce for the first time:

  • It is widely reported that Gen Y are the digital generation, they do live and breathe technology but there is some difficulty for them in engaging with the technology at a level that would be required in the classroom in turn with students of the younger generation who engage differently with technology to them. Gen Y’s openness to talk about and use technology in the classroom is better and less resistant than say some Baby Boomers however, the higher level thinking behind implanting it meaningfully and for long life learning can be a problem. Immediate connections on how to use need to be nurtured;
  • Young teachers form Gen Y talk about judgment from older generations and assumptions that they won’t stay in the workforce. Similar assumptions are brought across to them as Gen X in regards to retention within a school or education industry;
  • A difficulty faced will be the pressure to present literacy levels at a high professional level. Literacy skills are there but there seems to be difficulty in moving between different literacy and language used between social networking, text messaging, spending time with friends, and professionally as a teacher. Gen Y, when it is brought to their attention, are ready to address the need to consciously think about how and when they use appropriate language; and
  • Gen Yers talks more openly about mental health and if teaching is the career for them. It will be interesting to see the impact on teaching and in schools towards this openness as there is no or little research on this at the moment.

What young teachers bring to the job:

  • A stronger bond and positive thinking towards a teacher that made a difference to them as individuals. Also very strong thoughts about teachers that they feel didn’t support individual and personal development or push them to strive academically by identifying or acknowledging their preferred learning styles.
  • A strong ability to work in teams and problem solve with like minded people. There is openness from Gen Y to different perspectives as individuals but as a group they tend to show tendencies to agree and present a united opinion, idea or solution;
  • Very strong family orientated, whether be ‘friends as family’ or family as family’, in terms of closeness, support and sense of community that comes with these relationships. Gen Y model a no negotiation to making a choice between family and friends and some commitments that come with studying to be a teacher;
  • A strong voice for oneself, which shows that they express what they think and questions what they don’t agree with or don’t understand. If not resisted, this is a refreshing approach that creates a more open environment and stops behaviors that have been reported in schools about some groups of teachers working against each other. I would anticipate their enthusiasm would create a positive learning environment with strong connections to students, colleagues and the school community;
  • Gen Y are very supportive of each other and don’t hold back on openly displaying their pride for someone’s idea or achievement. Their collegiality and genuine support of each other will be an interesting aspect of the future of teaching to observe and research in the future as I would image it will have an impact on teaching teams, curriculum teams of staffing communities as we see them now in schools.

What do you think? Are you a teacher having the Gen Y label pushed onto you? Are you a teacher who sees a difference in the generations of teachers emerging? Is it the generation or development in pedagogy that is more noticeable in the type of teacher emerging? Do we actually need to label at all? 

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One Reply to “Generation Y Teachers – a label that generates many assumptions! (…and they are not always true)”

  1. Thanks for writing that, it’s something I often come up against. I’m often mistaken for someone younger; I can tick all the boxes of a Gen-Y PST. I’m doing an under-grad a little later in life, and feel I have a foot in 2 gens. It’s interesting how people change their behaviour towards me when I shift their assumptions about who they think I am. As a PST learning the ropes, I’d rather be judged on my learning and teaching, than be boxed in by perceptions of age. The reality is that people will often react first to impressions and assumptions: what that has taught me is to always look deeper for better understanding. One of the best things about teaching primary school students – they don’t know about generation labels yet; their expectations on how I am supposed to behave, is simply, as a teacher.

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