Bridging the Generation Gap between Teachers

Many new teachers are leaving the profession after only a couple of years in the classroom. Proponents of public education and educational leaders have expressed their concern about the growing number of teachers who leave the profession prematurely. Just one generation ago, when new teachers entered the profession, they expected to be launching careers that would span thirty or more years. Today’s beginning educators are the first of a new breed of teachers who are products of the new information age. In the world in which they have grown and matured, things change rapidly and, in many cases, profoundly.

The departure of these new teachers, virtually on the very heals of their arrival, has caused great disruption to schools who face the growing employee turn-over. The building principals of these schools spend much of the fall of each year  troubleshooting and then launch into recruiting more teachers each spring. These schools are characterized by two large groups of teachers, the retiring generation and the new generation.

The retiring generation has enormous professional knowledge and skills which have been honed over many years in the classroom. These teachers entered the profession in the 1980s when teaching was a respected profession. They embraced the “egg-crate” structure of the school, as each classroom became its own island within the confines of the school. This generation of teachers found education to afford them a long-term career.

The new generation is not without merit. These teachers have incredible energy and fresh ideas that can be very valuable in today’s schools. Many of the new teachers have followed alternate routes to obtain their teaching credentials and certification. These teachers are anticipating several careers in their lifetime. The new generation expected teamwork and collaboration, as it exists in many other fields, only to surprisingly find the isolation of the classroom.

Johnson & Kardos (2005) developed seven strategies for bridging the gap between these two types of teachers upon which a building principal can rely.

old and young teachers

  1. The first step is to “treat the hiring process as the first step of induction”. In order to obtain the best information about potential employees, the interview process should include a search committee, interview panel, and other collaborative strategies.
  2. The second step would be for the building principals to assign new teachers to work on teams with experienced teachers. Intentional mixing of novice and experience teachers in each grade level or department will strengthen the team.
  3. The authors are proponents of purposeful scheduling of opportunities for the veteran and new teachers to meet. they can jointly plan lessons, observe each other teaching, and provide feedback that is valuable to the improvement process.
  4. The fourth step is to expand upon typical one-on-one mentoring with a formal and comprehensive induction program. According to the authors, this pairing leads to a higher retention rate for new teachers.
  5. The fifth step in this process is an emphasis on the development of the school-based induction programs, not by administrators, but by expert teachers. Those in the closest to the problem can most readily find the solutions.
  6. Organizing ongoing professional development on topics of the curriculum is a sixth and vital step to the success of new teachers. Even veterans teachers can benefit from curriculum refreshers and updates.
  7. The final step to closing the generation gap is for a principal to encourage teacher leadership and differentiated roles. As teachers are encouraged to develop their own leadership skills, the entire school will benefit.

As administrators and teachers, educators must become more flexible and collaborative. We must have a vision for a future that is quite different from our past. The goal is to obtain a higher teacher retention rate so that “before they retire, experienced teachers will bestow a legacy of skills and knowledge on the school and on their successors”.

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