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Teachers Getting Younger as Charter Movement Grows Up


One unexpected outcome of the charter school revolution has been the compression of teachers’ careers. While traditional public schools were often staffed by older teachers who approached the job as a lifetime occupation, the charter school movement has attracted a number of idealistic young people who come in and teach for a few years before moving on to other pursuits, be it within the school administration or outside the field entirely. In 2011, for example, Teach for America, which sends one third of its teachers to charter schools, stated that only 36 percent continued as teachers after the program’s two years.

A new piece in the New York Times profiling the growth of this trend notes that these short careers have quickly become normal: One study found that over one quarter of all teachers now have less than six years of experience, an 11 percent jump over the past five years. Perhaps more surprisingly, this is increasingly viewed as a good thing by many in the field, who appreciate the drive and enthusiasm that young teachers can bring to the classroom:

“Strong schools can withstand the turnover of their teachers,” said Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America. “The strongest schools develop their teachers tremendously so they become great in the classroom even in their first and second years.” […]

The restless generation of millennials is likely to accelerate the trend. Some charter school leaders say that some experienced teachers grow tired and less effective, and that educators need to embrace the change.

“My take is yes, we do need and want some number of teachers to be ‘lifers,’ for lack of a better word,” said Doug McCurry, a co-chief executive of Achievement First, a nonprofit charter operator with 25 schools in Connecticut, Brooklyn and Providence, R.I., where teachers spend an average of 2.3 years in the classroom. But, he said, he would be happy if “the majority of the teachers that walked in the door gave us five or seven really good teaching years and then went on to do something else.”

The consensus isn’t complete, of course: For every educator who sings the praises of short careers there is another who is concerned that the rapid turnover will lead to instability in schools and cause teachers to bow out just as they reach their prime. Both of these are reasonable concerns, and we need to make sure that our schools are equipped to handle transitions smoothly and that young teachers are prepared to be effective from day one.

Overall, however we tend to side much more with the young folks on this one. While we certainly need some master teachers and career teachers in the system to give stability and mentor the newcomers, there only needs to be a few in each school for the system to work. Meanwhile, the energy that twenty-somethings can bring to teaching is an important asset that is difficult to find in more experienced teachers. We’re happy to see that educators are coming around on this idea as well.

[Classroom image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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  • Hubbub

    “…the energy that twenty-somethings can bring to teaching is an important asset that is difficult to find in more experienced teachers…”

    Energy is more important than experience? Youth more significant than age? Aren’t we seeing these two ideas being played out in our society right now, from the Chief Executive down to the local politician? And how are we doing with that?

    Youth is a wonderful thing; to bad it’s wasted on the young – to paraphrase an honored expression.

  • rheddles

    Age and seniority mean nothing. A 24 year old with two years experience is more valuable than a 32 year old with 1 years experience 10 times. Teachers burn out. Especially after tenure. Especially when they have a union.

  • Chris Williams

    “Many in the field, who appreciate the drive and enthusiasm that young teachers can bring to the classroom”

    Who is this “many in the field?”

    The young can be relied on in charter schools in part because they are factories for standardized test taking. Much less teaching is actually being done. Once young idealists realize what is being asked on them, they realize that it is BS and leave.

    I can only speak from the experiences that I have encountered through friends and family, but the high turn-over rates found in charter schools would be viewed as a symptom of management failure in most other contexts.

  • cubanbob

    If public schools were so wonderful no one would be discussing charter schools.

  • NCMountainGirl

    Most of the veteran teachers I encountered in grade school and high school were more interested in teaching me to conform rather than think because inquiring minds made their job harder. It was punch the clock and collect the check. I can recall only three who were really interested in the subjects being taught and two of them were in their 20s.

    I believe the older teacher had an advanced degree in her subject, English LIt, instead of one of those bogus Education degrees. Those are emblematic of the problem in education today, The so called education professional pays tuition, gets a piece of paper that kicks them into into a higher pay bracket and learns nothing of value to transmit to their students in the process. .

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