After the recession hit, the relatively stable field of teaching attracted droves of young people—many of whom are now looking for new careers now that the economy has improved. The increasing youth of the profession has sparked much debate. Critics worry that young teachers have too little experience to excel in the classroom, and that it takes years for a teacher to master the craft. To this group, students are being shortchanged by teachers who leave before or just after they hit their stride.
On the other hand, however, these teachers have assets their older peers lack. They tend to be more tech-savvy, helping schools adapt to new technology. They’re often more idealistic and energetic than their veteran peers, some of whom may have become jaded over the years.
Most notable, however, is the impact these younger teachers are having on teachers unions. The unions usually negotiate rules that favor seniority, so younger teachers are generally the first to be let got when cutbacks are made. Unsurprisingly, those teachers are pushing for unions to adopt measures they have traditionally opposed, like merit pay, or are breaking with unions entirely, as the WSJ reports:
That turmoil, and the frustration over getting laid off due simply to her start date, prodded Ms. Lara to boost her union activism and push for contract changes that, among other things, would base evaluations and layoffs on performance.
“I want to be part of a group of people who generate solutions in education,” said Ms. Lara, 30, who teaches English at Maywood Academy High School in Maywood, Calif.
Newcomers like Ms. Lara present a challenge to old-guard unions. The National Education Association, the largest teacher union, saw membership fall 11% since 2009, which officials attribute, in part, to younger teachers not joining at high rates. An NEA survey last year of its ranks found about 8% of its K-12 members were younger than 30. Mr. Ingersoll’s research shows that about 15% of teachers fell into that range in 2012.
In general, we sympathize with the young teachers. While there will always be a need for experienced teachers in every school to guide and mentor younger ones, the enthusiasm and fresh perspective that younger teachers bring is extremely valuable. This is especially true in an education system that is still organized around a mid-20th century model and which has been quite slow to adopt to the major technological changes of the past few decades. Schools need to become more flexible and adaptive, and an infusion of young blood ought to nudge them in that direction.