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PD and Career Stage

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

We’ve all heard some variation on the following statistic, where 40-50% of all new teachers leave the profession completely within 5 years. I started thinking about this when discussing with some former colleagues over spring break about how much time they had left before hitting the magic number of 30 years in the pension system. The pandemic caused some people to finally retire this year, either out of necessity or simply because they had had enough. Yet here many of us still remain.

I started my teaching career in 1998. It was the start of the peak time to get a job as a teacher; the first wave of baby boomers were beginning to retire. My district of around 500 teachers hired 40 new staff the year I arrived, followed by ~70, then over 100 for the 2000-01 school year.  Flash forward nearly 25 years, and we’re now talking about teacher shortages as fewer and fewer people are choosing to go into the profession. Teacher prep enrollments are down approximately 70% over the last decade (link). Further, many districts now rely on substitute permits and emergency certifications to meet staffing requirements (link).

Your Teacher Profile

But I digress. The question I wish to propose is related to career stages.  Here I am, an aging GenXer, while the first wave of Gen Z is entering the professional workforce, making the Millennials the bulk of the most school payrolls. 

However, it’s not as proportionate as you would think.  Looking at longevity data from the MI School Data website, you see the following breakdown of the teaching workforce for the 2020-21 school year: roughly 48% of the workforce has 0-5 years experience, 21% has 6-15, and 31% has 16+ years of experience. Further, over the past decade, we see the percentage of teachers with 0-5 years of experience start to take off.

Graph showing experience demographics of teacher workforce in Michigan from 2011-2021.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. This article is going to be about how the different generations function in the workplace.  Not quite...research on generational differences tends to be flimsy for the purpose of selling business books and racking up consulting fees. (But don’t take my word for it.)

Rather, I’d like you to picture how you felt during your first year of teaching, your second year, your fifth, tenth, and so on. How comfortable were you with classroom management, your curriculum, and technology? Put differently, how receptive were you to PD at various stages of your career? Have you become more reluctant to change over time? Have you been around long enough to see old ideas repackaged and rebranded as the latest and greatest? Is that reluctance due to skepticism or cynicism?

Your Technology PD Platter

Now, how do you think each of these groups feels during staff development days?  If you have 50 teachers in your building this year:

  • 7 new teachers are barely treading water

  • 10 teachers are probably still getting their sea legs (1-2 years)

  • 24 teachers are likely in the groove (3-20 years)

  • 9 teachers may be glad they bought years when they started (20+ years)

Am I generalizing? Yes (while I said I don’t buy much about generational differences, this GenXer fully embraces his cynicism ;-), but I think I’d get a fair amount of agreement from readers on this sentiment. Regardless, how do you create effective PD for all of these groups?  

Is a choice board sufficient, or do we need additional motivators? Should we invoke a little libertarian paternalism (i.e., ‘nudges’) to steer teachers toward more beneficial PD?

Unfortunately, the ever-popular “voice and choice” may not be an appropriate strategy for all learners (link; scroll midway through). The same may apply for adult learners. Henry Ford famously proclaimed (and I’ll infamously, and poorly, paraphrase), “If I gave them what they wanted, I’d be selling faster horses.”

There are some obvious guiding principles for selecting PD.  They should clearly align with school and district improvement goals (Darling-Hammond, Hyler, & Gardner, 2017). Lack of coherence, or even conflict with these goals, creates a disconnect. With respect to career stage, PD needs to become more targeted, as adult learners have a desire for relevance and context (Masuda, Ebersole, & Barrett, 2013; Furner & McCulla, 2019). What do new teachers need to learn?  A LOT; so, most PD will have meaning and relevance.  Experienced teachers need specifics with respect to curriculum, grade level, and student population.

And therein lies the problem with most technology PD for experienced teachers.  It’s not that they’re Luddites who refuse to learn anything new to adjust their teaching; rather, they often desire highly specialized PD based on the aforementioned attributes. As such, what is a more likely session a district will offer on a staff PD day:

  • Engage your students with FlipGrid, or

  • How to use FlipGrid to teach science inquiry to at-risk middle school students?

Tech coaches (if your district is fortunate enough to employ them) are typically generalists; thus, their PD is often less focused. It is unrealistic to expect them to be universal K-12 curriculum experts. So while half of your teachers with 5 or fewer years of experience will benefit from the first session, there are diminishing returns for the other half.

When scheduling and designing PD for teachers, along with looking at school goals (which often consider student needs), consider taking into account your staff profile and spend time thinking about how you can meet their needs. You might need to bring in not only experts in technology, but also content area specialists, English Language learning experts, Social-emotional learning experts, and others to design and facilitate technology PD sessions. 

SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT!!!!! Wayne RESA can help to provide all of these!

So, what are you doing, besides offering choice in PD, to facilitate technology usage based on career stage?

Jason Siko is an instructional technology consultant for Wayne RESA. Learn more about the instructional technology department and how it can serve your needs at resa.net/edtech.

References

Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M. E., Gardner, M. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional Development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. 

Furner, C., & McCulla, N. (2019). An exploration of the influence of school context, ethos and culture on teacher career-stage professional learning. Professional Development in Education, 45(3), 505-519.

Masuda, A. M., Ebersole, M. M., & Barrett, D. (2013). A qualitative inquiry: Teachers' attitudes and willingness to engage in professional development experiences at different career stages. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 79(2), 6-14.

  • Professional Development