No one will argue that teaching is easy, but millennial teachers entering the profession face unique challenges. Teachers who—like their students—have grown up with technology, social media, and the promise of work-life balance are entering a profession that often feels stuck in the Stone Age.
What are the biggest challenges millennials experience as educators? What does the future hold? Here's what a few millennial teachers had to say.
Work-Life Balance—What's That?
Millennials have been accused of being entitled and lacking the perseverance of older generations. Ashley, a 29-year-old high school social studies teacher in New York, has a different take on this stereotype.
"From what I've read, millennials as a group are much less willing to make unreasonable sacrifices that older generations did," Ashley said. "But we also hear a lot more about the idea of work-life balance than previous generations did—and we are trying to practice that."
Read Further: 4 Teacher Motivation Tips to Keep You Going
Millennials—who have been taught the importance of balancing their careers with their personal lives—find this mind-set to be less appreciated and practiced in the field of education, and struggle to reconcile their beliefs about self-care with the demands of being a teacher.
"Work-life balance is a challenge for all teachers, especially with the martyrdom that seems to come with the field," Ashley said. "It's very difficult to advocate for that in a field where self-care can be difficult to come by sometimes."
Fear of Being Instagrammed
Social media is a mainstay of millennial life—but for teachers, unintended social media posts can jeopardize their career.
"I once had a superintendent who would write you up if you had a photograph of yourself with a glass of wine on social media," Ashley said. "We aren't talking about doing keg stands—literally just consuming alcohol over the legal age of 21.
She explained that she understands that teachers are role models, but they're also human adults with lives. "On one hand, we are encouraged to live in the area we teach, to fully integrate into our community, but on the other, we live in fear of a kid Instagramming us with a six pack of beer in our grocery cart or being caught wearing booty shorts to work out at the gym on a Saturday morning."
Technology: It's a No-Brainer
Millennials have never lived without technology, but many young teachers find themselves working in schools that are stuck in the past.
"We grew up around computers, so it's easier for us to adapt to constantly changing technology," Courtney, a 29-year-old kindergarten teacher in Oregon, said. "Being exposed to technology from a young age allows us to access global resources a little easier than our older coworkers."
However, she explained that the other side of the coin is that some districts don't always have funds to keep up. For example, the tablets Courtney has in her classroom are very old and some of the applications don't work as well as they would on newer, better tablets.
Jessica, a 22-year-old second-grade teacher in Kansas, has been asked to teach older teachers how to use technology—though many of them are resistant.
"We want to implement all these awesome ideas, but lack the ability to do so," she said. I student-taught with two younger teachers and used Google a ton to collaborate and work together. Now that I'm working with teachers that are much older, they don't like to use Google products at all."
What About the Future?
While many millennials worry about the future and their ability to stay in the education field, Ashley believes millennials are exactly what the profession needs.
"I think millennial teachers will be the ones to revamp the teaching profession," she said. "I think we will end—or at least reduce the martyrdom and regain some public support for the profession." She explained that she thinks millennial teachers need to continue advocating for themselves as professionals. "We are not martyrs. We are not saints. We are professionals doing a very important job—and we have a right to walk away from it sometimes and have our own lives."
Further reading: How to Earn Respect in the Classroom
Millennial teachers may face challenges today, but these professionals are the future of education.