Where Are All the Millennial Teachers of Color?: Challenges to Recruiting and Retaining New Generations of Diverse Teachers

Blog Post
Dec. 7, 2021

Teaching has always been a challenging profession. But with a highly politicized pandemic raging on and state legislatures limiting what can be taught in classrooms, the profession has become more stressful than ever, causing teachers to ponder early retirement and resignation.

This landscape makes it difficult to both retain practicing teachers and attract new ones. Prior to the pandemic, states and school districts struggled with subject-area teacher shortages, overall declines in teacher preparation program enrollment and completion, and the persistent lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the teacher workforce.

At the center of this teacher recruitment and retention crisis are Millennial teachers of color, or MTOCs.

Who Are Millennial Teachers of Color?

Millennials, who now range from 25 to 40 years old, are not represented in teaching as well as they are in the general U.S. workforce. While the overall percentage of nonwhite teachers across generations has increased to just over 20 percent as of 2018, Millennial teachers are actually less diverse than previous generations.

An analysis of the 2011-12 Schools and Staffing Survey data by Janice Hamilton Outtz and Marcus J. Coleman in the book Millennial Teachers of Color indicated that over 82 percent of Millennial teachers identify as white, compared to about 80 percent of Generation X and over 81 percent of Baby Boomer teachers. The analysis (presented in the figure below) also showed the Millennial generation to have fewer Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Asian, and Latinx teachers than Generation X, and the least number of Indigenous and Black teachers than both the Generation X and Baby Boomer generations.

Percentage of US public school teachers by race and ethnicity for each generation, 2011-12

Source: Millennial Teachers of Color, Mary E. Dilworth, page 35.

Challenges to Recruiting Millennial Teachers of Color

The early 2010s mark an especially important moment in the history of the Millennial teaching force.

While a 2014 Obama administration report about the generation’s economic impact noted that more Millennials in 2013 had postsecondary degrees than Baby Boomers and Generation Xers, it also revealed a significant decline in the share of Millennial college students majoring in education from 2009-2012, compared to previous generations. Furthermore, a Center for American Progress report observed declines in teacher preparation program enrollment amongst nonwhite college students with “one-quarter fewer Black and Latinx teacher candidates...enrolled in teacher preparation programs in 2018 than in 2010. Enrollment declined by more than half for those who identified as Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders and American Indian or Alaska Native." Taken together, both reports suggest the teaching profession has become increasingly less attractive to younger generations of diverse teachers over the past decade.

There are many factors that could have contributed to these findings, but it is worth noting that these declines occurred just after the Great Recession 2007 to 2009 that saw the layoffs of thousands of teachers, especially in some high poverty districts serving students of color. It stands to reason that if MTOCs and their guardians witnessed the stress, financial instability, or job insecurity teachers faced during the Great Recession this may have discouraged them from entering the teaching profession as young adults.

Additionally, parental occupations have been found to potentially sway individuals’ college and career choices, causing some to argue that the teacher diversity gap is inherited. Many parents also do not want their kids to become teachers, namely due to the low pay and high stress that have become characteristic of the job, preferring that their students pursue more profitable careers. And considering that graduates of color are more likely to have student loan debt than white graduates, the cost of entering the teaching profession has deterred diverse students, especially Black men, from becoming teachers.

Challenges to Retaining Millennial Teachers of Color

Recruiting MTOCs is further complicated by challenges retaining them. According to a 2017 Learning Policy Institute report, of the teachers of color who enter the workforce, 19 percent of them transfer schools or leave the profession altogether each year, compared to 15 percent of white teachers, with Black teachers experiencing the highest rates of turnover.

Many teachers of color across generations, including MTOCs, are dedicated to serving communities that reflect their own life experiences. Others possess a passion for inspiring students, a deep love for their subject areas, and a commitment to social justice.

The type of workplaces created for MTOCs, unfortunately, undermine these motivations. Schools often silo MTOCs, particularly Black men, into disciplinarian roles, limiting their opportunities to engage with students and fully show their professional expertise. Districts often fail to provide sufficient resources for successful teaching, especially in hard-to-staff schools where teachers of color are more likely to be employed.

Moreover, MTOCs often do not get the space to participate in conversations or initiatives to improve these environments.

As researcher Kami Lewis Levin states, “Millennials, like the generations that have preceded them, want to learn, want leadership opportunities, and want a voice in decision-making. As an industry, the pre-K to 12 school systems do not leverage these wants. Therefore, teachers feel they are not valued, heard, or professionally developed.”

Implications for Generation Z Teachers of Color: Repeating a Cycle

As of 2018, Generation Z is on track to be even more racially and ethnically diverse than Millennials. If Millennials of color are turning away from teaching, we might expect Generation Zers of color to do the same, especially after a period of great economic and educational difficulty like the COVID-19 pandemic.

And this appears to be happening already.

Not only are Generation Z college students less interested in pursuing education as a career, but many Generation Z students are uninterested in even attending a four-year college after the pandemic.

What’s more, a 2020 study discovered the quality of life teachers face to be a major deterrent among Generation Zers from entering the teaching profession, including low salary, high stress, and burnout. These are much like the negative perceptions Millennials had of the profession in a 2014 survey from Third Way, which encouraged some respondents to argue for better pay and career advancement opportunities to make education more attractive to that generation.

For Generation Z teachers who are just entering the profession, their grievances and desires also seem to be similar to MTOCs’. Just like MTOCs, Generation Z teachers want sufficient resources to be able to do their jobs well—namely, technology to help them manage their classes and opportunities to become leaders in their schools and the field. In addition, many Gen Z educators view teaching as a tool for social justice, too, and are concerned about being adequately prepared to appropriately engage with racially and ethnically diverse students.

Given the similarities between the two generations’ needs and hopes for education, if we do not effectively deal with challenges facing Millennial teachers of color, then we risk repeating the same cycle with Generation Z teachers of color. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post exploring strategies to help address these challenges and to promote the retention and career development of teachers of color.

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