Over one and a half million students are expected to graduate college this school year. As they enter the “real world,” millennials are looking for careers that provide opportunities to develop skills that lead to quick advancement, intellectual rigor, and social impact. More than ever before, fast-paced and dynamic work environments are attractive to these graduates. And unlike previous generations that have had to pay their dues, millennials don’t want to wait. They expect these formative opportunities now. In the business world, most would argue that millennials represent a departure from “business as usual.” So what job could possibly satisfy their interests?
Imagine a job where new graduates are immediately placed in management roles. They lead year-long projects with quarterly reporting periods in collaboration with other managers. Imagine a job that puts young graduates in charge of upwards of 150 direct reports. They are responsible for each employee’s development and evaluation. Imagine a job that provides hourly opportunities to develop skills in public speaking, project management, communication, and stakeholder engagement.
Imagination isn’t necessary. A job that allows graduates to exercise creativity, show initiative, demonstrate leadership, and make meaningful lifelong relationships, all while having a significant social impact, exists today.
If millennials truly want a demanding and dynamic work experience, they really should consider teaching.
While many in today’s society see teaching as a mere act of social service and generally a “nice thing to do,” teachers in reality develop a significant leadership and managerial skill set. Teaching can have just as many, if not more, development opportunities than other prestigious professions. Expert teachers are expert people managers, managing multiple teams of students with new cohorts every year. Similar to managers in other industries, teachers are held directly accountable for their team members’ day-to-day improvements and overall outcomes. They are skilled stakeholder managers, able to meet the diverse and sometimes competing interests of students, parents, administrators, and community members. And if you’re not yet convinced, consider the adept public speaking and decision-making skills that teaching requires. Teachers who have five classes a day and teach 175 days a year have 875 opportunities to practice their public speaking and adaptive decision-making. It’s even been said that teachers make more decisions per minute than any other job, except for a professional race car driver. No other profession affords these opportunities to young professionals immediately out of college.
If you’ve never seen the teaching profession in this light, you’re not alone. In fact, we’ve never thought about it this way before either. As students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education we’ve had the privilege to reflect on our careers in teaching and consulting. We’ve realized that while both careers may appear divergent, they actually offer many of the same development opportunities that recent college graduates crave. However, this perception is certainly not common in the United States. The old adage of “Those who can’t do, teach” illustrates the popular notion that teaching is not an intellectually rigorous and demanding profession. This belief can lead young college graduates to believe that teaching is an unattractive career. And as we’ve illustrated above, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Unfortunately, this misperception has significant consequences for the teaching profession in the US. When a profession is not seen as attractive, it is more difficult to recruit promising young graduates. As evidence of this fact, enrollment in teacher education programs has declined over the last several years. This could be a problem considering that teachers are often noted as the single most important in-school factor for student achievement. If the teaching profession is unable to attract high quality candidates, what will this mean for our children? We fear they will suffer as well.
Perhaps this misperception exists because the work of teaching can look remarkably different based on the school, district or state in which a teacher works. We recognize that we’ve illustrated a rather idealized vision of the teaching profession. This vision reflects the potential of the profession, but not always the reality. Not all teachers have the opportunities and support described above. However, many do. If schools and districts are serious about attracting today’s top graduates, they must recognize, validate, and support the development opportunities that are inherent in the teaching profession.
So a message for the million and a half college graduates that enter the “real world” each year: If you’re serious about pursuing a career where you will develop leadership and management skills while also serving society, it’s time to consider teaching.