Generation Z Isn’t Interested in Teaching
Why Not?

Blog post Sheniqua Pierce | SREB Research Analyst II

As a graduate student in 2021, I interviewed Ms. Sharpe for an assignment in my Qualitative Research II course. Ms. Sharpe, a Black woman, member of Generation Z, and a fourth-grade teacher two years removed from her educator preparation program, expressed frustration, angst, worry, pride and hopelessness.

I was initially interested in interviewing her to learn more about her experiences in mathematics. As the interview continued, I learned far more, including Ms. Sharpe’s plan to exit the field upon completing her master’s degree in instructional design. She expressed several reasons for her decision including the lack of supportive oversight and material resources, overcrowded classrooms, student behavior and additional responsibilities such as supporting a new student with developing English skills without assistance.

We need to humanize and professionalize the field by listening to Gen Z.

While it is disappointing, Ms. Sharpe’s story is not unique or unfamiliar. She joins the ranks of thousands of teachers planning to not return to the classroom – nearly half of all new teachers leave the profession in their first five years. In a 2023 survey, Black teachers reported significantly higher rates of burnout and said they were significantly more likely to leave their job than white teachers.

The fact that Gen Z teachers of color are leaving the profession at higher rates is alarming. Ms. Sharpe’s plan to exit the profession was prompted by a lack of support like mentorship, time for planning and collaboration, increased compensation, and mental health and well-being services. Without building these supports back in, schools, districts and states will continue to lose talented teachers of color to other industries and occupations.

By improving the profession, we can harness Gen Z optimism and attract diverse teachers to the most rewarding professionGen Z has the largest percentage of Hispanic, Black and multiracial individuals of working age in history. From the Greatest Generation (age 71 and older) to Gen Z (currently age 12 to 28), the percentages of Black and Hispanic individuals have doubled. Our student demographics look vastly different compared to previous generations: 59% of K-12 students in the South are now non-white.

Because the pool of potential new teachers is more diverse, we have a real opportunity to recruit and retain more educators who understand and respond to the ethnic, cultural and linguistic needs of today’s K-12 student body. Gen Z can represent the diversity I wanted to see in schools as a Black girl growing up in the South.  

However, Generation Z, as diverse as they are, represent a challenging group of individuals to attract and retain in the teaching profession. Their interest in teaching is increasingly low, especially among males.

Report: The Next Generation of Teachers

ACT data reveals that education was eighth among 19 intended career choices from 2012 to 2017, though it ranked in the top four from 2007 to 2010. In 2017, the four most popular intended major categories included health sciences (23%), business (10%), engineering (9%) and social sciences (9%), with just 5% interested in education. Through 2022, ACT data shows that Southern high school students’ interest in pursuing a profession in education continued to decline.

Furthermore, a 2022 Glassdoor article cited Gen Z’s top 10 most highly rated jobs according to Glassdoor. It is not surprising that being an educator did not make the list. Some of those occupations included corporate recruiter, social media manager and IT specialist. A year later Samsung  published a report citing media and entertainment as the most preferred industry for Gen Z professionals.

We depend on Generation Z to fill a growing number of vacanciesThe No. 1 reason high school students do not pursue teaching as a career is the salary, according to an ACT brief. Even high school students who say they may be interested in teaching indicated that sufficient pay is the leading factor (72%) that would increase their interest in the teaching profession.

The most diverse generation, Gen Z, is expected to fill the gaps and replace baby-boomer educators. However, this is not sustainable without enough interested, passionate and talented teachers across all demographics.

A doctoral researcher studying recruitment and retention of Gen Z summarized well what this generation of teachers value:  

  • being seen and having their voices heard
  • opportunities to collaborate with other teachers
  • higher salaries like other industries because they are professionals,
  • options to grow and develop, especially since many hold advanced degrees
  • balance between work and home life

Although the teaching field still consists largely of white women, I am optimistic that a more diverse teacher workforce like Gen Z can positively impact and improve the educational experiences and opportunities for all children. However, we need to humanize and professionalize the field by listening to Gen Z’s wants and needs or we will continue to lose them to higher paying, more supportive and flexible work environments in other careers.

We must make teaching worthwhile to Gen Z. While the ongoing concerns about teacher shortages and vacancies and the increase in inexperienced and emergency certified teachers remain paramount, the teaching profession as whole must better serve the needs of passionate and committed educators. It cannot be a profession that overwhelms and under-supports talent like Ms. Sharpe, or the results will be catastrophic for our children and future generations to come.

Gen Z, particularly Black Gen Z individuals, are optimistic about their futures, according to a 2022 ACT report. By improving the teaching profession, we can harness that optimism and attract young, diverse teachers to the most rewarding profession – impacting the lives of the next generation.