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Older teachers

July 26, 2005

Here I am again. I met a retired engineer the other day and she told me she was half way through a TEFL training course. She wanted to know what I thought her chances were of finding a teaching job when she has completed the course. Well, I can't disguise the fact that there is a lot of age prejudice in the world of ELT. I think all sorts of reasons combine to make this a profession dominated by young teachers.

First, it appeals to those who want to be able to see the world and gain experience: inevitably it's the young who fit this profile. Second, if we're honest, pay is often unattractive in comparison to other professions and young people will tolerate that in a trade-off with their travel ambitions. Then schools themselves often appreciate the enthuisasm and energy that is associated with youth, not to mention that the young are more tractable.

Having said all this, I also know lots of young retirees who have found rewarding second careers in this field. If schools took a moment to think about it, these mature treachers have lots to offer. Their experience of life in its broader sense gives them additional "weight" in the clasroom: in discussion, for example, or in that strange, unquantifiable quality called wisdom. Many cultures respect older people and students may have greater confidence in a mature teacher for that reason.

The older teacher can also have a calming and stabilizing influence on younger colleagues, who may find many aspects of their new career overwhelming. Where the more mature teacher has a background in another professional area, the school may well be able to make use of that expertise to offer ESP classes in that field. The engineer I mentioned would surely be an asset in a school where students were preparing to apply for a university place in a technical subject.

But having said all this, I think the age of the teacher should not really be an issue. The main point is, can the teacher do the job well? If so, surely that's what matters. Let me know what you think.

Bye for now.

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  1. Barbara Says:

    I'm 61, American, and teach at a university in Liaoning Province, which is in northeast China. Before I came to China I had many years of elementary classroom teaching experience. Despite that, I did get my CELTA because I thought it made me more marketable in the ESL field.

    My university has an outstanding foreign affairs office that is eager to hire mature adults with varied work experience. The youngest foreign teacher here is thirty-something and three of us are in our early sixties. That being said, before I was hired I had submitted many teaching applications for which I was highly qualified, but I didn't get even basic replies for many of them. I think the ideal is not to reveal your age until it beomes necessary. Unfortunately, at least for China, a photocopy of your passport is part of the initial application process. A very good, "youthful" appearing photo can be helpful.

    Most of the world doesn't relate to the idea of mature adults still wanting to work, much less wanting to work in a job field that has historically been a rite of passage for recent college graduates. But good English teaching positions are available: Know what type of position you want, and target your search. Make sure your ESL credentials are excellent. Shorten your resume, highlighting pertinent experience. Use your cover letter to sell yourself, especially your maturity and your flexibility. And finally, allow yourself several months to find a good match.

  1. jill c. christopher Says:

    Hi, just read your article. Well, my own experience does not back up your theory! I am 69 and just started a new job at a well-known school on a part-time basis. I gave up a full-time job in order to try and write. My three previous jobs I was near or over 60. One in Turkey at a wonderful school. I asked the Director once there why he chose me at my age, and his reply was that the young were not nearly so enthusiastic, and were very picky. There were only two ESL jobs at that big Job Fair! At another Job Fair a few years later when I got a fabulous job in a very sought-after international school in Tokyo I heard recruiters talking about having taken on someone whose last job it would be. They said, yes, they found young teachers sometimes not so stable and able to adjust to the new unfamiliar situation as seasoned teachers. Recently I met one school Head and said I was a bit old probably and he replied "not old, experienced". As long as one feels able to go on teaching, I think one is probably capable.
    Just to say it takes all sorts and ages, the best balance in a school is a mixture of ages!

  1. Bruce Says:

    Well I'm just beginning to look for work as an ESL teacher, after 35 years administering a public library system. I have 2 degrees and an advanced diploma in ESL teaching, but am finding the market place is indeed not terribly interested in people in their 60's. Does anyone have solid suggestions as to what countries are most likely to be interesting in we mature teachers?

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