Older Teachers

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 enthusiasm 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 teachers have lots to offer. Their experience of life in its broader sense gives them additional “weight” in the classroom: 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.

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