I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s - a time when your age really defined what you could and should do, say and wear. ‘Act your age, not your shoe size’ wasn’t a lyric from a Prince song, it was what adults said to you from Primary school onwards. And look how far we’ve come.
For people in middle age and beyond, as I am now, that meant living like you were extras in ‘Brief Encounter’. Men wore hats and suits – which they removed only if strenuous physical effort was involved. The women, from 40 onwards, slowly morphed into Miss Marple. By 50, they were full Joan Hickson, practical shoes, hats and permed grey hair.
So it is a constant delight to be living in a time where age no longer defines who and how we are.
"Acquiring new knowledge, having a sense of purpose and being part of a community can benefit not only older people, but the society in which they live. For me, training to teach at 60 years-old delivered all that."
Mature and growing markets
Perhaps our increased life expectancy is playing a part. When Brief Encounter was released in 1945, an average newborn could expect to live to their mid-60s. Today’s babies are likely to make it to their 80s.
So, has this increased life expectancy also increased our expectations of life?
Certainly, in the world of teacher recruitment and training, where the stats seem to grow grimmer every year, the only market segment which has grown is trainee teachers over the age of 55.
There may not be huge numbers of them, but as someone whose father-in-law took retirement at 55 to do nothing more onerous than swing a number 7 iron, I find their appetite to do something new and positive in their lives inspiring.
Being on a golf course on a Wednesday afternoon with the nineteenth hole in sight, does at times fell like it should carry the hashtag ‘lifegoals’.
But I wonder how satisfying or beneficial it would be if that was all life had to offer.
I’m no gerontologist, but I know from personal experience that there is something wonderfully rejuvenating about learning a new skill and taking on a new challenge.
Experts agree, claiming that acquiring new knowledge, having a sense of purpose and being part of a community can benefit not only older people, but the society in which they live. For me, training to teach at 60 years-old delivered all that.
So why stop at 55? After all, by 2030 one in six of the world’s population will be 60 or older. It’s possible for people to enter teaching who are 65 or even over 70.
Our future is flexible
But while it’s one thing to encourage older people to get into teaching, it is quite another to make what is usually described as a ‘challenging job’ seem appealing.
For many older people, teaching feels like an ideal way to share their experience with young people - but the commitment of teaching five days a week isn’t quite so appetising. Until recently it has been difficult to teach on a flexible basis with a part-time contract or in a job share. This is such a waste – and such an opportunity for change.
"The only market segment which has grown is trainee teachers over the age of 55."
In this, there is much the state sector could learn from independent schools, where job shares, co-teaching and part time contracts are more common (admittedly funded by a very different business model).
So it is encouraging to see more of the schools and teacher training providers we work with including part-time options in their courses and contracts.
Clockwork or chocolate orange?
Fears about student behaviour can also concern would-be older teachers. But they can in fact be very sweet. Teenagers can create challenges, no doubt. But so do all workplaces. Being young in today’s world can be tough, but underneath the attitude and bluster, at core they are often unsure, trusting and occasionally laugh out loud funny.
"Young people can only benefit from having teachers with experience in other sectors and dealing with older teachers can only help rinse away the remnants of ageism."
It would be a shame if the dystopian narratives of William Golding or Anthony Burgess coloured our view and prevented a resource as rich as older teachers entering the profession.
You only have to read the letters that some Now Teachers shared with us to realise that you’re more likely to be overwhelmed by emotional missives than aggressive behaviour.
At Now Teach we will help you find the right school. One where the policies and leadership provide you with a supportive training environment and where you can learn the behaviour management techniques which mean experienced teachers can walk unto a classroom and command immediate attention.
How to start again
There is no doubt that starting anew, from the bottom of the career ladder, is a daunting prospect after years in a profession knowing exactly what you’re doing.
The corollary is that this place of ‘conscious incompetence’ is where the excitement of making a career switch lies.
"Why stop at 55? After all, by 2030 one in six of the world’s population will be 60 or older. It’s possible for people to enter teaching who are 65 or even over 70."
I didn’t find it easy to suddenly be the least knowledgeable person in the staffroom. But I managed it thanks to the patience, kindness and generosity of my colleagues; the regular chats with my Programme Manager at Now Teach; and the input from the other Now Teachers who were dealing with the same things.
So surely, if they have the drive to retrain to teach, people with significant professional and life experience should not only be encouraged but actively helped to give something back, whatever their age?
That is part of why Now Teach exists.
And the other part is because experienced people bring something unique into schools. Young people can only benefit from having teachers with experience in other sectors and dealing with older teachers can only help rinse away the remnants of ageism.
So whatever your age, don’t let it define what you challenge yourself to do. Our oldest Now Teach retrained in 2017 and he is 70 this year. So come and learn to teach. Now Teach is here to help you every step of the way.
Ready for your next challenge? Register and we'll talk you through your next steps.