‘Something that actually matters’: four retirees on why they’re becoming teachers

The work and pensions secretary, Mel Stride, suggested that unemployed people over 50 should consider delivering takeaways.

But these over-50s are looking to do something more productive with their time. in 2023, the over-55s accounted for the biggest rise in new trainee teachers in England, with a 75% increase in applications.

8/22/2023 1:17:15 PM
Lucy Peston Laura

Meet Ralph, Elaine, Cass and Sylvia - some of the over 50s Now Teach is supporting to unretire and become teachers

“People in their 50s and older make brilliant teachers”, Lucy Kellaway tells The Guardian, explaining it's the perfect profession for those that want to "do something that actually matters".

So why are people leaving retirement behind for the classroom?


Ralph Watts, age 70, left his career as a nuclear engineer to teach physics.

"Retirement was OK, but I realised I could have 30 more years ahead of me. To keep my brain young, I needed to engage with new things and new people, in particular, young people."


Elaine Johns, age 65, traded in her role in banking and tech to become a computer science teacher.

"As a transgender woman – I transitioned at work about a year before I retired – I was worried about experiencing prejudice, but I’ve only had positive experiences on my school discovery days."


Cass O’Reilly, age 60, swapped the NHS for the classroom, teaching French.

"What I’m most looking forward to is being more people-facing. When I was in the NHS, I didn’t have direct contact with patients and I used to feel quite jealous of the doctors and nurses, whose face-to-face contact with patients gave them a meaning and a reason to go on."


Sylvia Harris McCoy, age 54 retired from as auto-industry engineer and then decided it was time to become a maths teacher.

"I had an exceptional maths teacher when I was doing my GCSEs and A-levels. I owe her my entire career – and my three children owe her a lot too: I don’t come from a privileged background but I’ve been able to give my children more than I ever had, purely because of that teacher."