Too Old to Teach?

On the grueling process of finding employment after 50.

Too Old to Teach

Well, it finally happened. After six months of searching for an elementary teaching job somewhere in my home state of Pennsylvania, I was offered and accepted a self-contained fourth-grade teaching position. Not in Pennsylvania, though. The job is in Virginia, where there’s a serious shortage of educators at all levels.

And it wasn’t easy to land the job. It took a ton of patience, time, and effort. But sixty applications later, I hit pay dirt.

If you’re a young teacher reading this, I envy you.

Not just because of your youth, but because your chances of landing a teaching job seem to be better than a seasoned veteran’s. After 31 years in education and two years teaching grades not even within my certification, I hit a brick wall. With three decades in the classroom, a master’s degree in classroom technology, several awards, coaching and moderating experience, excellent references, and stellar student results on state standardized tests, I still couldn’t find a job teaching in an elementary school, be it public or private, in the Keystone State.

With my private school’s student population shrinking, and still not having an elementary opening for me, I went into search mode in February. It took several months, and the only elementary offer I had before the one I accepted was from a private school that couldn’t pay me enough to live on.

I was beyond disappointed and nearly gave up several times.

Finding a middle school position would have been easier, since there were many openings in the private sector. I even received a few offers for jobs I didn’t even apply for. But my training and certification is to teach in an elementary school, and that’s where I want to be.

I’ve worked for five main school systems since 1988, so I’ve filled out my share of applications. But 2019 was the hardest search of all, and the most confounding. I did my research on the schools, found out what texts and programs they used, and fit my answers to what I thought they wanted to hear. I watched YouTube videos that gave advice on how to interview and read articles on the same topic, but to no avail. It shouldn’t be this hard, I kept telling myself. But it was. Consider this real feedback from administrators:

  • “I’m looking for someone with basic qualifications who we can train and bring along in our system.” Advantage: the novice teacher.
  • “I look first at their personality and how they would connect with our kids. I also like when they have some experience under their belt, but not so experienced that they might be set in their ways so that they won’t adopt (our) way of doing things.” Check for the novice.

Others passed the buck and referred me to another department (who, as expected, never responded).

During my fourth interview, I popped the big question.

I asked why a younger, less experienced teacher might be chosen over an older one with proven success in the classroom.

An assistant superintendent answered, “That’s not going to happen. We only hire the best teachers.” The following week several of the interviewees taught a sample lesson. I wasn’t among them. I never got to show that my skills are as good as they’ve ever been and that my enthusiasm for teaching has not waned. 

In all, I applied to several dozen districts, only to be passed over for teachers on the first or second step of their contract. It became apparent what the benefit was for the district: the less experience one has, the less they have to be paid. But do the students suffer as a result? As the saying goes, results will vary.

So, what’s a veteran teacher to do in such an unfriendly market?

Networking is a plus. If they know you, they are probably more likely to hire you. And being aggressive is a must. I put in more work this time than all my other job searches combined. I also expanded my search to a state with a high need for teachers.

Most importantly, I never gave up. I promised myself that when I got a new job, the kids in my class would have a teacher with a much greater appreciation for being there.

And now it’s my job to show them how much.

We’d love to hear—has the interview process ever made you feel “too old to teach”? Come and share your experiences in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, how to know if you’re a veteran teacher.

Too Old to Teach?

Posted by David Webb

Webb has taught for 29 years in both public and private schools. He has a Master's in Education and has taught in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina. His memoir, Mr. Nomad: Tales of a Traveling Teacher, was reviewed by Publishers Weekly in November, 2016.

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