Ageism In Education: Staying Active As You Get Older–And More Experienced!
contributed by Sheila F. White, Sheila White Education Consultant and Associates
The baby boomer generation of teachers is getting up there in years.
For those of us who were taught to believe that if we educated ourselves and went as far as we could if we were always ‘good,’ if we adopted a hard-working or workaholic ethic in our careers, and if we kept up with the latest knowledge – the last portion of our careers would bring respect, high pay (or at least what our fields can offer – this is not a corporate choice we made 20-40 years ago), and security. For me, that has not happened, and the baby boomer awareness of this, in general, has been slow to dawn.
It took me about 18 months to grasp this. ‘What!’ I’m a dinosaur. How could this be?’; I’m a boomer so I will never be old. Besides, it’s against the law to discriminate on the basis of age. After a long job search, attendance at a baby boomer workshop which was held free of charge at a local library on rechanneling skills, I saw that my difficulties were not unique. The conclusion reached by attendees was that ageism is one of the most difficult things to prove in court; few want to pay you for your many years of hard-won experience and wisdom acquired in the trenches or to pay you benefits.
This means you have fallen into a black hole for health care and social security, particularly if you aren’t old enough for retirement or medicare. Are there alternatives for us that are practical? There are possibilities but you must be willing to think outside the box (an expression I don’t recall from my student days and somehow implies homelessness to me), redirect our skills, and find some work doing what we want.
We paid our dues long ago and deserve it, and at the same time wish to remain in education.
1. Substitute Teaching
The most obvious road is subbing. I know someone who began subbing at 72 and at 82 is still out there teaching math at middle school and high school. If you’re not mobile and all you need is sub pay to supplement your income, this is a viable solution.
Another obvious road is tutoring which can be useful, if you are ELL or an Advanced Placement teacher, or GED equipped.
I’ve seen parents pay over $100 per hour to get their son or daughter through an A.P. science exam! Find out the local rates. Advertise in the local newspaper, don’t forget those free papers people pick up in coffee shops, supermarkets, and fast food places. Use small study rooms to meet your students at your local library at first or if tutoring college students, at their libraries. If you have bigger classes, hire a conference room at a local hotel for workshops. You may have your own business soon!
3. Private & Independent Schools
Another way to stay in school as a teacher or administrator is to rethink your public school persona and connect yourselves to agencies that specialize in placing teachers and administrators in independent schools. While certification is generally not as important as knowledge in specific disciplines at the high school level (my accreditation training workshop began with the statement – “Certified is not the same as qualified”); there are more certified people getting full-time work at independents, non-sectarian and sectarian. The better independents offer super pension plans and professional development opportunities (I even got trips to Eastern Europe and Russia!)
Some will offer free or half-price tuition for your children if they qualify for acceptance. Boarding schools might offer you free housing and 1 to 3 square meals a day at no charge for your family, along with well-matched pension plans. The Association of Board Schools website has a jobs board – check out TABS.org
At an independent school, your salary might be less and your extra-curricular duties including weekends might be greater but it does generally balance out, especially if you are teaching highly motivated college preparatory students with few discipline issues, in an environment that allows more creative freedom in curriculum design.
4. Hiring Agencies
I do know of some agencies that cater to independent schools: the largest is Carney Sandoe & Associates which charges a small fee for paperwork processing for applicants; the schools pay the big hiring fee to the agency. Carney can place you anywhere in the country and abroad; they also hold several job fairs between January and May at different locales well-distributed around the country. Check their website.
Take the fall to get your paperwork together and have it in CSAs hands by Thanksgiving which gives them a chance to look you over, screen your references, and circulate your name. I have obtained 2 jobs through Carney over the course of my career including the second when I was ‘old’ at 59. An agency with a regional specialization is Southern Teachers Agency which places educators in schools from Pennsylvania to Texas; again no fee.
5. Job Fairs
Remember, you attend job fairs at your own expense although the agencies sometimes reserve hotel space at a reduced rate for attendees – I found that my AAA card sometimes provided a better rate! If you want a job list that is updated several times a day, try NAIS.org – National Association of Independent Schools. If you are a reputable school you will be a member of this premier organization. Only members post jobs on the Career Center. I once got a job through this website. If an independent is not a member of this organization, I would wonder why.
Overseas schools are a unique sub-culture of the independent school world and while Carney can place you in one of these, there are agencies that only place in international schools. China is burgeoning with schools for Chinese students who need to adapt to American teaching styles along with English language improvement. One such agency which is rather expensive for applicants to gain access is TIE. You can also check the IB website which has a job board for those of you who are familiar with the International Baccalaureate or wish to become so.
6. Test Item Creation
Although I have written about the ageism issue for other sites, I would like to add to those suggestions here with references to test item creation for large publishing companies who are very often developing curriculum for achieving improved test results due to the advent of Common Core. This will usually be discipline-specific and you will be paid hourly or piece work for your labor.
There are also full-time jobs in this area. I worked at one of the larger testing companies at age 62. Testing companies are also involving themselves in classroom professional development for teachers so try the bigger testing companies for similar work.
4 Things I Have Learned As An Experienced Education Professional
1. Value your skills and experience and never stop learning.
2. None of this is personal. It isn’t ‘you.’
3. Understand that full-time employment may not be in the cards for you but that doesn’t mean that the education sphere wants to lose your experience – it’s paying you for your experience that they don’t want to do.
Besides, who will mentor newer teachers and administrators? You are needed to pass on the wisdom. Spread yourself around to increase your visibility and let people know you are in the market. Using discussion groups like those on Linkedin is a good way to conduct this.
4. Think of being as mobile in your work as possible. If it means a move, you may have become a stick in the mud over the years so change things up a bit – relocate, add travel to your workday. The more mobile; the more opportunities.
Good luck everyone – we loved what we were doing but we are now entering a new period in our lives where we might even be more useful to the new economy and still be happy in our work. I may be a 64-year-old dinosaur but I am proud of it. Baby boomers never give up and never get old, we evolve!
An Aging Teacher Looks At 64: Staying Active In Education; image attribution flickr user pedrosimoes7 & tulanepublicrelations