Teachers over fifty (or even sixty) still have lots to offer! WHAAT??? You read that right! Apparently in teaching, everyone starts assuming you’re close to RETIREMENT when you hit 25 years. I started teaching when I was 20, so I was only 45 when I reached the 25 year milestone. Each spring when we had to sign our intent forms for the next year, someone would ask me if I was going to retire (those who knew me well knew better than to ask). I think to many people, 25 years seems like an eternity.
Don’t count us out yet! Even after all those years, teachers over 50 still have lots to offer! In other careers – attorneys, stock brokers, etc., the more experience the better. Why is it not the same way with teachers? The number of teachers over the age of 50 is decreasing each year. I think that’s sad. Here are some reasons I believe being a teacher over 50 or working with teachers over 50 is actually a major benefit to your school!
It’s no surprise that new teachers with fresh eyes bring excitement and energy to a classroom. A more experienced teacher can help guide that excitement to establish a good foundation and provide wisdom and a listening ear. In turn, beginning teachers are often masters of technology and are probably happy to share some of the newest ways to use technology with teachers who are digital immigrants like me.
#2: Surviving Trends
In education, teaching trends come and go! A teacher over 50 will surely have been through tons of fads over the course of their teaching career. Whether it was the learning styles movement, whole language, thematic instruction, whole brain teaching, inquiry based learning, project based learning, multiple intelligence theory, cooperative learning, growth mindset, STEM/STEAM, genius hour, or the thinking skills movement, they have probably seen it! They learned that each of these trends has strengths (and weaknesses!) and they adopt and adapt the pieces that fit the needs of their students.
#3: Classroom management
Managing your classroom, discipline, providing a positive learning environment – these are often some of a beginning teacher’s biggest struggles. Teachers over 50 have had many years and all types of kiddos to help them fine tune these skills!
#4: parent-teacher conferences
“I love Parent-Teacher conferences!” said no teacher EVER! Teachers usually hold at least 30 of these a year. By the time you’ve taught 25 years you’ve held at least … well, I’ll let you do the math. Holding hundreds of these conferences gives you some insight into how to survive it! You become an expert at calming nervous or upset parents and developing positive parent/teacher relationships. It also helps that many parents equate being a little older to experience and maturity which gives you some authority and a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
If you’re a teacher or know one, you will agree, teaching isn’t cheap! Time is an advantage. Teachers over 50 have had years to collect great resources for their classroom. Teachers are collectors by nature (I’m sure we keep Target in business!) and I was no exception. Eventually I had to rent a storage unit to keep all my stuff because my classroom didn’t have enough room! I had a real human skeleton and anatomical models donated by various doctors. Hunting and farming is big here in the south, so I had a vast collection of deer and cow skulls and bones (I even had a stuffed armadillo). And numerous trips to the Gulf beaches and Dauphin Island Sea Lab enabled me to have a tons of preserved fish, shells, and shark jaws. Let’s not forget to mention BOOKS! Over the years I amassed quite a collection, and I still have 5 bookcases of children’s books in my house. Most beginning teachers start with a blank classroom. Teachers are collectors, but they are also the most generous people I know. Veteran teachers are usually more than happy to share some of their resources with teachers just starting out.
I was so excited when the kids I was teaching were younger than my own kids at home! When my kids were small, I couldn’t afford to get sick because ALL my sick leave days were taken by my kids with colds, upset stomachs, visits to the dentist, etc. Let’s face it, even the best substitute teacher can’t take the place of the teacher. When my kids were little, I never accumulated any sick leave, but once they were older, I rarely had to take a sick day. As a whole, teachers over 50 don’t take as many sick leave days, partly because they don’t have young children and they are probably not taking maternity leave.
Teaching IS like other professions! Experience really can make you a better teacher. After all those years, teachers develop a large repertoire of tips and strategies which can benefit an entire school, not just one classroom. Teachers over 50 have had years to hone their craft and become better teachers. They have learned to adapt to change, new technology, new resources, and have amassed a great deal of content knowledge! To be totally honest, I achieved more in my last 20 years of teaching than I did in my first 20 years.
There is something to be said for maturity and life experience. Teachers over 50 have the advantage of having years learning to create balance while juggling the demands of teaching, family, and social life.
So don’t count yourself or other teachers over 50 out just yet! You may be the mentor a younger teacher needs, or that older teacher down the hall may have the knowledge and tips YOU need! I finally did retire in 2016 after 41 years of teaching. But even after all those years, teaching’s still in my blood. Today, I do consulting, professional development workshops, and create educational materials. What can I say? Once a teacher, always a teacher!
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