Mark Newman

Times have changed for older teachers

Older teachers can find it tougher to get teaching work here nowadays

I was 40 when I first came to Thailand to teach. (I'm in my mid-fifties now.) Back then, wannabe teachers who were in their forties and fifties had it easy. There was no shortage of work and employers were fawning over the experienced looking ‘professional' types. That image of professionalism included being older.

The language center where I first started working had people in their sixties and even one old codger in his seventies who was happily spreading the words of his native language to an eager audience. It was easy pickings back then. It seemed the older you were, the more likely you were to get snapped up by any agency, school or company that wanted an English teacher.

In fact, to an extent, youth was frowned upon, because as educators, they weren't taken as seriously by employers or students. In an otherwise youth-orientated society, teaching English was the one area where older folks had a head start when it came to getting work.

But since that time of plenty, there has been a slow but noticeable erosion of that advantage.

There are several reasons why this has happened...

Firstly, the students, schools and companies are markedly more sophisticated and demanding about who they want representing them, than they were fifteen years ago.

So why is that?

Well, one of the answers is that there are a higher percentage of younger people in the work pool than there was before. Today, it seems, there are swarms of younger people heading to Thailand who want to ‘give it a go' because they are on gap year, or they can't get work at home, or they just want the experience of being in another country, etc!

Also, there are more women coming over. When it comes to women, older teachers have already lost the fight for that good job. The fairer sex is in great demand as teachers. Ladies always have been in great demand, but now there are more of them for employers to choose from.

Next, we have to take into account of the ‘formality' of the teaching profession. In the past, a well pressed shirt and conservative tie were held in high regard. It still is, of course, in many fields of education and training. But those formal barriers are breaking down in Thailand. There is a movement toward more relaxed and informal settings for many areas of English learning. This advantages younger job applicants.

Another handicap that older applicants will face these days is the sea change of technology. The way English is taught in Thailand is facing a revolution. When a young job applicant whips out his iPad and launches into a presentation of fun games and different ways to teach English and the older man pulls out some well used text books from a beaten up black briefcase to illustrate the same intent, who would you favor? Which applicant should an employer or student favor?

But it's not just that older teachers don't know this technology, it's also because technology is associated with younger professionals. It's universally assumed that the younger you are, the more adept you'll be in picking up on new ways of teaching.

The next reason older teachers are finding it more difficult to compete: The employers are younger. They can relate socially to younger employees and are increasingly more likely to pick the exciting, energetic twenty-five year old lad with an online TEFL and a smartphone, than they are, a stuffy old man with a CELTA and a cane!

Finally, younger employees are more malleable and they often work for less. In addition they toe the company line more willingly than the worldlier, stubborn old farts are prepared to do. This has always been the case, but when an employer is faced with a choice between a fresh, wide eyed thirty-something and a rather staid older ‘professional' then the choice of who to hire is weighing more and more in favor of the former.

In my view, over the next few years, Thailand will see a sharp decline of older native English teachers in the classroom. The above factors will weigh increasingly against those older job applicants who, in the past, could simply show up to an interview and be almost guaranteed of getting that job.

The times, they are a changin'.

Mark Newman

Further reading - who comes out on top - older or younger teachers?


Lets face it many schools only have Falangs in schools to boost their image to the paying parents (its a business), so the fresh faced youth will always win out, but it doesn't mean that your on the scrap heap yet. There still plenty of private schools in the smaller towns and villages looking for teachers. I am starting my second year at a small school in Lamphun and they are very happy to have me there and treat me with great respect. I was also been approached by two other schools in the area. I will be 56 this year.

By Trev, CM (9th April 2014)

Well, there's only one thing for it, blacklist these employers. After all, which older and experienced teacher would want to support them in taking the country even further down hill. What with the general state of affairs in Thailand, they're all going to be out of business any way.

By Desmond, Malaysia (18th March 2014)

In job search you need to keep a positive attitude, not merely believe its all stacked against you. At the end of the day, you are selling You, not some 50-something person you don't care about.

By William, Australia (7th March 2014)

Your article does hit on some truths. The problem is of stereotyping all the people and putting them into one basket. I'm an oldie like yourself, but am still enthusiastic to do what I do. I play games for work well done, am very strict and focus on the kids learning, yet have lots of fun. Yes, 10-15 years ago finding work was a lot easier as there were less applicants, but let's face the real truth. The schools never really cared for the foreign teacher, it was just prestigious to have a white skinned farang in the school, now they just want young, handsome or beautiful photo friendly farangs to put on the school calendar. Experience over a degree doesn't count for anything here either, and that's a very sad fact that the schools prefer a soft, lilly white skinned female fresh off the boat who just wants 6 months or a year away from home after completing a degree about Eastenders and to have some free time island hopping to someone with experience who speaks the language and understands the culture, the system and the students.

Any job offers going?

By Stephan Cannon, hat yai (3rd March 2014)

" younger people heading to Thailand ..., or they can't get work at home". Lets face it it's harder for lots of people to find work in their own countries irrespective of age. Older mature people are increasingly been thrown on the rubbish heap in their 40's and 50's with little to no hope of finding work again in my country. Some like myself who is hitting 54 this year are tired of looking in their own country so they head to other places to seek some form of gainful employment. If that means moving to Thailand or any other country for work, then so be it.

Maybe I'll find it hard to find work there given my age, but as for the technology side of things, I'm all but finished a Bachelor of Information Technology with a Information Systems major... maybe i'll be too tech savy for them.

People in all countries should realise this is a global market now-a-days, people travel to various parts of the world for work and a 1000 other reasons.

In saying that, it seems like age discrimination exists no matter where you go. Personally I think it shouldn't be a factor.

By Wayne, Australia... heading to Thialand (2nd March 2014)

Interesting article but I think you're slightly off the mark with your reasons. You seem to be saying for instance that anyone over 50 doesn't understand technology, and doesn't play games or do activities in class. This may be what misguided employers think and be the reason why they're reluctant to employ over 50's, but you're reinforcing this stereotype as if it were true.
And what is this teaching 'revolution' that you speak of? In my experience Thai schools are still firmly rooted in the dark ages with outdated rote learning methods and textbooks that should be binned.

By Tim, Bangkok (2nd March 2014)

It's a crying shame. When my school advertised, about 80% of applicants were from Cameroon. Among the NES were a few with no degrees and a few highly qualified trained TEACHERS with fantastic experience. At international schools etc. Alas, they were above 60. A steal at 30 k, which they all accepted. A younger teacher even had a Thai teaching license and lived nearby. References from other schools would be easy to check... But hey, along came a 20 years old taking 20 k. You know how the story ends, don't you?

By Clown, Nonthaburi (2nd March 2014)

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