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