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“I’m Older and I know They Won’t like Me”

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I wish that I had a nickel for every time that I have heard these words spoken by a non-traditional age college student as we begin a job search discussion. Education majors seem to be worse than others. Maybe that is due to the fact that the students in our PK-12 system typically range from ages 4-19 and the logical assumption that follows is that the farther from these ages you are, the less effective you will be relating to young students. Some people will even go so far as to assume that “older” teaching candidates may lack the energy to “keep up” with their students and the fast pace of a school environment.

Well, if you are worried about employers having these assumptions, I have some good news for you. In the recently released Age & Generations Study—a research survey of 2,210 employees across the country conducted by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College in 2007–2008- the results were quite illuminating, though not entirely surprising. Two of the study’s key findings are particularly noteworthy:
1. Older workers are more likely to have higher levels of engagement than younger workers.
2. Employees reporting better physical and mental health are more likely to have higher levels of engagement than those with poorer physical and mental health.

I have found the first finding to be especially true of non-traditional age teaching candidates. The vast majority of these folks with whom I have worked have typically come to the realization that teaching is their passion and they are anxious to learn everything about the field and get to work. When that enthusiasm for teaching children and young adults is conveyed in the job search process, the candidate’s age becomes irrelevant to recruiters.

In my experience the second finding is definitely applicable to non-traditional age teaching candidates, as well. Those who are in good physical and mental health, regardless of age, are more competitive in the search process, as that process can be grueling at times. This does not mean that everyone should immediately begin an IronMan/Woman training regimen. It does mean, however, that teaching candidates should pay attention to their states of physical and mental fitness. Recruiters translate energy, stamina and good temper in the various interview phases as capacity to handle the physical and mental rigors of managing a classroom environment over the course of an academic year.

Age truly does not matter in the competition for teaching positions. I have seen 21 year old teaching candidates who presented themselves as though they were 81 and I have seen mid-life career-changers who possessed the zeal for teaching and the vigor of candidates who were half their age. My advice to both traditional age and non-traditional age teaching candidates is to be cognizant of the importance of engagement and health in your personal and professional development. They are traits that will help you get the job that you want and add to your satisfaction once you are there.

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