TESOL jobs - is there an age bias?
Mature TEFL trainees often ask if there is an age bias in TESOL; especially whether there is an upper age limit when applying for TESOL jobs. So, if you are a 50 + and looking to start a new career in TESOL, what are your job prospects? Let’s take a look at the situation around the world. Then see our top employment tips for mature EFL teachers article for how to overcome age bias in the jobs market place.
Europe – good for mature teachers
In most of Europe there is no official upper age limit, generally speaking, although individual schools may have their own bias. The exception is European summer camps for youngsters, where we have seen an upper age limit of 30 as it appears schools are specifically looking for ‘youthful’ teachers.
Within Europe, freelance teaching is common and in freelancing, no age bias exists. For example, retired ex-solicitor David Allan comments favourably about his experiences teaching English in France.
Mary Rose (aged 58), who has taught in Hungary, and now runs the Central European Teaching Programme (CETP), placing teachers throughout the country and Romania, was surprised to experience some resistance to employing older teachers. She says:
"Although most of our school directors were willing to accept older teachers, to my surprise, some would only consider youngsters."
However, once in place, reluctant school directors can be won over. Mary says:
"This past year we convinced a reluctant school director to take an older woman as we really felt she was the best candidate for her school. It’s since become a two-way love affair…they want her to stay for an additional year and she is strongly considering it."
Europe can certainly be accessible if you are older and looking for a possible career change.
In general, mature candidates can expect a positive response to applications. However, since few positions are advertised outside the region, you are likely to have to travel to the central or southern American country to obtain work anyway, and age is likely to be less of an issue when you are able to make a face to face impression. You can find out more how to make a good first impression in our article on how to find a TEFL position overseas.
On our jobs board we regularly carry adverts for schools hiring across Latin America and as far as we know, there are no upper age limits. Good news for EFL teachers.
Asia – more biased against mature teachers
In Asia it is a mixed picture. In Japan, the JET scheme (recruiting for a language assistants for schools Japan-wide) has an unofficial upper age limit of 39, but if you are an older teacher already in Japan, the situation is likely to be very different.
One Chinese recruiter we know of has an upper age limit of 55 but in scouring the internet there appears to be no express upper age limit advertised. However Clif Davies, a Global English TESOL trainee and mature EFL teacher, writes that although he has obtained work in China, it wasn’t easy.
"China is very discriminating about age. Very often you will see adverts for women teachers under 35."
This seems surprising in a country that is crying out for EFL teachers and where demand outstrips supply. If you are heading this way, make sure you are aware of current visa regulations and see our blog on legalising your documents before you travel. The situation appears similar in Thailand, Taiwan and South Korea. So if you are headed in this direction, you are likely to meet with more resistance as an older applicant. But since TESOL is so fragmented, there are no absolutes and 51 year old Vaughn Buxton’s experience in Thailand was very positive. He says:
"I passed my TESOL Global English course on Thursday 11th in the afternoon, and on Friday 12th in the morning I rang headmaster from the meetings I had been to. I arranged an interview at 9.30am the same day and started work at 10.30am. I now teach 20 hours a week at the top primary school in Surin with a very good salary."
Like Vaughn, if you are a mature candidate, it helps to be already in the country you want to teach in and then be proactive. He offered to volunteer first and then maximised his contacts from there. Reading between the lines, once a school sees what you can offer, it seems they will be more likely to offer you a position. It may have also helped that he went to a rural location, outside of the more competitive larger cities. Read more from Vaughn here about teaching English in Thailand.
Interestingly, being older in Vietnam can be a positive advantage. Scott Shepherd says;
"Here they equate knowledge with age, so there is more respect shown to you because of this...(older people) are seen as more stable and likely to stay long term. I would recommend coming to the country and then looking for a job, no matter what age, as you will have no problem getting employment. When we first came here we didn't have a job, but within a week we had 13 to choose from."
Clearly age discrimination does exist in TESOL, just as it does in society generally. However, is this bias more pronounced in TESOL than in other professions? Mature EFL teacher Patricia Harrison thinks it may be, commenting:
"TESOL does seem to have developed an ethos of being a young person's vocation."
However, we have heard enough success stories from our more mature TESOL trainees to know that with perseverance, creativity and persistence, it is possible to achieve an ambition to teach English overseas, regardless of certain obstacles.
Thanks to all the people who contributed to this discussion on our Global English TESOL Facebook pages. If you have something you’d like to add, please do so below.
Blog updated October 2018
Interesting that ESL teachers have found age discrimination in Asia. My experience (more general than ESL) suggests many Asians respect age more than do Westerners, and connect it with life experience and some presumed accumulation of wisdom, as was noted in Vietnam. It may partly depend on whether one is referring to schools, which may want energetic young teachers, or adults, who may have a different perspective. Also some schools have a set retirement age.
China does, indeed, have age biases in hiring. But, this prejudice is mitigated if you are already teaching in China, much as your article says is true of Japan. I think some schools in China are beginning to discover that age has little correlation with quality language instruction, and that older teachers are not only good teachers but sometimes more reliable than their younger peers. I think China's bias towards age has much to do with anachronistic ideas about the discipline of teaching itself.
In China working visas (Z visas) are difficult to obtain after 60. In my case, the Public Security Bureau refused to extend my working visa after 65 - regardless that my employer was happy, that I have a PhD and 35 years of experience in the subject, or that I have been distance running for 50 years and still run 7km a day. Bureaucratic indifference or prejudice rules all.
Thanks for your comments, Thor May. I wonder if this is to do with health insurance? A mature candidate found fewer issues in China once he had shown he had provided his own comprehensive, private health insurance?
Several years ago I did your very good Level 1 course and since then have taught English one-to-one with a number of adult Japanese people. At the end of last year I went to Solomon Islands as a volunteer for 8 weeks where I taught 5 Dominican nuns English and also computer skills - mainly emailing and Skype. The Global English course was invaluable. Incidentally I am 72 years old!
Referring back to my earlier comment on age exclusion from China (Zhengzhou, Henan Province) - no, it was not a health insurance issue. I had already agreed to cover myself for that.
Update for South Korea (2013) - In January I actually signed a contract as Assistant Professor with a South Korean university. I was ready to buy a plane fare when an e-mail arrived explaining that Korean Immigration had refused to issue a work visa because of age (my d.o.b. 1945).
Similarly, also in April 2013, the director of a tertiary institute in Macau wanted to hire me. His personnel department told him that a work visa would be impossible to obtain because of the age question.
Thanks, Thor for clarifying. It sounds like there are still some ingrained attitudes in China and elsewhere in Asia- although it can help if you are already in situ, as Dan Mueller mentions. We have quite few trainees semi-retiring in France, Spain and Portugal with one of our TESOL courses...
I was hired for S. Korea in 2011, at 50, and when I first arrived I noticed that my boss, and people in general, kind of reacted IF I told them I was 50. If they did not ask, I did not say, and they had no idea .....and so, work really was not a problem day to day, and neither was life in general.
I think it's because I do not even think of myself as older, or anything in particular, that I tend to get reasonably positive responses from Asian teachers, students and folks at large.
Thanks, Royal. It was good to read above of your positive experience in South Korea. If you are mature and headed that way, agencies that recruit for private language schools are a good option (rather than ones that recruit for the government schools)
I will speak for China. In China, it is a matter of law and the law in many provinces states that Z Visas (employment) cannot be granted to those over 55, and in some cases, sixty. Some provinces, such as Inner Mongolia, can obtain visas for those up to age sixty-five. The laws have been tightened up considerably, recently.
Changing my mind about how ROK is, for hiring. Not so good. I am yet 52 now, only 2 yrs older than when I went there, but I am finding it over 4 times harder to get placed again.
Decent recruiter, i think, but a very discouraging situation nonetheless, for the last 5 months of trying.
Seriously depressed at this time.
I would say, head someplace besides ROK, unless u enjoy uphill battles..
Referring to Thor's comment, I really think it is up to the institution rather than a government policy of ageism. I was hired by a Chinese University when I was 65 (two years ago). Last year there were colleagues well into their 70s (both 78) who were eventually let go. They were excellent instructors so perhaps the age limit where I am is 75+. No one on campus will confirm or deny this!
Consider Bhutan. Age is not a problem, beautiful country, friendly people, you won't save money, but you'll be able to break even, to teach and to contribute. Very interesting place.
Hi all, very interesting comments - I'm thinking of teaching English abroad - I'm 51, UK born and have an English degree.
I have a problem in that I have a (spent) criminal record (1983 - threatening behaviour (I received a fine)) - I have been cleared to work in the UK Civil Service since as this conviction has elapsed/been spent - does anybody know if this will be a major barrier to teaching abroad?
I did do voluntary work in Sri Lanka in 2009 and this was declared to I-to-I & they cleared me to undertake this work
I would be very interested if anybody could give me advice on this..if you don't wish to do so in a public environment then my email address is email@example.com
I am UK lawyer who has worked in various Asian countries and it has to be noted that many of the countries have mandatory retirement ages for nationals (especially for teachers/civil servants) and understandable this is applied to foreigners. This age bar is also applied to obtaining working visa'a even if there is a shortage of skilled English language teachers. Expect no lateral thinking in Asia. Although Asians respect age the bureaucrats in most Asian countries are young (under 55 and mostly younger)and their experience of age is with their own population who age quicker without having access to free medical facilities and often having endured harsh working conditions. Asian culture is to adhere rigidly to rules and regulations. Based on the aforementioned it it not surprising the young officials see age in a work situation as less that positive. Whenever they find out I am 68 and still working as an international oil and gas lawyer they point this out to their friends and remark how in their country at that at my age I would be just hobbling around relying on family support not working in a high pressure environment. The idea of fit active oldies is not something they often see so it is to be expected they find it hard to comprehend that Western people can be active, open minded and contribute to society. As someone indicated earlier positions for qualified people (in my case lawyers) are often advertised, stating must be male and under 35 - the concept of requiring experience evades most young people. We should understand this as we were all young once and knew everything their was to know. Only with age do you realise that there is always more to learn. Work can be found but it is often through serendipity.
What about Russia I understand they prefer older teachers because most of the teachers are older. Any truth to this?
The older the teacher is, the more likely they'll complete the entire term of their contract. I've been teaching EFL in South Korea and China for the past 25 years, so I know first hand that it's the young adults who are more likely to quit their jobs. Some change schools to find greener pastures, while others return home.
Which TEFL course is best for me? Read our handy guide now.
Employers - have you got a position to advertise on our website and through our fortnightly newsletter? Click here.
"For the past two years I have worked here in Tuscany teaching all levels. I have already recommended your courses to one of my prospective teachers..."
— Alison Salmon, English World, Italy