Dear Dr. Spilchuk…

March, 2011

Old Guys Trying to Land a Position

Dear Dr. Spilchuk,

I have been a subscriber to International Schools Review for several years now, and I thought I would pass along some observations about this year’s recruiting scene from the viewpoint of one of the “old guys” trying to land a position.

I have never been subjected to so much age discrimination before. Two years ago when I got my first international teaching job I was already over 60 and my wife was 58. We had no trouble obtaining several offers from decent schools. This time around it was an entirely different story, being told everything from “you don’t fit our profile” to “we cannot provide you with health insurance” (we found out later that this statement was absolutely, positively untrue). The one that topped the list, however was “we will be offering the position to someone else.” Six weeks and four job fairs later the position was still open. That was really galling because I had been teaching the subject at the IB level for the past two years. Also, the school that told us no health insurance is still looking to fill the position we wanted to interview for.
The organizations holding the job fairs apparently have no awareness or incentive to address the problem. At the usual post-job fair conference for those who got no offers, the executive director of the organization holding the fair asked my wife and me what our qualifications were. We told her, and she replied, “schools should really go for someone with your qualifications.” My somewhat undiplomatic remark to her was, “obviously not at this job fair.”
The European schools are especially bad at violating their countries’ labor laws. For example, we got the line, “there is no age discrimination in Germany.” German schools would not even give us the courtesy of a reply or realistic interview at a job fair, even though my wife has a British passport making us both eligible to work in any EU country or Switzerland. The schools just ignored that fact. We could probably have gotten several of the German schools in trouble, but I have a feeling that would backfire on us by getting us labeled troublemakers. Besides I do not want to have to become an expert in EU labor (or is it labour) law.
Finally, between the antics of the European schools, the blatant discrimination of many of the Asian schools (in those countries that will issue visas for people over 60), and the national laws of the various countries, it’s quite discouraging. We are sending application letters to schools that have posted openings in countries that will process visas, and do not even get the courtesy of a computer-generated reply from most of them. The entire job search process has turned into something quite painful. We keep going, but what we fear most is that if we do land a job, it will be at some less than wonderful school in a less than desirable locale which can make life miserable.
We are currently applying separately as job openings come up with the idea that the “trailing spouse” can find other means of using his or her experience. It’s sort of rotten that we are forced into this situation, but apparently that’s the reality. We have decent qualifications that shouldn’t make us hard to place. My wife is an experienced all-levels librarian with a master’s in library science who is currently managing two libraries with seven employees at a large IB school. I have a background in teaching high school and middle school English along with two years teaching IB History and IB Psychology. We have sent out over 100 job applications between us, and have not even been short-listed for a serious interview.
We are still looking. Alternately angry and discouraged, but not giving up. Hopefully someone will get desperate in June or July and need us to fill positions.
The Old Guy

Hello Old Guy,

Unfortunately you’re not the only teacher in this situation as age discrimination does seem to be globally far-reaching. It’s such a shame that many International schools are taking this position. What these schools seem to be missing is the huge benefit in terms of experience that comes with age. While I am aware of this form of discrimination in Asian countries and also, to some degree in the Middle East, this position seems particularly strange coming from Europe based schools considered Western where age in education is considered a benefit.

I wish I could offer you some words of wisdom that might change this situation for you and for your wife Unfortunately, I can’t. If you do find the answer, please let me know and I will gladly pass your words of wisdom along to the ISR readers suffering from the same disillusionment on the part of these school.

All the best

Dear Dr. Spilchuk,

Thanks for your reply. About the only thing I can pass along to others is to never give up. Accept the reality of those places where the national law prohibits employment, and keep on applying. We may not get a position, but it will never be because we did not keep trying–even if it’s all the way into September.

Regards, The Old Guy

Hello again Old Guy,

I absolutely agree with you. Believe it or not, I also sent out at least a hundred applications when I finished principaling and decided to look for other work either locally or within my same province in Canada. In Canada, particularly Western Canada, it is not a benefit to have a PhD. The colleges find you too expensive and the Universities have many people with PhD’s looking for work. Other organizations see you as a ‘jumped up’ professionals and prefer to hire undergraduates whereas in government, full bilingualism is the ONLY ticket to security. I was lucky enough to have a background in international education predating my teacher/admin years in Canada so it was an easy transition for me to go into international work abroad. There is less of an age barrier at Universities than in International Schools.

I agree that you should just keep searching. The best jobs I have found in the past ten years have come after some drought periods. They seemed to fall like mana from the sky and I have gone to places I never would have applied to originally! By the way, have you tried applications to India or Singapore? As post-colonial countries, both run their education system closely following the British system. I can certainly vouch for the fact that Singapore is a fabulous location for ex-pats! By the same token, there are excellent private schools in Canada, particularly in British Columbia. Have you searched those on the Net? Not every good job to be found comes out of recruiter search engines!!!

Best and keep me posted,

Responses to This Column

Dr. Spilchuk: I am an older teacher and have been working in Korea for 5 yrs. I put out 10 applications because I want to change jobs and got 8 replies and 4 firm employment offers. I have accepted a job as a professor at a university with full faculty membership. I did not use a recruiter. If you’re over 50, avoid them like the plague. They will recruit you and try to place you in the worst jobs they have.
These are a couple of stories that took place in the last two months.

I have an excellent teaching background and applied with a recruitment agency for a university job in the Middle East that they were advertising. I went through three or four people who always asked for my CV and a teaching reference, until I was finally granted an interview at an ungodly hour of the night. During the interview I was told that they no longer had the position I had applied for but could still place me. (I later found out that this job doesn’t exist, it’s just bait).

When I told the recruiter what I wanted, she said that I was asking for the best top paying jobs and that at my age, I should consider lowering my expectations and settle for volunteer jobs or jobs that paid under $1,000 per month. They also wanted me to pay them $45 to send me to the next level and for their trouble of talking to me.(this was with Global Links, who will pass you on to other agencies and have them call you).

I also applied for a job as a teacher trainer in another country (I have the experience)and was told that I did not qualify, but they would like to interview me for their preschool positions. I’m not qualified to teach preschool,I don’t have an early childhood endorsement and have never worked with preschoolers. Stay away from Recruitment companies. They are like vampires, they just want to suck whatever profit they can.

I am in the same situation as you are age wise. Out of curiosity do you know which countries in Asia, Middle East and Latin America, hire teachers over 60. Keep plugging away and some thing may show up.

I just wanted to add my “Two Cents” worth to reinforce what the last gentleman stated. I too have put in for many positions, but the moment they check my age which is 67 there is an excuse as to why I cannot be hired. The last position that I applied for I was told that the Chinese Government would NOT issue a work permit/visa to anyone over 60. I went to the Chinese Consulate, called them and sent emails checking on this statement. Most all refused to answer on the record but all denied that China had such a law and suggested that it was the employer’s rule. SOMEONE IS LYING!!! What a shame to think that the country that gave us such great philosophers as CONFUCIUS and others would not value age more! Hang in there. I’m still looking. Bob Canulla- Houston, Texas

I, like the old guy, am an old girl in the same boat. I tried in Singapore and was told the retirement age at that particular school is 62, I’d just turned 63. I’ve always said I would move out of the way to let a young one take my place, but when they advertise, I figured no one was interested. I am still trying everywhere and believe something will come to the experienced ones who still want to contribute.

I too found myself feeling like a dinosaur at the most recent job fair I attended. I went to London, hoping that if I actually put myself in front of these recruiters that my chances of being hired would increase. I sent many applications ahead of time and actually had email conversations with the heads of my favored vacancies. Many heads would not even extend the courtesy of an interview and went so far as to say they had so many vacancies to fill and interviews to conduct they couldn’t possibly fit me in. Between the EU status and age I had four interviews. What a disappointing and expensive trip! How does one pursue an international job without EU documents, and how does one obtain EU documents without a job?

I am a 63 year old woman. I recently returned from a year and a half in South America, Ecuador to be exact. I researched possibilities throughout South America while I was there. Generally speaking, they do not discriminate regarding age. They need your expertise, and generally can’t or don’t pay very well. But you can expect to be treated well, and respected. I taught English in a university in Quito, and was quite comfortable.

I noticed when I did my doctoral research at an ID school in Asia that the age distribution was quite marked. Women were usually in their first years of teaching and all under 35, whereas, the males were 46-69. There were some older local females, but NO local male teachers. We all knew there was a power gap (all older white males) but until I did my study I actually did not realize the significant age disparity. I wonder how widespread this is in IB schools???

We had the same problem as both over 60 and with 9 years IB experience in sought after subjects. We have given up and are retiring. Good luck, Margaret

I too am in the same situation, except I am 50. I have taught in two international schools, stepped out for one year and then tried to get back in this past February. I ran into the exact same thing. I thought something was rather odd when the majority of the positions were rapidly being sucked up by the younger people or the teaching couples before I even had the opportunity for my scheduled interview. I did have one job in the bag so I thought when I was told, “You are the top candidate” until a teaching couple came along that was more suitable. Very disappointing experience. I’m still trying, but it sure knocks the wind out of a persons sails. I’m to the point of completely getting out of the educational profession, but what to do at the age of 50? I don’t know, I don’t know. Roger-Minnesota

Dr. Spilchuk: I’m, 63, and as a result of going to a international recruiting fair in San Francisco in February landed a principal’s position in Kuwait. Thirty Seven years of experience and counting.

Keep those responses coming, old guys and gals! Many of you offer suggestions that I have not considered. This seems to be a very hot topic.

Same problem, I was told in one interview that they would love to hire me but my age (59) is a problem…could only work one year then leave the country. I have a Mathematics Clear Credential,everyone said I should have no problem getting a job. But after two fairs,many interviews and no offers I am going back to the states, they want me there.

It appears from these responses that age in Administration is valued but the situation is not the same in teaching positions in many parts of the world. In North America there are human rights that disallow discrimination because of age. As a result, many of your are simply going back to North America to teach or to retire from teaching. On the other hand, I see that one teacher over 60 has had luck in Latin America, albeit at the reduced salary offered there. I know that many old guys and gals are still teaching for the love of it and for the cultural experiences they get as they travel the teaching road. Those of you in that position can follow the advice of this lady and look to Latin America! I suppose we will all have to remember that key players in the hiring market in the Middle East like Egypt, Libya and Bahrain now find their educational systems in disarray. As a result, there is more competition for positions remaining in high needs countries in International teaching. My advice is to keep searching. – Dr. Spilchuk

The Board of my current school in Hong Kong has recently imposed a policy of granting only one year renewal contracts to anyone age 60 or over and preventing us from applying for new openings in management. My response was to tell them I would look elsewhere. Perhaps because of many years of IB experience as a teacher and examiner, I have been quite fortunate to land a three year contract at an excellent school in Singapore which seems unconcerned about my age. My advice: don’t give up!

Dear new Singapore administrator…You are in for a rare treat! Enjoy the ride! Singapore is a far more multi-cultural and central location than Hong Kong, and the people there are spectacular! Lucky you! Thank you for this excellent story on the upside! ….Dr. Barbara Spilchuk

There seems to be quite a bit of sour grapes here. It doesn’t seem like people are considering the fact that they might not be the strongest candidate regardless of age. I work with a number of people over 60 (in China) and did so as well in international schools in England. If you’ve got the chops and are a dynamic presence, schools will make it work. Perhaps you’re not bringing as much to the table as you thought you were. International schools need to take more into account than your years in a US classroom or a couple of years of IB. Do you coach? Are you a leader? Do you have a reform state of mind where you’re bringing the newest and best research-based practices to a staff? Most of the over 60s I’ve worked with do all those things. A few didn’t and weren’t renewed. That being said, a recruiter has to play the percentages and a younger couple is probably a safer bet for stability and longevity in terms of the payoff for recruiting costs. Schools are free to choose the best people for the job, if that isn’t you, model the behaviour you’d want your students to have and accept their judgment or work at being a better candidate.

I have interviewed over 16 candidates who are over 60 because I can hire older candidates. However, each one was not current in curriculum strategies, could not articulate with specificity how to teach reading and creative writing, nor outline how they would develop a hands on math program given an established curriculum. As for how to integrate technology into their teaching the replies were sad. In addition it is hard to hear any capacity to work in teams when they may be the only older staff. I am disappointed as I want an age balanced staff. I do see that it is mostly older men hired for administration and interestingly they all seem to be older than 65 in the upper management. There are only a few women directors reading the job placements on recruiter sites. Often it is not the country limiting the age but the school owners and parents who pay the tuition. And you are right…this has happened in the past two years. Do keep looking and keep your skills current. And take the chip off your shoulder, practice interviewing and the new terminology, brush up on tech skills, and show how you are a team player. The odds back home are no better..don’t fool yourself…younger and less degrees are cheaper.

I would just like to add to this thread that I think at 54 I am feeling the effects (no interest from administrators) too. It is coupled with the fact that I apply as single (my husband is staying put in Germany and my sons go to university in Canada and the UK). I am pretty sure they look at me as a crazy lonely old doll; I try to change their perception by explaining a bit of the interesting international life my whole family is happy to lead, but it sounds lame. I hate the application forms that ask for my age, because I am pretty sure they don;t go farther than that, and they miss the great experience and fantastic references I have. I put a photo front and centre to further alter their perception of me as an old dear, but so far it hasn’t helped. I also get the double whammy of applying as a single to schools (in the Middle East) who tell me they are better set up for teaching couples. And yes, I have offered to share with another single… Frustrating, as I fear that if I were to let go of the position in Europe I am in, I will be in forced retirement. Good luck everyone in a similar situation!

Same problem. Now that I am closer to 60 than 50 (just) interviews seemed to have dried up. My proven track record and youthful persona – not teaching in a UK state school takes years off you! – seem to count for nothing. The last time I was told they had someone who, “fitted the profile” better than me I noticed the post being re – advertised 4 months later. I have never ducked out of a contract for any reason.

My husband and I are experiencing the same difficulties- he is only 51 but I am 55. For one job I was ideally suited to I was not even short listed whilst he was offered an interview. That was Qatar and I have been told schools there have decided to keep the upper age limit to 55! We returned to the UK for a couple of years and now it seems impossible to get jobs abroad again. Even here it is almost impossible to get a class teaching job if you are over the age of 35!

Look for a job in Saudi Arabia & Latin America. Asia & China have lots of job seekers so less chance there, also many countries in SE Asia have age limits for employment. In Europe you come up against a retirement age barrier.

How reassuring to read these posts – my husband and I are in exactly the same position. We have felt so downhearted,unwanted and confused. We have been in international education for many years and have always felt respected and worthy – until now that is.

In October 2010 we started applying for new posts for August 2011. We have spent hours on preparing CV’s and letters of application making sure that they ‘fit’ the posts advertised. We have spent hours preparing for interviews both via ‘Skype’ and ‘face -to-face’. We spent hours, and a considerable amount of money, attending a job fair.

We were advised at the start by various people, including experienced recruiters , that we would have ‘no problem’ finding posts as we are experienced educators with excellent references and a good track record of steady employment. But ….. so far no firm offers and many varied reasons for not being appointed.We were even rejected by one school because apparently their country does not permit them to employ married couples!!!

Thorough research into many countries so called ‘age – restrictions’ has been inconclusive.What schools state as age limits on their recruiting data cannot always be corroborated with the country’s employment rules.

Anyway, like other teachers in this ‘post’, we are plodding on with applications and will attend one more recruitment fair as we refuse to give up easily! If all else fails – then it’s back to the home country in July and start a ‘lifestyle change’ by doing something completely different from education.

All you school recruiters out there – just think what you, your school and most importantly your students are missing – steady, stable and experienced educators with a real commitment to education.

Let’s hope that we hear some news soon that some of us ‘oldies’ have been successful!

I am having the exact experience as you and your wife. Three years ago, I received four job offers and chose one in south America. Now, in 2011 after one job fair and over 50 applications later, I have nothing. Many of the countries have listed age caps at 60 or even 55!! This is particularly true in the middle east. At the Cambridge Fair I saw so many young applicants and I became awestruck at the numbers that were getting jobs. I have over 30 years experience and no one offered me a thing. I remain available and like you, see the same schools that I applied for with openings…apparently the bottom line with these schools is money and not experience. Best of luck, the “old gal

I don’t think age/salary is the disqualifier these days. I feel that many administrators do not want to hire teachers who are confident and have a strong voice about educational issues and school management. Sometimes being too responsible and capable is seen as a threat and not the type of personality who will just go along with the wishes of administration without asking some questions. After a person reaches a certain age and has many years of excellent teaching and worldwide experiences they often treat administrators as equals…wide eyed-wonder and admiration seem to be ever so much more welcome these days…

My husband is 50 and I’m 40 and we have experienced this to some degree and not just because of age but because my husband had a heart operation one summer and took some time off to recover. In the middle of the year we both were hired at a school in Cancun. We were told about 2 months into working there that we BOTH had to leave because they felt his health issues were a problem for them. He never missed a day, taught 7 different classes in an 8 period day and we were paying for all his meds on our own- btw we were not paid very much there and just wanted to be active for those months as we are not people who like to be stagnant. Throughout that 2 months we simply were wanting to know when our health insurance would be available. He was not feeling 100 percent because being in hot humid Mexico for 2 months it was stressful ON US to be there without being covered and knowing if he did really get sick we would have no where to turn. He was not complaining, just concerned but they had us leave. Needless to say we were not going to leave easily. When they wanted our grades and wanted us to sign a release form we refused until they paid us for the remainder of the contract they were breaking. We got the measly pay we were to be granted and now work at a great school in Asia. Basically, don’t get discouraged. Keep your focus and know that somewhere will value your experience and hopefully not look to make excuses for why they can’t have you teach for them. Good Luck.

I am thinking we need to have another category for those with a PhD and pushing sixty .I am single, have been looking all over the world for over a year and keep running into the age barrier. Of course, I have experience and good references. By the way, my research (done at an IB school) revealed young-fresh-out-of school women with the majority of guys over 46. Also noteworthy were the native “helpers” at the school who were all women of a certain age and no native professional men. The powers that be seemed to be all older white men who were married.

Dr. Spilchuk: I was 61 when I went to Ecuador to work as an ESL teacher at a University. The program arranged for me to get a “Cultural Exchange” visa, which allows you to stay in the country for longer than 3 months. I have heard that all of South America hires over 60. Although the pay is not great, because it is cheaper to live there, the pay is manageable. Lots of interesting exploring to do there also. And there is the possibility, if you have some kind of retirement income, to qualify for residency status. I’ll be going back to South America in about a year. There is a huge need for teachers, and even with low pay it is possible to follow your interests in other areas, outside of work.

Dear Dr. Spilchuk: Does this age discrimination in overseas schools happen to administrators also? I was hired at the age of 52 to be the Head of School in Nigeria and had no age related difficulties with the visa (just other significant problems!).

The Old Guy ultimately did find a position. I took a chance and applied for a position at an Asian school which according to the ISR reviews fell into the “less than wonderful” category. It turned out the school had been turned over to new owners who were trying to get things back on track and were actually seeking older teachers who had a higher tolerance for ambiguity during the turnaround/recovery process. So here I am at 67, great location, OK pay, school trying to get better and generally decent students. Lucky? Yes indeed. But as they say, “you make your own luck.” So to all the old guys (non gender specific here) out there, keep digging and scratching in the job market. Keep an open mind about positions and locations. Never, ever give up, and eventually you will succeed.

Saudi Arabia does not hire older teachers in their 60s UNLESS they have gotten visas when they were in their 50s. It is entirely discriminatory. The Middle East is basically closed despite the need after Arab Spring to educate. China is more mixed, as they need teachers in some provinces, but basically the country is closed to older teachers. I agree that Latin America seems more willing. Africa is closed. So the accumulated experience of older teachers is lost. You have to wonder what is it that these schools want to teach, is it age discrimination?

It is beyond any logic that I can think of why one spends thousands and thousands of dollars to become well educated only to be dumped on the trash heap of uselessness at the age of 55 or 60 or 65 or 70 or etc. The only thing that I can think of is that this whole business is a scam.

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