Are we doing enough to support our older teachers?

by James Reid02 Nov 2015

More teachers are finding they’re having to work longer in a profession that is increasingly stretching their physical capacities to the limit. Could this lead to older teachers getting pushed out of their job before they are ready to leave?
Research from the Australian Centre for Educational Leadership (ACER) earlier this year revealed a startling undersupply of teachers.

However, the nation’s older and more experienced teachers who have reached retirement age are also following them out of the school gates.

While retiring teachers are being replaced, some male-dominated subjects such as mathematics and physics are still seeing an aging workforce and – in these subjects at least – supply does not appear to be increasing.

But why?

Unfortunately, the physical and mental strain that the teaching profession has on older educators can also include instances of ageism in the workplace, according to Age Discrimination Minister, Susan Ryan.

In 2012, Ryan, voiced concerns following reports that older teachers were being “forced out of their jobs” by ageist attitudes.

One example involved a woman in her 60s who said her principal deemed her "mentally unfit" to teach because she forgot a student's name.

Another woman in her 60s said that she had completed extra teacher training and wanted to implement some of it in her school but was told she was too old to do so.

"Hearing the complaints was very concerning," Ryan said.

"I was shocked because I'm based in NSW where I know there are a whole lot of older teachers in their late 60s still going and needed because there's not enough people teaching.”

Research shows nearly one in three Australian teachers are so unhappy in their profession they consider leaving within their first five years of employment. 

However, Kevin Bates, Queensland Teachers’ Union (QTU) president, told The Educator that while teaching was a tough job, older teachers were often more resilient, having been “hardened to the expectations of the job”.

“Most teachers exit the profession on their own terms – however, our members report to us that they feel vulnerable to being forced to work for longer due to the Federal Government’s repeated “hints” of raising the retirement age,” Bates said.

Bates added that while attitudes had begun to change, more needed to be done.

“One crucial factor is the availability of ongoing professional learning provided at the employer’s expense in working time,” Bates explained.

“The demands of the teaching profession are such that most teachers spend large amounts of time on weekends and holidays undertaking such professional activity.”

Bates said that all teachers, regardless of their career stage must be supported to engage with this professional learning to ensure that they are as well-equipped as they can be to succeed in a rapidly changing educational landscape.

“Further development of programs allowing transition to retirement such as permanent part-time work also require support and further commitments from government,” Bates said.


  • by Carla 4/11/2015 9:57:43 PM

    I'm working at a school which employers a number of teachers in their late 60s. I think it depends on the individuals health and energy levels as teaching requires a reasonable level of fitness to be able to do the long days expected by management. Part time employment is a great option for these teachers but this can lead to a feeling of isolation and disengagement from others.
    I also feel that it's a benefit for younger or new teachers to have mature teachers as mentors. However some older staff can have set opinions and tend to resist change or new ideas. This can make it difficult to introduce new programs and teaching techniques or technology.

  • by Ian Conabere 10/11/2015 11:42:41 AM

    Essentially the essence of teaching has not changed. Every excellent teacher wants their students to learn to learn, to learn how to assimilate new understandings and to express these as useful knowledge when that is required in life.
    Whether you can use the latest technology or not can be seen by some as the only way to prove that you are current in your thinking.
    My first computer policy in 1983 in a small rural school was created because technology could not be ignored. We learnt together and were very proud to sing Advance Australia Fair with the DOS programmed tune we created the week before.
    What my teaching experiences have shown me is that enthusiasm is still an essential part of any learning. Motivated students learn despite their situations.
    Part-time teaching can lead to a sense of isolation and disengagement as can no teaching if you want to continue to do this. We have some very intelligent, mature, socially savvy CRTs who for whatever reason do not teach in a permanent position. Just to be there among the rest of the teaching staff and be given a task that acknowledges their gifts and what they can offer to students would be great for them and for education. Adopt a character for your school who can give students a sense of history in the present age.