Are You Too Old to Teach English?

The Truth about Hiring and ESL Teachers over 50

by @AngelaBrumett

They're easy to find: rumors about age limits when it comes to landing a position abroad teaching ESL (English as a Second Language).

These rumors resurface from time to time and are often confused with age-related restrictions for work visas for many fields. Those restrictions usually exist to manage and balance the demand of opportunities and the number of qualified and desirable immigrants. "Desirable" usually means healthy with long term service and assimilation potential-- and in some cases, of course, trainable too.

Most countries, including the United States and Canada, implement similar restrictions in their immigration systems (directly or indirectly such as through a points system) for that purpose. They are not meant to be enforced without exception. You, desiring to teaching ESL abroad, simply need to be aware of what you can possibly do to navigate any obstacles you may encounter. Like with anything else you pursue, persistence and flexibility will be key to you success.

The ugliest of the rumors is absolutely true.

If you are rejected solely because of age, you are likely to be without recourse. Many countries do not have or enforce laws related to age discrimination. There is very little that their own citizens can do to fight it and even less that foreigners can accomplish in this regard.

Other factors can be bigger obstacles than age.

It's also important to note that your age may not be the--or the only--reason your application is rejected. For starters, the favored political relationship country X has with particular English-speaking countries may make it difficult for citizens of other countries to find positions there.

Also common is the more obvious: Some areas are simply saturated with applicants who already live locally and already have the "right papers" to work there. If you're limited by either of these factors, be willing to work in your own country or choose a more open location abroad. This may mean looking outside of major cities or popular areas where too many others would also like to teach English.

Let it go or get dragged.

Because I've explored this issue thoroughly, I'd like to say. "Just trust me," or maybe I should say one of my favorites, "Let it go, or get dragged." When you are rejected for ANY reason beyond your control, divert your focus immediately. You need all of that energy to land a position and become a successfully working ESOL instructor in less time.

Perhaps before I reveal just how your advanced age can actually work for you, I should explain the reasons why much younger instructors, even the highly qualified ones, may not have it as easy as you do. Yes, you read that right.

Youth comes with baggage too.

Certainly, an older instructor may one day quit due to elder age-related factors. However, many young people are not in the greatest of health for, just like older people, all kinds of reasons. Some simply do not choose to exercise the discipline required for very healthy lifestyles because, unlike older people, they can feel invincible. Employers are tired of the twenty-something-year-old teacher showing up late or hungover OR calling in "sick" on Fridays and Mondays while engaging in the frequent weekend adventure.

Younger instructors are more likely to be unreliable--and sometimes for "good" reasons.

Of course, we all know that there are many younger instructors who take their jobs very seriously, so let's set that aside now. There are other factors of youth that make it less attractive to employers. The younger an instructor is, the more likely they already have or will soon have a younger family. That means they will have to make additional compromises for the sake of having and raising young children and possibly for a partner. If the children require a parent's presence at school or extra care, the parent who earns less usually misses work. If the partner lands a job elsewhere that pays better, even the most reliable the ESOL teacher quits and moves on too.

Turnover is expensive.

Today, turnover in most professions, but especially those which attract travel-lovers, is so high. Most employers are really looking for reliable instructors, those who seem to be more settled and less restless. Younger people are likely to have more distractions. They are often choosing to live in particular locations mainly to party, study, and/or travel. For them, teaching English is a very temporary side hustle to pay for the rest of the experience.

Age may not be your (real) obstacle.

Although I started in my 20s, I am now over 50, and I can tell you that other than the strictest age-based visa issues which are usually only enforced in the more popular or saturated areas, there is no "real" issue with age in this profession but more with your actual (demonstrable) skills, record of reliability, and presence (whether the employer and students feel good around you)! These things can even encourage employers abroad to help you get around visa issues. They can easily petition to hire you, stating a lack of qualified applicants along with reasons to hire you specifically. If you have what it takes, this won't be too difficult for them to do.

Your accent can be a pivotal asset.

This is when your accent may become your asset, particularly a North American accent especially if it is preferred or underrepresented in that location or, for that matter, any underrepresented accent considered crucial to represent there (some institutions seek to employ instructors with a variety of native English accents, others prefer only a specific one).

The right vibe can get you the right visa.

MOST employers will want to meet you, or any promising applicant, face to face (in person or online) to discover if your vibe, regardless of age, fits their vibe. THIS is the deci