There is a sensitive issue that I’d like to address in this post and that issue is this: Are there age-limits to teaching overseas and if so, why do they exist?
A few years back I applied to teach at a camp program in Korea. I ended up being told by one camp program that I was too old to work in the camps and that they were looking for teachers in their 20s and 30s. My age at the time: 37.
So the question on the table – does ageism in hiring for overseas positions exist? In a word, yes it does. It’s not fair and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but it does exist.
At this time I want to be clear that ageism in hiring is by no means a uniquely Korean issue. This issue exists in many other countries and I have seen an increasing number of job ads explicitly stating the age limits for hiring. I can recall as a university student, a well-known Japanese program clearly indicating that they do not hire anyone over 35.
I have been asked repeatedly what the age limits are for hiring in Korea. With the private academies, there are no official posted limits for age. However, unofficially some programs place caps on their hiring. This in turn makes it difficult for older teachers to find positions.
It does seem strange, doesn’t it, in a country like Korea where age is often associated with respect and wisdom that a teacher would not be as welcomed when they are older. I heard again and again from students that they preferred younger teachers and that younger teachers had more energy and were more fun. I cannot speak for all teachers but I know that I am a better teacher in my 40s than I ever was in my 20s.
However, the age issue and Korea deserves to be explored a bit more. I am sure this is true of many places in the world, but in Korea one’s age almost perfectly defines what one is supposed to be doing at that stage in their life. It’s like in Korea everyone is given a blueprint for what path their life should take and it rarely deviates from that path (and if it does, watch the reaction that you get). Don’t believe me? Tell me that you are 32 and not married – what do you think the first question you will be asked will be “Why aren’t you married?” By the time you reach your 30s, marriage should be in the rearview mirror, not something that might happen down the road. If you teach university, look at your freshman and see how many of them vary in age. I had a freshman student who was once 4 years older than the other students in the class and was embarrassed by this fact.
The point I am making here is that the way age is viewed in Korea is fairly rigid, especially with regard to expectations. Going back to the issue of teachers and age, students hold certain expectations of older teachers. I’ve heard time and time again that older teachers are “boring”.
There are, of course, other reasons why older teachers are often bypassed in the hiring process besides student expectations. One reason, I believe, that ageism exist in hiring for overseas is that programs believe it keeps costs down. By continually hiring new and relatively inexperienced teachers for overseas, programs are able to keep salaries lower. Teachers with experience would command higher salaries (and rightfully so). While I find the salaries for teaching overseas to be pretty good when you factor in the free housing and low taxes, it goes without saying that hiring teachers with less experience allows programs to keep their salaries from increasing.
The one last question I would ask if what the future holds. Will this hiring trend change? Unfortunately I don’t think it will and that in itself is a real shame. By looking at the age of an applicant and overlooking them, many programs in these countries are overlooking some fantastic teachers that could do great things if given the opportunity.
Once when I felt down sometime after my 40th birthday, a close friend told me “Age is just a number”. It’s a thought that has stuck with me since that day and every day I live and work the way I want to regardless of my age and how society believes I should act.
To older teachers who may experience some frustration in the process I conclude with these words – do not lose heart. There are programs out there that do in fact, hire older teachers and look beyond things like age to hire the best teacher possible for their program.