Are we doing enough to support our older teachers?

Are we doing enough to support our older teachers?

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.