Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Age Concerns

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Age Concerns

Article excerpt

"I don't think," said my father-in-law from his hospital bed, "that I can go back to the classroom. Perhaps you could contact the school and tell them I'm retiring."

"Yes, well, that sounds like a good idea," I replied, "given that you're 94 years old."

"Am I?" he said with amazement. "Are you sure about that?"

He had been admitted a few days earlier suffering from infection-related delusions, so perhaps it wasn't altogether a surprise that he thought he was living in 1981, his actual date of retirement from teaching.

A few days after this exchange, I came across an article in the London Evening Standard headlined "School's not out for older teachers". With a rising school-age population and so many teachers retiring early, the fear was that the system would struggle without them.

To illustrate the piece, the Standard had chosen a picture of a kindly old chap with a white beard and a benevolent smile. He was sitting cross-legged on the carpet, surrounded by expectant nine-year-olds, clutching a story book from which he was about to read.

Immediately two questions came to mind. The first of which was: how's he ever going to get up from there? The second, more seriously, was: how old is too old for a teacher?

The answer was easy enough before ageism came to sit alongside racism and sexism as one of the great no-nos of our age. Once you reached 65 you were obliged to head off for wing-back-chair-land and forget you ever had a brain. As a 66-year-old still happily in harness, you might say, "he would say that, wouldn't he? …

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