Recruitment & Retention Opinion

Old and in the Way?

By Anne Macleod Weeks — July 14, 2008 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In the 1993 film “Indecent Proposal,” Woody Harrelson’s character is applying for a college job teaching architecture. The dean of the school tells him, “You are overqualified.” Harrelson replies, “So, exploit me.” He’s quickly hired to share his undying passion for great architecture with wide-eyed undergraduates.

A good scene, but in many ways an unrealistic one.

Last August, entering my 31st year of teaching and my 20th at my current school, I made the decision to move from a boarding environment to a day school. I have loved the boarding school experience, developing close ties that have lasted decades with students and their families. But it was simply time for me to be able to go home at night and have my weekends free.

Because I would be interviewing for the first time in two decades, I was naturally apprehensive. Never once, though, did I consider that I would not be able to find a job that was a good match for me. My interests and passions are clear, and I have a wide network of connections who respect the work I have done in my career. And, realistically, I knew I had a job if I didn’t find the right match.

I followed the usual avenues in beginning a job search: registering with search agencies, calling friends to put the word out, and keeping my ears perked at every conference and social gathering I attended. One good opportunity appeared in the early fall, but I ultimately concluded that the location wasn’t a good fit, and the salary unattractive. As time passed, I found myself being picky, not pursuing opportunities that were good prospects because there was just something that would make my life more difficult, sometimes location, sometimes educational philosophy, and sometimes a sense that I didn’t click with that person on the other end of the phone. There was also my love for Baltimore, where I have lived and worked for years, that kept pulling at my heartstrings; this city had become home. I began to doubt that the stars were going to align for me.

Then, in December, more jobs were posted that were exciting prospects. By this time, I had found a groove in interviewing, so anxiety was not part of my school visits. What became disconcerting, though, was the dubious, raised-eyebrow look I got when I indicated interest in a job that was either a lateral move or one perceived to be a “step down.” I began to be asked why I wasn’t applying to be a head of school, the logical next step after my current job of academic dean. Why would I want to go back to college guidance (never mind the fact I am still actively involved in the National Association for College Admission Counseling)? One interviewer even asked me if I might feel as though I were “slumming” if I went back to teaching English. Two interviewers indicated that even though they were interested in me, the colleague with whom I would work felt I was overqualified and was intimidated by my extensive knowledge.

As I moved forward to the National Association of Independent Schools convention in February, I hoped the chance to network would pull me along further in my search. But just before the conference, my head of school left, and I was asked to be acting head through the end of the school year. My deep love for the school made my answer to this call-to-duty a given, despite the fact that I had never aspired to a headship. So when I arrived at the NAIS convention, I was pulled between communicating the changes at my own school while interviewing for positions at others. The new title of acting head, of course, only raised eyebrows even more.

One afternoon, as I stood waiting to interview in the grand ballroom of the Sheraton in New York City, I struck up a conversation with a distinguished professorial type next to me. He was an engaging, intellectual conversationalist with graying hair, a corduroy blazer, and a knapsack at his feet. I asked what he was looking for, and he said a job teaching writing. He was currently teaching online courses for a university, he said, and just wanted a stable teaching job with benefits, and the chance to teach students in person. As we shared tidbits about our writing, we both watched the tables where we were next to interview. He let out a sigh and said, “Great … another perky young coed energetically interviewing for the position I want.”

And then it hit me: I am old in the eyes of education. It isn’t just about being overqualified, it is about age, too. I began to see the questions in the eyes of those interviewers: “Does she have the energy to coach? Teach a few classes? Handle a club? Handle the kids?” And then I could hear the thoughts in their minds: “That new graduate will be a lot cheaper and will probably be willing to do more.” I began to understand why some older faculty members feel marginalized, despite their extensive knowledge and passion for what they do (and do well). Are we so wedded to the model of the boarding school “triple threat” (teacher, coach, dorm parent) that we undervalue the impact a seasoned educator can have on students in the classroom, or as a mentor to young teachers?

So what has been my outcome? Blessedly, I have been “exploited,” and my new school will certainly reap the benefits. I have learned more than I could ever have imagined in my four months as an acting head of school, while also giving back two decades of knowledge about our school’s history, mission, and culture. And yes, I am exhausted from juggling the responsibilities of both academic dean and acting head, but it is a well-earned exhaustion.

I have also been fortunate in finding two heads of school who saw the value in my experience, and I have accepted an upper-school-director position at a school that fits my style and educational philosophy to a tee.

I fear, however, that I am one of the lucky ones. In the end, the stars did align for me. Yet I think back to that writing teacher at the NAIS conference and wonder if he, too, broke the barrier. How I hope some school leader realized that his passion and wealth of experience were just what budding student writers need.

Education should respect those gray hairs and elbow patches, as they have come from years of practicing the art of teaching and extending a love for learning to young minds. And isn’t that what education is all about? We veterans are worth the investment.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the July 16, 2008 edition of Education Week as Old and in the Way?


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Professional Development Webinar
Disrupting PD Day in Schools with Continuous Professional Learning Experiences
Hear how this NC School District achieved district-wide change by shifting from traditional PD days to year-long professional learning cycles
Content provided by BetterLesson
Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
Teacher Perspectives: What is the Future of Virtual Education?
Hear from practicing educators on how virtual and hybrid options offer more flexibility and best practices for administrative support.
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Recruitment & Retention Opinion It Will Take More Than $60K Salaries to Solve the Teacher Shortage
The American Teacher Act would be a good start, but let's not imagine that it will solve all the problems in the teaching profession.
Katherine Norris & Kathryn Wiley
5 min read
US 100 dollar bill as a bait on a fishing hook.
Recruitment & Retention How Many Teachers and Principals Quit in the Pandemic? One State Has Answers
In North Carolina, the numbers of educators leaving the classroom exceeded new hires.
4 min read
men and women entering and exiting open doorways on an isolated blue background
Recruitment & Retention Building the Superintendent Pipeline: Advice From 3 District Leaders
Creating a deep pool of talent pays dividends, superintendents say.
2 min read
Art Cavazos
Art Cavazos, the former superintendent of Harlingen school district, said it's important to give potential successors the chance to build their skills and test their capabilities.
Recruitment & Retention What the Research Says How to Keep Science Teachers in the Schools That Need Them Most
Professional connections can be key to retaining educators for STEM courses.
4 min read
Joseph Cynor, who teaches 8th grade science at Winona Middle School, counsels a group of students on which combination of vinegar and baking soda might create the biggest explosion on Feb. 22, 2019.
Joseph Cynor, who teaches 8th grade science at Winona Middle School, counsels a group of students on which combination of vinegar and baking soda might create the biggest explosion on Feb. 22, 2019.
Madeline Heim/The Daily News via AP