'I’m 83 and I still teach. Why should I stop?'

Marilyn Fairclough has been teaching for 54 years – and she's not planning to leave the classroom any time soon

Marilyn Fairclough

Marilyn Fairclough, 83, plans to carry on teaching until she is 98

I am 83 years-old. Do you think I am too old to teach? I don't think so. I'm not ready to stop teaching. Since my retirement from full-time in my sixties, I have been teaching continuously part-time. And I intend to go on until I am 98. There is prejudice towards the old – too often we're viewed negatively in education.

When I retired from full-time teacher-training, I was invited to take over some staff development temporarily at a small college for Neets (young people not in education employment or training). I was still there 16 years later with a much-expanded role. When the college went into liquidation, I  panicked. I wondered if I would ever be able to get my feet under the table again.

Prejudice against older teachers

If I applied for a part-time post, what would happen to my application? It would go straight in the bin, for certain. My age wouldn't stop me from applying for the job, but it would prevent me from being called for interview. Fortunately, I was able to bypass the selection process. Within a few months, I was asked to design and deliver the training for volunteers in a local NHS project. I also became one of the Friends at a local university and run two conversation clubs for foreign students.

I am fulfilled and I know I'm a useful member of society. I have the time to spend long hours planning to make learning relevant and fun.

Teaching is not like other jobs: it's a vocation. I am lucky to be in excellent health and I have an active mind that needs to find outlets for being creative.

'There should be no cut-off age for teachers'

There should be no cut-off point for teachers, should they wish to be considered for work in their old age.

I suspect that older teachers are viewed with suspicion because they might be stuck in their ways and not so willing to fall in with new educational ideas, or may not be as malleable as younger teachers. An interview would swiftly separate out the dinosaurs from the open-minded.

There also seems to be a widespread belief that old people are either disintegrating with multiple physical and neurological health issues or they are selfishly squandering their pensions on cruises. It's unfair to tar everyone with the same brush. There are many ways that old teachers could be brought into schools, colleges and higher education to enhance the institution and the learners’ experience.

From society’s side, we hear about the loneliness and isolation of old people. Being with the young brings joy to the old, as we have seen with the projects to bring the elderly and nursery school children together. More out-of-the-box thinking needs to take place to welcome the old gang back into education.

I cannot be the only octogenarian who still gets a buzz from teaching.

Can I? Surely not.

Marilyn Fairclough has been teaching for 54 years – and counting

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Marilyn Fairclough

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