National Older Workers Week: What did you do during the war? 

Lucy Kellaway



At a recent conference we held for our trainee teachers, I spoke to one of our recently qualified teachers, Paula, who shared that in a Spanish class a pupil had innocently asked what she had done during the war.  

Paula, 53, had to let the poor pupil down and simply say it was slightly before her time. When she recited the exchange in the classroom later that day, a fellow teacher (32) said he had once been earnestly asked whether he had watched the Queen’s coronation… live. 

The children it seems had very little recognition of the age of their teachers. And yet, by the time those children grow up, it is highly likely that they will both experience and commit ageism. 

Ageism in the workplace is an alarmingly common problem. Not only do 62 percent of workers 50 and above believe older workers face age discrimination, but over 93 percent assert that ageism in the workplace is a regular occurrence (Built In, 2023).  

When Now Teach was first set up in 2017 by Lucy Kellaway countless people said that as a 58-year-old, she couldn’t hack it – that she would quit by Christmas. They said this because of their own perceptions, their own internalised ageism. They had never met Lucy, nor taken the time to understand her experience prior to teaching. 

Despite the naysayers, teach she did. And she’s still going six years later, initially teaching maths in Hackney and more recently switching to economics in Newcastle. Along the way, Lucy and Now Teach have inspired over 850 people retrain to teach. Having taught since 2017, Lucy has now taught longer than the average English teacher and plans to keep going well into her 70s, and why not?

Many people like Lucy want to change career later in life but struggle to work out how to approach it. A common phrase we hear is, “I’m 52, I have 15-20 working years in me, what can I do”.  Whether this impulse is internal or driven by events like children moving out or redundancy, it is a common feeling people experience in their 50s and 60s.  

People no longer want to stick within the confines of their old careers, where they are no longer learning anything new or progressing. And why should they if there are better, new, refreshing options out there? 

Of course, many have chosen to retire rather than do something else. This is where employers must step up and tap into this amazing resource; the golf course lifestyle maybe for some, but for many in the long term, purposeful work is more attractive. 

Two male colleagues talking on a bench

The challenge employers must face is setting up attractive opportunities which fit in with this new market’s needs. Employers must set up work environments which are age friendly. Part-time, practical coaching, kinship, multi-generational workforces, and appropriate training are central to ensuring experienced workers can produce their best work. 

National Older Workers Week seeks to raise awareness that working is an option for experienced people who want to work. Too often we are dismissed on the account of our age. Perhaps even more often, we dismiss ourselves. If Now Teach has discovered one thing in it’s 6 years, it is that number shouldn’t be a barrier. Employers need to account for employee needs, however they bring wisdom and experience. 

If you are considering changing careers and teaching, do it. And for heaven’s sake, keep at that change. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Fortunately, despite the lack of understanding pupils sometimes demonstrate, a career changer has not yet been confused for a Roman Legionary.  

To find out more about changing your career to teaching, click here. 

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