This month we published Sarah J. Shin’s book English Language Teaching as a Second Career which is the first book in our new series CAL Series on Language Education. In this post, Sarah discusses the experiences of people who embark upon a new career as an English teacher later in life.
Consider the following statistics: A 45-year-old American woman who remains free of heart disease and cancer can expect to see her 92nd birthday; a 45-year-old man in similar condition, his 88th birthday. This means that today’s 45-year-olds who maintain reasonably good health can look forward to living another half of their lives. Throughout much of human history, 40 was regarded as a fairly ripe old age. But with extraordinary advances in biomedicine in the last century, longevity has become a global reality.
As a result of dramatically increased life expectancy, a new developmental stage has emerged in the life cycle. The period between the end of young adulthood and the onset of true old age can easily cover a span of four or five decades.
An important consequence of increased life expectancy is that people need to be able to support themselves financially for more years. A 62-year-old person today could easily require 30+ years of retirement income. This motivates people to work beyond the traditional retirement age of 65. Four out of five baby boomers expect to work well into what used to be known as the retirement years.
What distinguishes this new generation of adults in terms of work is that they are moving beyond midlife careers in search of a calling in the second half of life. They focus on what matters most and are no longer satisfied to work simply to bring home the paycheck. They look for deeper meaning in what they do and are more interested in having an impact on the world around them. Driven by a sense of ‘If not now, when?’, they are able to break away from their former limitations and break new ground on the kind of work they choose to do.
As an English as a second language (ESL) teacher educator at a university, I interact with a growing number of people in their forties, fifties and sixties, who find satisfaction in helping students learn English. Many are actively involved in tutoring and volunteer work with literacy organizations in their communities, where they interact with immigrants and refugees from around the world. These individuals are moving beyond midlife careers in search of a calling in the second half of life, and many consider teaching to be that calling.
In my book, English Language Teaching as a Second Career, I explore what is on the minds of these adults, what they are looking for in their work with English learners and what their experiences are like as they return to school to be trained for a career in education alongside folks in their twenties and thirties. I provide portraits of these individuals as they develop as teachers and describe the processes they go through to launch their teaching careers, and the evolving significance of their work in their overall life goals and achievements.
With longevity a new global reality, the trend we see today of adults returning to school to be trained for a different career will continue in the coming years. The question is how will we create a shared vision for lifelong learning that helps individuals to experiment with new ideas and different types of work, regardless of where they are in the life cycle?
Sarah J. Shin, University of Maryland Baltimore County
For more information about this book, please see our website. You might also be interested in the recent interview with the editors of the CAL Series on Language Education on our blog.