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In connection with most recent developments in my teaching career in the Netherlands, I’d like to muse over a couple of disturbing questions that relate to wishful colleagues, and perhaps practically everybody who has been out of jobs for a while, especially those who are a bit advanced in age.

First, let’s see a recent letter I’ve received, in my translation. The original, in Dutch, can be read here: afwijzing.

Dear Sir,

Thank you very much for your application. Unfortunately, we can’t work with your application any further. We have rules regarding applications, and the focusing on further handling of applications and enrolling in connection with the huge numbers of people looking for work. From your CV I can see that your most recent experience finished in 2009, and you don’t have recent experience with teaching in the Dutch public education system. Therefore we can’t use your application any further in the selection procedure for this vacancy. Afterwards, we can’t use you actively now for other vacancies because of your recently broken work experience.

If you don’t want your data to stay registered with us, we ask you to make this known to us by e-mail. Then we shall erase your data.

I hope to have given you proper information. Should you have any more questions, we kindly ask you to contact us.

We wish you a lot of success finding a proper job.

Best regards

Well, this is not a typical refusal. I have amassed more than a hundred, perhaps two hundred rejections by now (I’ve been trying to get a teaching job for four years), but this is only the third one that explains the decision of the school.

I would like to draw the attention of my readers first to the fact that, this one excepting, we almost never receive reasons why our application is refused. This is perhaps usual in other countries and in other professions as well, especially with the popular places where hundreds of applicants litter the way of the one and only successful applicant. But I don’t live in Amsterdam, not even in one of the ten biggest cities, and most of my applications have been sent to small towns around here. Although a couple of rejections mention a very large number of applicants (one international school replied with these very words: “We received a very large response to our advertisement and have employed someone who particularly fits our profile,” (my italics) – they use English like this but I am not suitable for them!) one school in a small place mentioned 75. Well, in the four or five cases when I actually got to the selection procedure or was given an interview, I had one or two competitors – Dutch ones, of course. At one well-known school, there were of course a lot more, but I am beginning to doubt the honesty of some places about this. This is not Spain. Jobless figures stand around 4.5% in the Netherlands after all, there can’t be dozens of applicants for each teaching job in small places in such a country. I find it hard to believe.

But my main, and possibly most general, problem with this answer is the one which is probably the most honest reason: the one about the broken experience. I know that joblessness is a huge problem at these times in Europe and hardest hit are the young generations. Among young adults in most countries, jobless rates are double (or nearly treble) that of the average. Yet, there are lots of middle-aged people with degrees between jobs not only in Spain, or France, or Greece, but also in Hungary, or Bulgaria and the like. This is a trend which firms dealing in the career advice business attest to. Who cares about us? What can we expect if we get such an answer?

Age in itself is a problem when you have to look for a new workplace. For a while you can see that experience is required, but after that while you are soon found too old. Not officially. But, if advice bureaus are to be believed, do not lose your job and get on the dole over 40. My question is, how can you stay in your job until you get 65 years old. Because that is the target according to most governments in Europe. And then you see university professors, teachers, doctors and judges thrown out of job at 62, at least in Hungary. What is going on?

Once you are out of your job, you have to get back into another very-very quickly. Otherwise, expect to get into the situation in this letter, which suggests that anyone a few years out has to hang himself.

Because following this logic, you can never get back into work. The writer of that letter supposes that I have forgotten my skills within a few years. I haven’t driven a car for a number of years now, third time in my life – does the writer suppose I can never drive again? Does he/she think that once you don’t use your bicycle for a while, you can never get on it again? Does he/she honestly think that after 30 years and more than 3000 students, many of which I brought up to university from zero, I have forgotten how to teach? That I have forgotten the skills?  Or I can’t adapt to a third culture after the other two where I have given classes? I have actually given a couple of lessons at my Dutch language course, so those skills are transferable to a new language as well. To give some more examples, I have not played the piano for 30 years, but now I can accompany my singer friend and can play my own pieces at small concerts, and that requires a thousand times faster reactions than teaching. Or does the writer think that I’m too old a dog to be taught new tricks? Haven’t I learnt Dutch over 50?

Obviously, the answer to all, or most, of these questions seems to be unfavourable to us in most workplaces, by most bosses. Has the writer ever thought about these questions? He/she should know that a teacher always stays a teacher. It has become second nature at least. It is in our blood. Perhaps that person is too young to understand this, or has only met bad Dutch English teachers.

Last, but not least, a few pieces of advice to you people. Do no stay at home with your kids, especially not with several, because you will never get back on the job market. If you think that it is not necessary to consider this because your partner has a stable and well-earning job, think twice: can’t your partner ever lose his/her position? Even secure Dutch families should be aware that nothing lasts forever in this world.

Young people in cultures where wandering a bit around the world before starting work should think twice. By the time they return, they may be deemed too old for a starter on a market where experience, or a very young age with high qualifications are favoured.

Next, do not leave your job if you already have one, except if you are directly invited to another place. Even with a good history of achievements and recommendations, you may not be able to get to a new job from the market. Except, of course, if you are aiming to become a postman, or the like.

Last, do not leave your country if you are not a hundred percent sure that your experience and expertise is welcome in the new place without further requirements, and it does not break your career in any way. It has happened to me, not only self-inflicted, or by the pressure to speak Dutch for an English-teaching job, but also through illness, which can break anybody’s career at any time. Don’t challenge Lady Luck. Except if you are young, adventurous and fortunate with some excellent background, and you don’t want, or have to work anyway.

Other than these, as my uncle would say, don’t get old. (But he was 25 years older than me when I last heard him say it. So how old is old?) For that, as the letter originally suggests, I’d better go hang myself.

by. P.S.

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