I have a degree in secondary education, but my interest in child development compelled me to seek exposure to younger pupils. Initially, I taught A-level design and technology and GCSE physics. However, after a couple of years, I began to observe lessons at a primary school attached to my school and eventually transitioned from teaching sixth form to primary pupils.
I first secured a position at a prep school where I taught design technology to pupils aged between three and 11. I later moved to another prep school where I continued teaching design technology and also taught science. Eventually, I returned to my original school and became head of the junior school, which offered education to pupils aged between three and 11. Presently, I am head of the school, which caters to pupils aged between three and 18.
Switching stages is no mean feat. One should never presume that teaching at a primary school is a breeze just because you have experience in a secondary school. Transitions require extensive professional development, personal development, and work shadowing. Nonetheless, my school was quite supportive.
Shifting between primary and secondary school teaching presents unique challenges. One cannot be too precious and should brace themselves to confront diverse challenges. Although some people view primary school teachers as inferior, the grade and age to which one teaches do not determine a teacher’s ability. Ironically, the challenge of teaching a vast seven-year-old science class is more demanding than teaching physics to six A level students.
Teaching pupils of different ages provides perspective. Some teachers trivialize younger pupils’ issues until they reach exam age, which is misguided. Moreover, parental involvement in younger pupils’ education is more intensive and focused on managing their expectations as they grow older.
Returning to secondary school teaching after working at a primary school was daunting. I worried about dealing with "big kids," exam systems and curriculums, all of which I had no experience with. However, it turned out to be straightforward. Children of all ages face similar challenges, and the ability to deal with people matters more than their age or grade.
Although my professional qualification played a role, continuous professional development, tapping into support networks, and sharing good practice were more important. The core teaching skills in primary and secondary schools are similar. Teachers can learn a lot about handling people and providing children a voice that can transfer between the two different contexts.
I hold the belief that secondary school teaching should follow the same principles as primary. We often become fixated on subjects and forget that we are teaching children, not just the course material. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is vital, and we should all prioritize being teachers of children first and teachers of our respective subjects second.
My varied experience has proven highly beneficial to my current position, equalizing the importance of younger and older pupils. Still, switching roles demands an open-minded, self-reflective personality.