Secondary to Primary Teaching
As an experienced secondary school teacher now teaching daily supply, I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of contexts. Although I trained and qualified in secondary MFL teaching, I’m now working mostly in primary schools. This shift from secondary to primary has required me to adapt my teaching practice to be effective in a primary setting.
When I trained, we had to keep a reflective journal every week in order to explore our progress towards meeting specific teachers’ standards.In the jump from secondary to primary teaching, I found that the changes are most marked when it comes to honouring standards 3 and 7. As I adjust to teaching in primary schools, here are my reflections on these standards.
TS 3 – Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge
For me, curriculum knowledge has been the biggest difference between secondary and primary teaching. As a secondary teacher, you are trained and experienced in teaching a specific subject in which you have a certain level of expertise. In primary, you are expected to be able to teach a whole curriculum of subjects. Generally this hasn’t posed too many issues, except perhaps, where maths is concerned. Personally, I have forgotten most of the maths that I learned at school, as I have never had to apply it in my adult life. Of course, I don’t tell the kids that. Once I know my timetable and topics for the day, I refer to resources such as Bitesize to quickly “refresh my memory” and brush up on any topics where necessary.
Indeed, having the knowledge is one thing, but being able to share that knowledge so that children can then apply it is another. This requires a repertoire of teaching strategies that teachers gain and develop throughout their training and subsequent career. Some of these strategies apply regardless of the key stage or subject. Others are key stage or subject specific. The more I work in primary schools, the more I’m able to develop my own selection of primary-specific teaching strategies, but this is still an area for improvement.
TS 7 – Manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment
By the time I left my permanent role, I felt very confident at classroom management, and fortunately classroom management hasn’t posed too much of an issue during my time doing supply. There are four underlying principles to my approach:
- give precise instructions
- reward positive behaviour
- sanction negative behaviour
- build positive relationships
These principles are applicable to both the secondary and primary classroom. However, how they are implemented definitely has to be adjusted to reflect the age of the children. Initially, I was apprehensive about younger children being intimidated by me. As a result, I was unsure of how to pitch my tone of voice or choose my words when disciplining a child. However, it’s been good to observe other teachers and teaching assistants and learn from their styles.
One thing I am currently working on is managing the way in which younger children persistently tell on each other for trivial reasons. If this were to happen in a secondary setting, I would whip out one of my non-committal stock phrases such as “I’m sorry to hear that” or “thank you for letting me know”. However, I have quickly learned that younger children take the latter phrase almost as encouragement. I will turn to primary school teachers to see how they deal with it.
"Doing supply in primary schools is reviving my passion for teaching."
Like many, I left my permanent role at a secondary school feeling somewhat disillusioned with
teaching and the way the secondary education system is run. To my delight, doing supply in primary schools is reviving my passion for teaching. I really enjoy teaching a variety of subjects and there is something immensely satisfying about re-learning the maths I forgot from my childhood. In addition, adapting my classroom management style to match the age of the children has brought out a more pleasant and nurturing side to my teacher persona that I wasn’t aware existed. This is most apparent when I return to secondary schools and catch myself smiling a lot more than I used to!