My advice for teachers thinking about moving from secondary to primary? Make sure you like slime

Photo by Dondup

My varied teaching career so far has seen me teach two- and three-year-olds in a bilingual nursery setting, and secondary English and humanities in an international school. This latter placement was what I really enjoyed doing, and where I spent the majority of my career so far. Despite imperfections with the school (and no school is perfect), I relished using my degree knowledge and sharing my passion with students. I even seemed good at the pastoral side, striking up a good rapport with students from year 8 to year 13 and serving as a head of year for many years.

But this came to an end when my husband and I moved for his job. Despite extensive searching and multiple interviews, I was unable to secure a secondary post and had to take the only job offered to me – by a school I had been previously interviewed by – as a year 6 class teacher. It was this or no money and, I reasoned, year 6 are only two years younger than year 8. How hard could it be?

Famous last words. In reality, those two years are a yawning gulf, and it all started with the monumental task of preparing my own classroom.

I had never had my own classroom before and had always longed for one so that I wouldn't have to cart all books, marking and resources around all day, every day. But the reality is rather different.I had a woeful lack of posters and such to make the place look pretty – especially as I had been recruited only days before the start of the school year. I'm also not in the least artistic, so making the classroom look good with varied and creative displays was a challenge. Having your own classroom also means you have to keep it clean. After eight months, I am fed up of tidying away the glue sticks, pens and other detritus that my pupils have left around(usually with the lids off), despite my constant exhortations to tidy up.

On my first day I watched nervously from the window as the children started to arrive. Their parents escorted them up to my classroom and I was impressed to find the majority offer to shake my hand on arrival. This was very Dutch, as I would find out(despite my class hailing from everywhere from France to Greece). But even being in a European School, I missed the diversity of children from Africa and Asia that I taught alongside their European peers in my previous school.

The teaching has also been full of surprises. I have loved teaching maths (to my great shock) and especially coaching a gifted pupil so he feels stretched, despite the fact that he arrived able to complete the entire primary curriculum. My enjoyment of human biology has also revived my interest in science and the joy one can take from the children's enthusiasm both in class and at playtime is undeniable(and a pleasant change from grumpy teenagers).

But I also feel I do my pupils a disservice by not being primary trained. I don't feel that keen scientists deserve to be taught by a non-specialist; I have less patience for their sensitivities compared with what a primary-trained teacher might have (the first time a child burst into tears because they didn't understand how to convert miles to kilometres had me flummoxed!). Primary-age children also love slime and seem to do stupid, borderline dangerous, things on a daily basis. At least when teenagers do stupid things – because, of course, they do – it tends to be on an occasional basis, even if it's catastrophic. This means that unlike with teenagers, I feel as if I spend more time disciplining than teaching, which is a drag for all concerned.

Of course, the first year you do anything new is difficult. I have undoubtedly learned from the experience and hopefully become a better teacher as a result. But I can't deny there's more about the job I dislike than I find rewarding.

Luckily, I have been placed on a full-time supply timetable from September 2018 onwards and I'm hoping this peripatetic in-school lifestyle will energise me more. I also continue to privately tutor and examine secondary-level students, which is where I know my heart is. Needless to say, I'm looking to return to secondary teaching as soon as possible.

So, my advice to any wannabe secondary-to-primary transferees would be: Why do you want to do this? Are you really sure you've thought it through?

Oh, and do you like slime?


Cover photo by Dondup

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