Once you have embarked upon your training to become a teacher – be it via a teaching degree or through further education to attain your Qualified Teacher Status (QTS), one of the big decisions that you will need to make is what age group do you want to teach.
Many teachers will go down the primary school route teaching generalist subjects within the National Training Curriculum to pupils aged from 4-11. Others are looking specifically to teach children of secondary school age. In this article, we want to look at what it means to be a teacher in a secondary school and to give any Newly Qualified Teachers (NQTs) reading this a good understanding about the differences, because whilst the roles may look similar on paper, the reality is that primary and secondary school teaching are very different.
What are you teaching?
Secondary school teachers teach across year groups 7 to 13 and typically specialise in one subject. Some may also have the additional responsibility of having a form group, and they will register these students on a daily basis.
Depending on the size of the school, teachers will also find that there are several teachers with the same specialism, and there will be a hierarchical structure with a head of that specialism leading the subject.
Your specialism will most likely be determined by the subject that you studied at University – for instance, if you have a degree in Geography and want to pursue a career in teaching, you may conclude your post-graduate teaching studies and become a secondary school geography teacher.
This speciality subject, as it is your field of interest, will mean that you are able to share your expertise and knowledge with a natural enthusiasm that engages the interests of students. Whilst students learn from textbooks and curriculums, it is the knowledge sharing of the teacher and the way that the subject is taught that can have a lasting effect on the students.
Is teaching older children different?
As a secondary school teacher, you will see your pupils maturing and changing from children into young adults. Part of your role is to help these students transition into lifelong learners, whether they follow a route into further education or whether they follow a chosen career or apprenticeship.
Don’t forget that you will also see a lot more students as well. Unlike a primary teacher that holds one class in one year group day in day out, in a secondary school, you are likely to see a different class of up to 30 students five times a day. This can make it harder sometimes to develop the bonds that primary school teachers have with their pupils. It also means that you need to have a great memory to remember all of the names!
It is also worth remembering that the age gap between you and the pupils will be lower. If you are an NQT and teaching year 13 A levels, for instance, you may only be 4 or 5 years older than your pupils. This can have advantages and disadvantages – yes, you may all be on the same wavelength, but you need to remember that you are their teacher first and whilst you may be a confidente, you are not a friend. Here there need to be very clear boundaries.
Teaching in a Secondary School can be hard work
Yes, it can!
Teaching in any setting is a demanding career, but in a secondary school, you will find a faster pace that may feel relentless at times and isn’t for everyone.
You will spend time both in and out of school hours planning and delivering lessons that meet the requirements of the national curriculum. You will also have homework or exam work to mark, adding to your workload.
Anyone wanting a career as a teacher, however, knows that this is not an easy job with great holidays, so you are going into this with your eyes open.
Is a career as a Secondary School Teacher still for me?
If you are looking to teach a specialist subject, then secondary school teaching is definitely a career choice for you, but if you are looking to pursue a more generalist teaching career, then a role within a primary school will give you this.
The most important thing to remember is that whichever route you choose, you will have a huge and positive impact on many children’s lives – how they grow up, what they learn and what choices they make as they develop.
They say that people never forget their best teachers – and those teachers are you!