Primary and secondary teaching: what's the difference?

Adam Black thought he was a natural primary teacher - but after some time in the secondary sector, he's beginning to wonder

Difference between primary and secondary teaching

I’m a primary teacher by trade but also have registration in additional support needs (ASN), which allows me to teach in the secondary sector. I’ve moved to a secondary school this August and I’m absolutely loving it – so here are my thoughts on the differences between primary and secondary.

Size

It’s an obvious issue, but worth noting. I’ve taught in a few schools of various rolls, with 170 children, 400 children and, most recently, a special school with a roll of 30 children. Nothing prepared me, though, for a secondary school with a roll of almost 1,800 pupils. Everywhere is busy and it’s a really exciting hubbub where pupils are excited to move from one class to the next – I love being out in the open area and seeing it. Sometimes I just like to stay and watch it unfold in front of me, the organised chaos of it all!

Size, again (the pupils)

Being a teacher in primary, I never had a pupil who was taller than me. But in secondary, there are many pupils – male and female – who are taller than me. It took a bit of getting used to. I’m not short by any means (I'm 5' 11"), but I feel it sometimes as I walk through the school and lanky teenagers tower above me. A colleague of mine is 4' 11" and she says she doesn’t notice it anymore. Maybe it’ll be the same for me soon.


Long read: How primary colours can brighten secondary learning 

Quick read: 'Primary and secondary teachers do very different jobs'

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Staff

I love the secondary staff set-up. In my current school, there is a real community where departments help each other out and there is a genuine willingness to do so – they value that we all have our own expertise.

I also love the idea of departments. Working as a smaller team with a shared vision is really refreshing and, in my department, there is a real level playing field in terms of leadership – everyone is happy to muck in.

The SMT (senior management team) also appreciate the individual qualities of their staff and I see a range of teachers leading an area of interest through clubs or talking at assemblies. That professional trust is something I think secondary schools seem to do really well.

Conversation

I really liked working in primary and talking with the children – their chat was funny and it always amused me. I loved the childhood innocence and the wonder, and I still do. That being said, I’m really enjoying working in a more mature environment where, with some pupils, the conversation is about current affairs or plans for later in life. It’s great to hear focused young people with passion and drive.

Extracurricular activities

Primary schools are great at offering extracurricular activities – I’m not knocking them – but the volume of extra clubs and activities offered at secondary is first class. The range is impressive and there really is something for everyone. I’m running two clubs and helping out at a third – and I’m happy to do so, such is the culture here. I’m sure if I had been doing three clubs a week I primary I might have grumbled a little more.

These are just my early (five weeks in) observations on little things, but it’s an interesting contrast between two different but similar environments. Although I don’t regret any of my time in primary, I have been thinking maybe I was meant to be a secondary teacher all along…

Adam Black is a primary teacher in Scotland who, in the New Year's Honours list, received the British Empire Medal for raising awareness of stammering. He tweets @adam_black23

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Adam Black

Adam Black

Adam Black is a primary teacher in Scotland who, in the New Year's Honours list, received the British Empire Medal for raising awareness of stammering

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