When people ask what you do for a living, what do you say? Do you just say you’re a teacher, and leave it at that? Or do you offer some clarification on whether you teach primary or secondary? Do you let them know what subject you teach? Which key stage? Which year group? Most likely, it’s the latter.
Why do we make a point of offering this information? It is because "teacher" doesn’t just mean "teacher". "Teacher" means quadratic equations and tying shoelaces. "Teacher" means kings and queens, and knives and forks. "Teacher" means Shakespeare, Dickens and Biff and Chip.
"Teacher" means something very different depending on the age of the children in your class and the nature of your school’s setting.
However, within schools, there is an accepted wisdom that teachers should be able to teach across every key stage, every year group, every class.
I don’t believe this is right. Although most of us will teach across a variety of key stages in our careers, success in one key stage doesn’t automatically guarantee success in another. And why should it?
Some of us will thrive in every classroom. Some of us won’t. But a failure to knock it out of the park in one year group doesn’t negate a teacher’s ability with a different cohort – it simply means that there are certain year groups that we are more likely to thrive with.
'Finding your groove as a teacher'
I think of it as being a bit like rugby. It is often said that rugby is a game for everyone no matter your shape and size. Big and slow? You’ll find a home in the forwards. Small and nimble? You’ll make a great scrum-half. Blessed with quicksilver in your heels? A spot on the wing awaits you. Rugby can indeed be a game for everyone, not because everyone can play in every position, but because everyone can find the role that suits them best and thrive in it.
In terms of putting a teacher at the front of every classroom it, of course, makes sense to have a pool of primary teachers who can teach every year group, rather than a surplus of Year 4 teachers twiddling their thumbs while Year 3 classes are teacherless.
But, at the same time, the skillset of a successful Year 6 teacher is very different to the skillset required to be a successful EYFS teacher. I’ve done the former and never felt more in my element; the thought of the latter terrifies me.
Maybe we should celebrate the teacher who has specialised within a key stage as much as we do the teacher who has cultivated a more varied CV. Mastery is not just the preserve of the children we teach, and staying in the same year group for repeated years isn’t always getting stuck in a rut – it can be finding your groove.
Ian Goldsworthy is a primary teacher and tweets @Ian_Goldsworthy