More to the job than playing with Plasticine

15th August 2003 at 01:00
PRIMARY teachers say they are fed up with their work being dismissed as child's play.

They have been letting off steam in The TES online staffroom about parents and secondary teachers who assume the only qualification needed to teach very young children is an in-depth appreciation of Plasticine.

They say that secondary teaching is respected as a tough job requiring intelligence and heavyweight qualifications.

But the public's perception of primary teaching is that you stroll in at 9am, chat, drink tea and read stories until 3.30pm, when you disappear on the dot to put your feet up.

"It makes me indignant," said Sheena Osborne, who has been working in primary schools in London and Surrey for nearly 30 years. "Some parents have no idea. Secondary teachers see themselves as specialists and view us as amateurs who know nothing. Being a primary teacher keeps you perpetually on your toes. A secondary teacher came into my maths class the other day and couldn't believe how flexible you have to be and the support you have to give each individual child."

Ronan Dunne, deputy head of St Gregory's school in Liverpool, added: "An accountant friend of mine once asked what qualifications his wife would need to be a teacher. She had no A-levels, so I suggested an access course and a BEd. He looked surprised and said his wife 'only wanted to teach six-year-olds'."

Some teachers report that even fellow primary colleagues teaching older age groups treat them with condescension in the staffroom.

"People have been congratulated when moving 'up' a year group, and had sympathy or comments made when moving 'down'," says Mr Dunne. "It's seen as a demotion. It amazes me that there is such a level of ignorance.

"It's the same with perceptions of discipline. Year 9s and 10s are a lot easier to handle than nursery children. Anyone who says otherwise has never experienced both."

So which is easier, primary or secondary teaching? And what age groups do teachers prefer to teach?

Elaine Connell, a secondary supply teacher in Yorkshire, likes sixth-formers best. "They're volunteers, not conscripts," she says. "They want to be there and usually have some grasp of the subject."

Years 3 and 4 are also popular, as they are considered still cute and reasonably obedient but have legible handwriting.

One primary teacher said: "After teaching key stage 2 for umpteen years and swearing I would never, ever, teach key stage 1, I was 'demoted' to Year 1 and 2 last year... and to my surprise enjoyed every single minute of it.

"The children were such a joy to be with, and the year with them gave me a much-needed shot in the arm. Next year I have no classes, and know I shall have to visit Years 1 and 2 for regular booster jabs."

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