Petulant teens versus tearful tots

4th March 2005 at 00:00
It may involve scraped knees, endless tears and a notoriously competitive job market, but primary school teaching seems infinitely preferable to facing the petulant teens of the secondary classroom.

Many newly qualified secondary teachers are choosing to face the heavy competition and uncertain job market of primary teaching if it will get them away from the misbehaviour and apathy they face in their current job.

Jeanette Healy, 31, trained as a secondary teacher so that she could focus on PE, her specialist subject. But after only a handful of supply jobs, she became determined to leave the sector. "I felt frightened a lot," she said.

"Fifteen-year-old boys can be quite rude and offensive with their backchat.

And they're taller than you, so you feel threatened."

She is currently retraining at Churchtown primary in Sefton: "In primary, you can build up a relationship with your class. You feel like you're achieving something, but it's not an easy option, there's an awful lot of pressure. And there are often 150 applicants for one primary job. I'm worried I won't find one. But I'd be mad to go back to secondary."

After one term as a secondary teacher, Kate Preston, 26, is also willing to face the heavy competition rather than return to her St Helens comprehensive. She is currently taking a one-term conversion course.

"Getting teenagers motivated is very hard," she said. "It's a battle just to get them to listen, before you can even begin to teach anything. Younger children are more inquisitive, and get excited about learning new things."

Ms Preston's degree subject was art, and she was advised that there would be little demand for this in the primary sector. Instead, she was told that training places and jobs would be offered to new teachers with specialisms such as English, maths and science. "I know it will be much harder to get a job," she said. "I'm not bothered. It's a risk worth taking."

A 25-year-old newly qualified art teacher in Manchester who did not want to reveal her identity, agrees. After one and a half terms as a secondary NQT, she is hoping to retrain as a primary teacher. "Primary will be a lot more work because you're teaching every subject," she said. "And there aren't many jobs going round. But once I do find a job, I'll be happier. It's a lifestyle balance."

But Sara Bubb of the Institute of Education questions whether new teachers have fully considered the consequences of such a career shift. "Sometimes people are running away from a problem," she said. "They underestimate the pedagogical difference and think primary is going to be an easier option.

"It's better to finish your induction year in the sector you were trained for. Otherwise you'll be judged for teaching subjects and year groups about which you know absolutely nothing."

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