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What’s it Like Moving from Primary to Teaching Secondary School?

After seven years teaching primary, Natalie Morris is finding that life in the secondary classroom comes with a few lessons of its own...

  • What’s it Like Moving from Primary to Teaching Secondary School?

Have you ever thought of a career change? Of moving from one phase to another, perhaps? Or from teaching to, well, anything else that doesn’t sap the very life from you? I have.

I’ve always had a love hate relationship with the profession; I’ve spent many evenings pondering alternative choices, but honestly, I cannot see myself doing anything else.

Recently, however, having spent seven years in primary, becoming disillusioned with the SATs and the ever narrowing curriculum and focus on assessments and Ofsted, I decided to take a leap into secondary teaching. And what a leap it was!

Teen traumas

To put things into perspective – my PGCE was in Early Years. I have excellent behaviour management skills with tiny humans, and have mastered the art of leaping around like a jumping bean on the playground to silently gain the children’s attention.

So – despite having also spent the last four years teaching KS2, navigating the murky waters of the SATs and dipping my toe into the world of hormonal tweenagers – my transition into secondary hasn’t been easy.

For a start, I can no longer clap my hands to the rhythm of ‘Are you listening?’ and rejoice in the chorus of ‘Yes we are’!

Teenagers are complicated; I know my mother would attest to that. And wonderful and interesting and knowledgeable and sensitive. If I am being honest, I am still learning how to deal with them – I was never very good at it, even as a teenager myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am more than able to speak calmly and honestly with students, but I still don’t feel like I’ve quite nailed it. Shouting doesn’t work. Nor does lecturing them.

I have established (just) a mostly calm and purposeful environment in my year 8 English class, but I still struggle to engage some of the ‘harder to reach’ students.

I’m hoping that like any relationship, time will help, along with some active and inspiring lessons and quite possibly the threat of ruining the plot of Game of Thrones a la Jack Whitehall in Bad Education. It’s worth a try.

Mixed expectations

Behaviour management hasn’t been my only challenge. It has been interesting, to say the least, to gain a new perspective of primary education.

I can see the frustration of secondary colleagues when students’ SATs results don’t match what we see in the secondary classroom.

I am frustrated knowing that children have been taught the basics of punctuation, grammar and arithmetic in KS2, yet we are having to revisit and consolidate these skills in Y7.

I also struggle with the fact that the Y7 curriculum does not seem to be any more challenging than the SATs expectations.

It appears to be more of a consolidation exercise of every primary skill taught – which leaves me wondering whether or not the last seven years of my career have been pointless?

I feel as though I need to stick up for primary teachers, and assure colleagues that “We most certainly do teach children how to punctuate sentences – that is a year 1 objective!”, though I still sense their reservations.

Deep knowledge

Along with behaviour management and curriculum issues, though, my biggest concern is my own subject knowledge. I am now an English specialist. Which is both wonderful and terrifying in equal measures.

I haven’t analysed Shakespeare in nearly 15 years, and suddenly I am teaching intergenerational perspectives in Romeo and Juliet. These lessons require a great deal of revision on my part; my students deserve outstanding teaching, and that’s what I want to give them.

Will I stay in secondary? I’m still undecided. But for now, I am enjoying new experiences and challenges. And I would definitely advise anyone thinking of moving from primary to secondary, or vice versa, to give it a go. After all, a change is as good as a rest…

Natalie Morris is a former Hull primary school teacher who now teaches English in Key Stage 3.

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