When making the choice to become a teacher there are many questions to be asked and answered but one of the biggest and often most challenging is, “which education level should I teach?” There are so many options from nursery level through to higher education and each comes with their own pros and cons. Some are better suited to some people than others and dissecting your options to find right fit can be daunting, which is why we have created a guide helping make the decision easier for you. In this article we will focus on deciding between primary or secondary school, looking at each key stage in turn and the role you will fulfil as teacher at each level.
The obvious difference between teaching primary level and Secondary (further, or higher education) is that you will likely be teaching a selection of subjects. In some primary schools you can focus on teaching an individual subject such as music or physical education, but most will teach several subjects – usually a minimum of maths and English. If you have a burning passion for geography or history, for example, maybe you should consider specialising in your preferred subject from a secondary school level upwards.
As a foundation stage teacher, you will be working with children up to the age of 5. At an exceptionally young age your pupils are particularly susceptible to influence, and you will play a crucial role in developing the building blocks for the next generations education.
At key stage 1 you will still be dealing with very young children – 5 to 7 years old. Teaching at this level you will have a greater focus on teaching maths and English than in foundation stage and the teaching you do at this level will lay the ground work for the pupils to progress through key stage 2 and beyond.
At key stage 2 teachers will have pupils form ages 7 to 11. At secondary school pupils will diversify their spectrum of learning spending more time on subjects such as History and foreign languages and key stage 2 is about ensuring that their math, English and science are at a standard that will allow them to move through the wider range of subjects as easily as possible. If the thought of equipping young children with the knowledge they need to embark into a wider world of education excites you then a teaching job at key stage 2 level could be ideal for you.
As a secondary school teacher, you will likely specialise in one (or maybe two) subjects and typically work across both key stages 3 and 4. The ability to work in one field and develop your pupils’ ability in something you are passionate about is hugely appealing to many prospective teachers. If you want to combine your passion for a single subject with the want to help build pupil’s foundations, then secondary education could be great for you. Primary teachers get to teach the foundational maths and English skills but at secondary you can still lay the groundwork for a future engineer, sports star, physiotherapist, or any other job you can think of.
However, it’s not all upside as a secondary school teacher you will be setting and marking vast amounts of school work and homework. The volume of work, particularly homework, you will be setting for your students will be significantly larger than at primary. Most classes will consist of around 25 – 30 pupils and you will typically set homework once per week. This means up to 30 pieces of work per class, per week to mark on top of the class work.
When it comes to setting lessons the amount of work involved will depend on the classes you have. Although each lesson will need to be planned individually having three classes in the same year group or studying the same course may allow you to recycle lesson plans. If, however, your classes are dispersed across the full spectrum of year groups you may find yourself planning more lessons than some of your more fortunate colleagues.
Although teaching in a secondary school will typically mean teaching across the five-year groups as a new teacher you will almost certainly spend more time teaching key stage 3 (year groups 7-9, ages 11-14). These 3 years in a student’s life will be when they study the most subjects at any one time. This is your chance to not only teach your students your subject but the benefits of it too. As a key stage 3 teacher you have the opportunity to create classes of people as in love with your subject as you are. By year 10 students will narrow the number of subjects they study and as a teacher there are few greater rewards than seeing classes of people choose to study your subject once they reach key stage 4.
Teaching key stage 4 will have a couple of priorities for most teachers; equip your students with the knowledge and ability to pass their exams, and make your subject as fun and interesting as possible. Following key stage 4 many pupils will go to college where the scope of what they study will dramatically decrease to 3 or 4 subjects. By college students are often shaping their journey into their desired career and the impact you and your lessons have on your students can directly impact how many people look to pursue careers in your subject area. For example, a bad biology teacher could disillusion their students with the subject, but a great biology teacher could create a myriad of people who go on to perform vital roles in medicine and more.
At this level you are teaching students aged 14-16. Educating people of this age can produce life long, meaningful lessons and impact your students in ways you may not have even considered. For example, a history teacher discussing the atrocities of war can open their students minds and create “a-ha” moments which could have profound impacts on the students’ moral code which they will carry with them throughout the rest of their lives. This scenario is just one of many possible ways in which you can impact these young minds in a profound and long-lasting way.
Whether you teach primary school or secondary school you will have an important job. As a teacher you are entrusted with not only providing students with the knowledge they need but with helping them develop and grow as people. Choosing whether to teach at primary or secondary can be difficult as there are so many considerations. We primarily focussed on finding which best aligns with your passion because above all else you heart has to be in your decision. The best teachers all have one thing in common regardless of whether they are teaching primary or secondary, teaching abroad or at their local school – they all have passion for what they do. Where does your passion lie?