Secondary School Teachers Should Spend a Day in Primary

...and vice-versa

21 June, 2021

I distinctly remember a staffroom conversation when I was back in my first year of teaching. “Secondary school teachers have no idea what we do in primary.” “They have it easy. Aside from marking of course.” “It should be compulsory for all of them to spend a day in primary.”

This sounded like a great idea to me. I imagined having a secondary teacher who’d been teaching Maths for the last 30 years step into my class and try to teach a paper mâché lesson while dealing with twenty questions, a student crying over a paper cut, and a tub of glue that had spilt all over the floor.

But why did the idea of this appeal so much?

As a primary teacher, I thought surely primary teachers have to work harder - we have to plan so many more original lessons, are constantly differentiating content and have students who are still very much dependent on external support to help them learn.

I liked the idea of somehow proving that our job was harder.

This is a feeling that constantly bubbles to the surface whenever I talk about a job other than primary teaching. I have a chip on my shoulder about others not valuing the effort that we put in. I get defensive when someone talks about how often we’re on holiday. I get offended when someone says “Oh little kids are cute” when I’m telling them about how challenging my students are.

It's taken me a while but I’m coming to realise that setting out to “prove myself” or complaining about how hard primary teaching is isn’t getting me anywhere. I need to take a step back and recognise that EVERY job comes with unique challenges and even though ours may be hard, it doesn’t put us on a pedestal for effort above everybody else.


So if the competition for the hardest job is officially called off, what do I think now about secondary teachers spending a day in primary?


Just not for the same reason.

Getting out of your comfort-zone is a magical thing. You don’t even realise you’ve been in a bubble until you step outside and see a bigger picture. By viewing a situation from another angle, you gain a new perspective on the things you were staring at the whole time.

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After five years in primary, making the leap to secondary came with slight trepidation. Would students respect me? Would I have the knowledge to teach them? But actually more than that, I felt excited. How cool to step into the shoes of someone else and see what else is out there. Why box myself in and feel like I have to stay in the same corner for the next 40 years of my life?

Both primary and secondary teachers work their butts off every day doing wonderful work in educating our young people. And we can learn from one another.

What could we learn? Maybe a new behaviour management strategy. Perhaps a better way to recap information. Possibly discover a new online tool. Or even just have fun.

I challenge you to drop the “Little kids scare me” “Older kids will eat me alive” lines or whatever else the voice inside your head tells you you’re afraid of. Try something new that you have a preconceived idea about - it doesn’t even have to be teaching-related. Step into someone else’s bubble and take a good long look at your own bubble while you’re there. In doing so, your world will get that one tiny bit bigger.

So, if you’re ready, humour me a little here, come for a walk through a day in a primary classroom. Don’t worry this one is just through the safety of your screen. What could you take away from spending a day in primary?

Dear secondary teacher,

Get ready for an action-packed day! Come dressed as your favourite book character and don’t forget to stop by the stationery store to grab 10 30 new glue sticks because the students chewed through the last batch exceptionally quickly this time. Also make sure the worksheets are trimmed before the lesson, pick up Jimmy’s inhaler from reception and whatever you do, DON’T engage with Natalie’s mum during drop-off time or you’ll never escape.

Okay, for real now. You’re actually going to have the BEST DAY. Teaching primary is busy but incredibly rewarding. My students will probably spend the first 10 minutes asking about you. Don’t be afraid to share a bit about yourself - they’ll love it. If you forget to start Handwriting at 9am, I have no doubt that Harriet will remind you. Our mornings are very structured as there’s plenty to get through before morning tea break. Please reread our Big Book and discuss the questions on the post-it notes. While students are completing the follow-up task, read with the Kiwi and Tui reading groups. All the work for them has already been glued into their books. Use the bell to transition to Writing then students will continue to work on their information reports from yesterday. Leave handing out the books to the monitors - they relish the responsibility. Conference with the students on the blue table and remind them to check their work against the success criteria. Feel free to give out group points to students who show great effort during the lesson.

You’re on playground duty first break, sorry - did I mention you needed to bring your steel bladder today? Make sure that the students eat something before they go to play. Jemima needs to eat her apple and Marc must drink water (his Mum will check at the end of the day). If you’d like to, you can join in with a game of football - watch out for Ava - she’ll have you running in circles trying to get the ball off her! At the end of break, line the class up and get ready for Maths - no rest for the wicked!

I’ve asked Josh to lead the Daily Maths tasks for today so all you need to do is support him. Go through the interactive slides for rounding and estimating. After slide 5, send the Hexagons and Pentagons away to get started on their extension worksheets. Keep the rest of the students on the mat with you and get out the materials I’ve left in the red box. When students have shown you that they can solve the problems independently, send them to their tables to get started on their worksheet. Take photos of the students using materials on the mat - I’ll print these out later as evidence of learning to go into their books.

Moving onto Science - your specialty! Today you’ll be testing the permeability of different materials. Now, my students may be younger than what you’re used to, but I want you to approach this the same way you would in your usual Science lessons. Establish what prior knowledge they have and clarify any key scientific vocabulary that is going to be used throughout the lesson. Pose what we want to find out today and explain how you are going to conduct a fair test - they may not recognise the term ‘variables’ yet but prompt them to think back to the melting experiment and they’ll be right there with you. Ask students to form and record their hypothesis before conducting the experiment - and make sure there’s no sneaky rubbing out later! Model recording observations and results on the table and scaffold them to form a conclusion on what they discovered.

You can breathe now, it’s time for lunch. Your brain may be a bit frazzled from the last 4 hours but at least you can sit down for 10 mins...before heading to Room 12 for Chess club! Believe me, this is the easiest lunch time club you could ask for. Blissfully quiet and the most lovely students.

You’re in luck because after lunch today will be our special Book Day assembly - you won’t need to do anything for that. Just check that every child has been to the toilet - make sure you ask them twice - and seat Ethan next to you in the hall in case he feels overwhelmed and needs some time out. Once you’re back in class, students will need to grab their readers from their book boxes, Simone will hand out the reading logs, Ciara will handle the bookbags and Jeremy will sharpen the pencils ready for tomorrow. Choose a student of the day who has demonstrated one of the school values and write them a short note home to parents. Check Marc has had his water and that the room is left spick and span.

Head out the back gate for Road patrol. Once the sidewalk has emptied, you’re free to head back to class. After that, if you’ve at least sighted each students’ Reading, Writing, Maths and Science books, then that will be all for you today. No need to attend the staff meeting on tracking student achievement. Perhaps just leave me a little note to let me know how your day went.

- Kath


So now I leave you with one question: What could I take from spending a day in your shoes?