What Age Group Should I Teach?
For some who want to pursue a career in teaching, they have a very clear idea of what their life in the job will be like and which age group they want to work with. There are many, however, for whom the choice is not so clear – and this is perfectly normal. If you are having trouble deciding between pursuing a career in either primary or secondary education, then this guide is for you.
Answering the fundamental question ‘what age group should I teach?’ needs to be a considered decision. A career in primary education can offer a very different working environment and set of challenges to a career in secondary education, and vice versa. Here we are going to pose some key questions and outline some of the differences you can expect to find between working with the separate age groups to help guide your decision.
- Would you prefer to focus on one subject, or spread your time between multiple subjects?
This is a big one, and can really help determine what direction you want to go in.
As a teacher in secondary education you will likely have just one subject to teach, but you will be focusing on it in detail. If you have a real passion for one field, and want to teach it to a slightly more advanced level, then this could be the path for you.
Primary education on the other hand offers more variety in what you get to teach, which can be very appealing for some. You will be teaching the fundamentals of multiple subjects each day, although there are still excellent subject specific PGCE courses in primary education. With courses focusing on subjects like English, Maths, Science and more, a candidate can maintain a specialist field and use their expertise build interest and knowledge in primary students from the ground up. Primary Maths tutors are in demand currently and can get access to some great funding options.
- Which appeals more, introducing brand new concepts or teaching more advanced ideas that build on existing knowledge?
Another valuable way to tell which age group suits you best is by thinking about how you prefer to teach.
Primary education involves presenting brand-new concepts to young pupils. This means you get to build their knowledge from the ground up, which can be very rewarding as a teaching experience.
With secondary education you will often be building on knowledge that your students already have. This can be tricky at times, as you work to identify different ability levels and fill in gaps in their understanding, but it also means you get to work up to teaching more advanced ideas too.
- Would you be happier working with one set of students, or many different students every day?
A factor that is often overlooked when comparing primary and secondary education is the flow of who you will be teaching and when.
Secondary education sees students moving to a new class every one or two hours. This means that you, the teacher, will be dealing with a new set of students this often too. The stop-start nature of this can be challenging, as you get each new class to settle and focus. You will have far more names and needs to remember too. Although it’s worth remembering you also get the chance to impact on, and inspire, a greater number of students’ lives by working this way.
Primary education, by contrast, will likely see you working with the same class of pupils all day, every day. It’s also common for teachers to move up through school years with their class too, so you could be teaching the same class for years. This opportunity to build a strong rapport with the pupils you teach over this time is seen by many primary teachers as one of the best parts of their job.
- Which age group do feel most comfortable dealing with on a personal level?
As any teacher will tell you, supporting students can mean more than just reciting lessons, so being comfortable with offering support to students on a more personal level is important.
Primary school aged children (5-11 years old) tend to have less complex needs. You will be dealing with young children, so most personal issues can be overcome with encouragement and sympathetic support. You will need to be able to communicate with them on a level they understand too, creating a safe space that builds confidence.
Secondary education (11-18 years old) can be very different. Many of the pupils you will teach are better described as young adults than children and with this can come more complex needs. From relationships, to bullying, to social problems or mental health concerns – you’re going to need to be comfortable with the potential for being presented with a number of different issues. Many of these topics can be serious in nature so you will need to be approachable to pupils and confident in your handling of them. Of course, before you get too worried, the school you work for should always be available to support you with these responsibilities in turn.
Taking things further
If the above considerations are still leaving you muddled there are further steps you can take. Finding a way to volunteer or undertake some work experience, so you can actually spend time with each age group, can be a valuable investment of time for anyone still torn between the options.