Life as a primary school teacher

Jemma Smith, Editor
October, 2022

Discover how Nicolas Sell, a Year 3 teacher at a school in Doncaster, got into teaching and what a typical school day is like

Getting into teaching

My pathway into the profession is a little unconventional although perhaps in a manner that is becoming less uncommon. I studied music production at university and following years of ordering and expediting for a major airspace manufacturer upon graduation I decided to take the plunge and pursue a long-held thought of a career in teaching.

I completed my primary School Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) through the Lincolnshire Training School Alliance (LTSA), gaining PGCE and Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) in 2018 and have just successfully finished my Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) year with a school in South Yorkshire. There have been many twists and turns along the way but I’ve loved every minute.

Learn more about the routes into teaching.

Working hours and school timetable

Contractually I'm at school from Monday to Friday from 8.40am until 3.20pm. However, as I'm sure everyone is aware, the reality of the job is a lot different. I arrive at school each morning for around 7.30am, have a coffee and then make sure that I am ready and can beat the inevitable queue for the photocopier.

Morning lessons are from 8.40am until 12.10pm, and these normally focus on core subjects. I always try and get some books marked during playtime so I don't take them home later. This allows me to assess any children who require further intervention. As much as I would love to assess and give feedback to every child during every activity it is not always feasible.

Lunchtime runs from 12.00pm until 12:45pm. If you can eat and mark at the same time then you're really getting the hang of it. Afternoon lessons take place between 12:45pm and 3.10pm when the children go home. During this time, we cover other areas of the curriculum such as languages, PE, art and topic work. At the end of the day I always make myself available to parents who want to drop in for a chat. I really feel this is important, as I believe that a strong relationship between school and home is key for ensuring that children are ready to learn and that they are positive about their learning. Find out more about managing classroom behaviour.

I usually leave school sometime between 4pm and 5pm, depending on what I need to get ready for the next day, whether there is a staff meeting or if there are any phone calls I need to make. I have had a couple of really late returns from school trips as a result of bad traffic and coaches breaking down, but these instances are few and far between.

I also get some work done on weekends, but I try to ensure that at least one day over the weekend is completely free. If you can be organised, prioritise your workload and get as much done during the school day as possible then you can achieve the much sought after work/life balance, although this is easier said than done. In this regard I am pleased to say that I have been wonderfully supported by the senior leadership team at school who believe strongly in staff wellbeing. I was even allowed a day off from teaching to focus on writing my school reports.

School terms

The school year is split into the autumn, spring and summer terms. I have had many 'oh my days' moments during the first few weeks with a new class, but this is normal and the progress made throughout the year never ceases to amaze me. Not just in terms of academic ability but in the children's personal responsibility, resilience and maturity. As much as you pull your hair out during the school year you always finish it with nothing but fond memories.

The thing that I hear more often than not is, 'it must be great having so many holidays throughout the year.' Well yes it is. However, a good chunk of this time is spent assessing, completing admin jobs, planning, making resources, progress tracking and writing risk assessment forms. The summer holidays are a great chance to unwind, although the new term and your new class are never far from your thoughts. After all, the seating plans aren't going to write themselves and you really do need to thumb through all the paperwork that has been passed over to you.

The curriculum

The school I teach in follows the primary national curriculum, although from September 2019 we have been using Cornerstones for our topic content (another thing to get to grips with during the summer). The general premise being that the children are given a hook or stimulus for learning, before developing their skills within that particular area. There are a range of topics to look at, but luckily my colleague for next year has already picked these out. It is really important that the school is consistent in its approach and we have many whole-school policies in place regarding learning, but it is also nice to be able to interject some of your own thoughts, ideas and experiences to proceedings.

As an NQT it can be quite daunting to raise points during a staff meeting but don't be afraid to do so. There is no such thing as a stupid question. While we take our learning seriously I also like to ensure that my class has lots of fun, at appropriate times, as this gives them many wonderful memories and also helps them retain information. This approach has worked particularly well for me this year when teaching French and drama.

Challenges and benefits of teaching

Challenges within the teaching profession are numerous and seemingly never ending. With all the willing in the world you will never reach the end of your to do list, so don't be disheartened when this happens.

You spend your time planning, teaching, worrying or doing a combination of all three. It really is a full time job in every sense. Being a teacher also inevitably means that you'll pay more for your own summer break as trips abroad are always more expensive during the school holidays.

If you don't have a passion for teaching or love what you do then it can become a grim situation very quickly.

However, there are also a number of benefits. You get to go home every day confident that children's lives are being enriched as a direct result of your input. I love the fact that no two days are the same and seeing or hearing the 'a-ha!' moment when something clicks for a child who has been struggling with their learning is priceless.

There are also lots of opportunities for career progression, job security is good and you get the chance to travel.

My advice to trainee teachers would be to get organised, set high standards and expectations and aim to be a reflective practitioner, for example, think along the lines of 'if X doesn't work, next time I will try Y.'

Find out more

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