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How to become a primary school teacher

Primary school teachers are important figures in shaping the lives of young children. Let’s take a look at how to become a primary teacher and thrive in this career, plus one primary school teacher takes us through a typical day in her job.

Primary Teaching

The right teacher can impact your life in a way that ripples down through the years. Teachers are especially important during the first years of your life, as this is when your brain is developing the most. Primary school teachers, therefore, play a vital role in educating and shaping young children.

The reality is, that a world without teachers would be a much poorer one. The value of quality teaching can have a lasting impact on just about everyone, from individuals to a whole society. We’ve explained why in this article on the importance of education

If you’re interested in a career in teaching, then you might be unsure of what the job really entails and how to get started. Here, we’ll guide you through the basics.

What is a primary school teacher?

In the UK and Australia, a primary school teacher is an educational professional that spends their day supervising and teaching young children. You might see other terms used elsewhere in the world: in the US, the term ‘kindergarten teacher’ is preferred. 

As a primary school teacher, you’ll be responsible for children’s education and social and emotional development.

It’s not enough to simply impart knowledge, as you might to a classroom of teenagers or adult learners. Primary school teachers need to do plenty of other things, too!

What does a primary school teacher do?

As a primary school teacher, you’ll have many different responsibilities, including:

A good primary school teacher will usually have to perform many different roles. To thrive, you’ll need to be able to be comfortable going outside the bounds of your job description to go above and beyond supporting young minds.

The benefits of being a primary school teacher

So, why might this kind of career appeal to you? You might be considering becoming a primary school teacher because you love working with children, and it can be emotionally rewarding to care for children, create strong bonds and see children progress and develop in relatively short timeframes. 

It’s also intellectually stimulating: you’re creating positive change and progress in the world. Children have extremely vibrant imaginations and being around their creativity and play makes for a dynamic and fun career. 

And of course, there are the holidays: teachers in English state schools get thirteen weeks of holiday each year (although some of this time may be used to catch up on work and prepare for the next school year). You’ll usually have six weeks off in the summer, two for Christmas, two for easter, and three half-term breaks. The exact calendar will vary from region to region.

The challenges of being a primary school teacher

The workload of a primary school teacher is substantial and often comes with its own set of challenges. You can also expect to work long hours – the 2019 Teacher Workload Survey found that, on average, teachers worked 49.5 hours per week, of which around 21.3 were spent teaching. This workload rises when you’re more senior.

This career can sometimes lead to confrontation and emotionally challenging situations. Be prepared to intervene in cases of bullying, providing emotional support to both the victims and the perpetrators. More generally, children need discipline, which you’ll need to provide. 

All of this can take an emotional toll so you’ll need to learn how to build resilience for these situations. Check out our course on Workplace Wellbeing: Stress and Productivity at Work by the University of Manchester to learn how to manage some of this stress.

Be prepared for anything

Being able to adapt to the needs of particular children is essential. Some children might present particular behavioural patterns and need specialised support. This is where you can make a really big difference in a young person’s life. If you see this sort of challenge as an opportunity, then you might be a great fit for the job.

More broadly, teachers should try to create a classroom environment in which all students are treated fairly and can work and learn together. You can learn about how to create a healthy environment with the help of our blog on inclusive education

Naturally, having access to effective teaching methods, as explored in our article, will make a big difference in your day-to-day life. Sometimes, it can be difficult to gauge how much information students have taken on board. Dylan William, educator at the National STEM Learning Centre explores this in his blog post, Classroom tips: The importance of asking the right questions in teaching.

And bear in mind that it’s very rare to be naturally skilled in all the tasks you’re expected to do. So, if you want to excel as a primary school teacher, a little fine-tuning of your skillset with continuous learning is going to be worthwhile.

What is it like working as a primary school teacher?

Life as a teacher is varied and surprisingly flexible. Your day-to-day will look different and come with its own set of challenges and enjoyable moments. You’ll be helping children develop at a key point in their lives and the rewards can be great!

A day in the life of a primary school teacher

We spoke to Mrs H, a primary school teacher in Cornwall, who teaches reception classes using the Early years foundation stage (EYFS) framework. Below, she gave us helpful insight into what her typical day looks like. 

07:45 Arrive at school. EYFS Health & Safety checklist. Set up outdoor equipment and morning tasks.

08:15 Photocopy lesson resources, trim worksheets to fit in exercise books. Find resources on the laptop for interactive whiteboard teaching and learning.

08:30 Catch up with colleagues as they arrive or pass in the corridor. Try to keep conversations succinct as no one has time to chat!

08:40 Last wee before the children arrive (won’t get another chance until lunchtime!) Collect registers and head to class. Apron on and loaded with pens, eraser, sharpener, stickers and spot clock.

08:45 Children arrive. Big cheery ‘hello’s, chatty catch up on the latest news, compliment hair clips, new shoes etc! Be available for parents/carers if needed.

Sit with each group to settle them. Take registers. Send a special person to the office with completed registers. Countdown to the visual timetable.

COOL time (Choosing Our Own Learning) – participate and enjoy letting the children lead adults into play.

9:15 Take Phonics group. Get the wiggles out then lots of chanting, tongue-twisting, repetition and air writing. Table work then COOL time again. Phew!

10:15 Snack time and chit chat (one of my favourite activities – I never know where the conversation will go! Did I know ‘Daddy has superman pants?’ Well, no and I’m not sure I’m supposed to…)

10:30 Outdoor COOL time (another of my favourite activities). 

11:00 Maths groups – counting up and back, solving problems, using fingers, thumbs and apparatus to hold it all in our heads.

12:00 Story/rhyme (another favourite moment in my day).

12:15 Lunchtime for the children and afternoon prep for me: quick dash to the photocopier, library, and storeroom for resources.

A quick chat with teaching assistant re: afternoon activities and with colleagues re: timetable, upcoming events, curriculum planning, staff meeting, prospective parents visiting, safeguarding, where’s the Sellotape??

1:15 Carpet time – visual timetable, followed by PE/RE/adult-led activity.

COOL time – indoors and out. This is a chance to really follow children’s interests and is the reason why I do this job!

2:30 Tidy up time with lots of incentives. Again, they get better at this as the year progresses.

2:45 Story/rhyme/show and tell.

3:15 Home time: catch parents, get caught by parents, search lost property for something that’s inevitably already at home.

3:30 Weary catch-up with colleagues (aka staff meeting once a week) followed by a clean down of the classroom, following the trail of children’s play. Despite the repetitiveness of this, I actually quite like it as it tells me a lot about their interests and explorations and I stash this information in my planning for the next day.

I repeat the health and safety check and put any outdoor equipment away. 

4:00 Admin: filing and finding resources, adapting planning/provisions based on children’s attainment, interests and timetable changes, checking emails, scrutinising assessments, saving observations, liaising with other professionals such as the SENCO and Speech & Language therapist.

5:15 Tummy rumbles, time to go home. Call ‘bye’ to colleagues to avoid disturbing them. Remember half a dozen important things on the drive home. Lots of mental notes for this evening’s to-do list. Most can’t wait until tomorrow. 

Primary school teacher salary

Teachers can expect to start at around £25,000p/a, rising to around £40,000 as they progress. You can expect these figures to vary depending on if you’re in England, Northern Ireland, Wales, or Scotland. Teachers in Wales and Scotland can expect to earn a little more than those in England and Northern Ireland, to begin with.

If you’re working for an academy, a free school, or a private school, then you might expect to earn a higher wage as they set separate pay scales and are often willing to pay more to secure the best talent.

How to get into primary school teaching

There are many ways to become a primary school teacher. Before you get started, it’s usually a good idea to do work experience in a primary school to get a feel for whether it’s right for you. Check out our blog, What kind of teacher should I be? to explore your options.

Usually, you’ll need to get a teaching certification from an accredited course. Explore the Open University’s Becoming a Teacher course to find out what you can expect on the job, as well as the steps you’ll need to take to become a qualified teacher. Get a taster by watching three teachers’ first-hand experiences in our open step on Early Motivations for Considering Teaching.

What qualifications do you need to become a teacher?

To teach in a maintained school (that is, one that’s run by the local authority and follows the national curriculum) in England and Wales, you are legally required to obtain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). This means going through a year-long Initial Teacher Training (ITT) program.

In Scotland, you’ll need a degree in any field and Initial Teacher Education (ITE) qualification. In Northern Ireland, you’ll obtain a Bachelor of Education degree, followed by a one-year PGCE.

Your general education will usually be enough to teach any subject to KS2 standard. You might find that you need to obtain a GCSE grade of C (or 4) in Maths and English.

If you’re bewildered by the process of becoming a teacher, check out the University of Coventry’s Teacher Training course: Choosing the Right PGCE for You.

Once you’ve decided on your PGCE, get a headstart with the help of Preparing for a PGCE by the University of Warwick. It’ll provide you with a foundation for the rest of your education.

Check out the open step on  Applying for Teacher Training, providing a tour through the various routes into the profession. It’ll get you acquainted with all of the acronyms you’ll encounter, as well as the regional variations of teacher training across the UK.

Teacher training courses

Even when you’ve achieved your qualification to become a primary school teacher, the learning doesn’t stop there! Check out Manchester Metropolitan University’s How to Succeed as a Newly Qualified Teacher, designed to ease the transition and help you to hit the ground running. 

The University of Reading’s course in Supporting Successful Learning in Primary School also provides a grounding in primary education that will be of benefit to teachers, teaching assistants and support staff. Get a taste of the course, with this discussion on how children learn.

What if you want to teach primary school students about the environment, and the importance of a sustainable economy? Check out the University of Reading’s course in Outdoor Learning Approach to Teaching Climate and Sustainability in Primary Schools, to learn how to create memorable, engaging lessons on a critical subject. Helen Bilton, Professor at Reading, recently wrote a guest post for us on Earth Day about the importance of outdoor learning for schools.

Continued learning as a teacher

Even if you’re a fully qualified primary school teacher with years of experience under your belt, you could be looking to teach specialist subjects to a higher standard or cater to students with particular needs.

For example, it might be that you’re teaching in a community with young migrants and refugees. The British Council’s Toolkit for Teachers tackles a whole range of subjects related to migrant students and refugees. It’ll help you dismantle barriers, heal trauma, and promote an inclusive classroom environment.

Neurodivergent children might also benefit from a more specialised approach. No two brains are built quite the same, so having a one-size-fits-all approach might let certain students down. Additionally, autistic children can benefit enormously from having teachers and assistants who understand their needs. The University of Bath’s Good practice in Autism Education course will run you through the basics.

There’s also considerable value in going beyond the classroom environment. With the help of the Exploring Play course from the University of Sheffield and the Learning Through Play with LEGO® Braille Bricks course, you’ll be able to create an environment that supports a play-oriented approach to learning.

Final thoughts

Being a primary school teacher comes with its own challenges, but it’s also uniquely rewarding. Every year, you’ll play a key role in the lives of young people. You’ll be able to make a positive impact when you have the right skills to draw upon.

At FutureLearn, we have dozens of specialised courses. If there’s a gap in your knowledge and skills, or you’d like to develop as a teacher, take a look at some of our standout courses – and become the best teacher you can be!

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