We’re all in this together

One of the most pernicious forces that creates fraction between secondary and primary sectors is the implicit understanding, perpetuated by the current accountability system, that the buck stops with the last teacher. The pressure with the need to succeed creates a defensive front, and instils the notion in secondary teachers that what has come before is not as important as what’s happening now, and that the most important stage is the current one. This is particularly the case for those teaching GCSE, A-level and SACE classes, where examination is looming large, and the pressure to produce results similarly so.

But ask any teacher in these years, and they will tell you emphatically that one year of education doesn’t maketh the student, and that expectations placed solely on the shoulders of those teaching the last year are unrealistic, unfair and damaging. Of course it works both ways, with a successful examination period rendering the last teacher the hero of the day, but it’s a short sighted ephemeral position to take, one that will come back to bite you at a future date.

Important then is the need for secondary teachers to honour the work done by those who have taught the students before them. And to take a real interest in what is being taught, and support and get behind those in primary when they face cuts in budgets and curriculum time in certain subjects, or any obstacles whatsoever to delivering a quality education, because it inevitably affects all of us.

Essential primary

Things that primary teachers do benefit secondary teachers enormously. Take the teaching of reading for example. Secondary teachers can’t teach unless reading is secure, so secondary should have a very large interest and understanding in how it is done. Jennifer Buckingham is forthright in her claim that it’s nothing ground-breaking in claiming that every teacher should know how to teach reading, but I would hasten to guess that lots of secondary teachers wouldn’t know how to do it. That’s not an indictment on secondary teachers, more on the aggregation of misguided pedagogies including insufficient training in reading in initial teacher training, assuming students would be proficient in reading and concentrating on subject disciplines, and it being believed to be the job of someone else. Reading blogs on phonics and reading best practice should be a priority of all secondary teachers, and primary teachers offer plenty of resources and discussions on reading, like here, and here, here and here.

Or take the teaching of art in primary, and it potentially being squeezed out of significance with increased time dedicated to English and numeracy to satisfy SATS and NAPLAN examinations. Secondary teachers are unlikely to be too aware of this issue or to be frank, care too much about it as it doesn’t directly affect their situations; the greater the workload the greater the need to focus on yourself increases. But think of some of the benefits of our students coming through into secondary with excellent art skills. Students will have excellent fine motor skill, will be better trained at paying attention to detail, and thus have better attention spans, have greater capacity in taking their thinking from the local to the global perspective, better able to persevere through a series of processes, can become more comfortable using image as metaphor, and can use image as an effective dual coding exercise when note taking and revising. Add to this the affective benefits of art to young people’s development.

A generation on of course would mean the teacher herself would be a competent drawer and can incorporate dual coding frequently, and use images as metaphor to deepen understanding of themes and characters and contexts, and model application of knowledge by representing and symbolising content in creative ways, an ultimate goal of building knowledge.

So we need to take notice of any proposed changes, contribute to discussions regarding its implementation, and most importantly, defend the importance of art in primary school with primary colleagues, because if we lose it, not only will our teaching potential be significantly diminished, but our cultural literacy endangered.     

Noble primary

One of the main goals of teaching is to be able to take pride in the knowledge that you have contributed to society by producing knowledgeable emotionally competent well-adjusted people. It’s a noble profession. It’s a job that few could claim such an outcome, and it almost compensates for the disproportionate pay. Primary school teachers get lots more opportunity to practice this nobility because their teaching is such a long way from the final year of education, and the selfless nature of the role is furthered when primary teachers think about the bigger picture of where a student will be in 5 years time, and give the student the tools that are going to help them succeed in further learning. For example, it’s going to be pretty certain that a student in 5 years time is going to have to know about Victorian times, so teaching that in primary school is going to help the secondary students have an excellent grasp on the context of a Victorian novel, which not only would make the reading of that novel or poem significantly more meaningful and therefore pleasurable, but would also free up working memory, increasing the opportunity for students to engage in discussions and critical thinking about the text, and explore interpretations in essays and other assessment activities in a deeper more productive way. If you are primary and want to speak to someone in secondary to ask about later stage requirements, there are lots and lots of secondary teachers who could provide information about secondary curricula, like @ensermark (geography), @xris (English), @MrThorntonteach (history), @mathsmrgordan (maths), @adamboxer1 (science), @teachartdesign (art).

Barriers to collaboration

One of the main reasons why there potentially isn’t a greater link between two sectors is the unpredictability of curriculum and expectations/standards that students need to have mastered by the end of school. It’s hard for primary school teachers to have a five-year future in their minds when planning curriculum because it’s changed so many times over the years, and potentially could again. However, it would also be hard to imagine that any current teaching based on what students are presently doing at the end of their schooling careers would be wasted. Learning about contexts of Victorian times or Jacobean times or Elizabethan times or colonial times et cetera is all valuable knowledge in terms of cultural literacy and reading comprehension at later stages.

With this in mind, it is certainly quite a admirable undertaking for a primary school teacher to base a curriculum on where a student will be in five years time, considering that very little praise or recognition would be awarded to that teacher. How many secondary teachers with the latest exam results have thanked primary school teachers for the ground work they established? Of course it’s not practical for a secondary teacher to have awareness of every single teacher that the students have had throughout their schooling careers, but it’s not about specific acknowledgement, it’s about a general acknowledgement and recognition of how crucial the work of primary school teachers is. It’s just as important as the secondary, and confirms that we’re all in this together.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more educational and English teaching discussions

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