What's it like to be a primary school teacher? (Part 1)

Day in the life of Courtney, Primary School Teacher (Part 1)

Most of us remember primary school as a happy time with lots of fond memories. Sticky fingers from melted icy poles, blisters from monkey bar races and gleeful trips to the canteen. But unless we have kids of our own, we’ll have little to do with primary school once we move onto high school and become little fish in big ponds all over again. While a lot has changed since we were kids, some things will always be the same. Courtney gives us the inside scoop.

How did you get the role?

I guess there are two different ways I look at this question, how I got the position at my current school and how/when I decided I wanted to be a teacher. The former is quite simple, I completed my last lot of university teaching rounds at the school where I currently work and they hired me for the following the year.

The latter feels like a combination of a couple of things. My mother is a primary school teacher, which is a very common trend for teachers to have other teachers in their own family. There was no pressure that I needed to pursue teaching, however, I think sometimes subconsciously people are drawn to professions to people who they are close with. My older brother also followed my father into sales, once again, with no family pressure. Like many other high school students, I didn’t have much of an idea of what I wanted to do after I finished high school. Like most boys, I always loved PE. Particularly in the senior years where more of the theory and practical elements were introduced. So I decided I wanted to be a high school PE teacher. After a few years of earning different fitness qualifications, I realised I actually preferred teaching younger students. For job security reasons, I also chose primary teaching as male teachers are still in high demand. And here I am!

  Credit: Chron

Credit: Chron

What does a typical day look like for you?

I think most teachers will find this question quite humorous as there isn’t a “typical day”. It’s the type of profession that you can go from such extremes, being so grateful that you have the privilege of having such a fulfilling career, to being in utter disbelief that you actually chose and studied to be this stressed. Fortunately, the good outweighs the bad by quite a considerable margin. 

Every teacher is different [in terms of starting times]. Some teachers get to school a lot earlier than others and leave earlier than others. Some arrive later and stay later. Some arrive earlier and stay later. Then there are some that arrive later and leave earlier, however they may continue to work into the long hours of the night at home. There’s no one size fits all with work times for teachers. Whatever a particular teacher finds works best for them is what they do. I find that I’ve changed over the years. Earlier in my career, I arrived at work sometimes after eight and usually stayed until after five. Now, I arrive at my school at around seven in the morning and I still stay until around five at night. It’s exhausting, but also something that I’ve adjusted to. I choose to spend more time at school if that means I’m less stressed with my classroom organising and trying to make sure my own time away from my school is just that, my time.

It’s not a cop out, however there really isn’t a typical day. You have planned curriculum and activities, sure, but does everything always go according to plan? Nope. Some days your lessons can run perfectly, others not. At times the students totally get it. Other times you feel like you’re banging your head against the wall when some students still don’t understand particular concepts. Not to mention the amount of time your regular classroom schedule can get disrupted by sporting events, special days, camps, excursions, assessment, etc.

  Credit: FailGif.com

Credit: FailGif.com

I have also recently changed year levels. I taught Year Five for my first four years (ten, eleven year olds) and I moved down to Year One this year (six, seven year olds). It might not sound like much, but in teaching years it is a huge jump. Something I’m still learning and getting my head around after half a year (and probably still will be for a while).

As a classroom teacher, I have my own class of twenty-three students. I am responsible for their core areas of learning, their Reading, Writing and Mathematics. Then there is ICT skills (a big focus in modern times) and integrated units (which can range from Australian History to natural disasters to animals to running businesses). However, it’s the stuff that you won’t see on an assessment piece that I often take the most pride in. Developing student confidence, how they interact and work with others, building work ethic and overall just trying to guide them to become the most positive student and person they can be. I will gladly scrap part of a Mathematics lesson to take some time to address something that happened in the playground where a student may have not been treated nicely. This reflection time and opportunity for them to take responsibility is often much more valuable for their growth as a person than a small part of whether they can multiply negative fractions.

I’m already going to contradict myself as I claimed to have a lot of “my time”. I basically never switch off when it comes to thinking or planning for my students. While I’m not always sitting in front of my laptop creating activities in my home time, there are always moments when I’m mentally reflecting, planning or scheduling for another day. Don’t get me wrong, outside of work I still go out with my friends and spend a lot of time exercising. However, I’ll often be running through things in my mind that I need to get done during the following school day or what activity I can do for a particular topic. I’ll put it this way, if the holidays come around and I have no school work I could be doing (which rarely happens), that feels very abnormal.

In our next post, Courtney shares what he loves and doesn’t love so much about the job, some common misconceptions and a student-teacher moment that’s guaranteed to make you go “awwwwwwwww…”