The type of school and the type of teacher will depend on where you live and the age and ability of your children. However there is some definite commonality across the ages and stages. Here are some general points to note:
- Whatever the school 80% of the staff (including the Head) are on anti depressants or have to meditate in the stock cupboard before morning registration.
- Teachers often marry other teachers. This is because they meet in college. Either that or they have torrid school based affairs or a bunk up on the French department trip to the Hyper Markets in Calais. This has positives and negatives. On the negative side work is always the hot topic. On the positive side they can hitch their caravan and disappear to the South of France for six weeks in the Summer. Don't talk about your job to a teacher couple. They will not have a clue what you are on about.
- Schools with younger children tend to have mostly female staff. In schools with older children the balance is much more 50/50 and often has more men. There are any number of reasons for this including natural motherly instincts and men's innate inability to make use-able paper mache.
- All teachers look down on other teachers. Fact. Secondary staff think Junior staff only play rounders. Junior staff think Infant staff only thread beads and play with sand. Infant staff think Nursery staff only clean up poo. Everyone thinks Special School staff don't do anything at all. Special School, Nursery School, Infant School and Junior School staff think Secondary staff just get the kids to copy off the board while they have a smoke.
- Behaviour is the badge of honour. People outside teaching think teachers want to teach in 'good schools' and some do. However all other teachers will look down on you if you teach in a 'good school'. They will think your job is a piece of piss because you don't get bitten and the parents pay dinner money on time. They will not factor in that you have to teach calculus to year 1.
Lets take a look at the schools and the teachers in a little more depth.
Nursery Schools (pupil age 3 - 5)
Nursery school teachers are women. The school sometimes contains one ambitious man who feels he should teach nursery as part of his preparation for Headship further down the line. The parents will think he is a paedophile. Nursery teachers are nice because small children cry if you shout at them and make them do press ups as punishment. Everyone wears comfortable clothing to deal with sand, water, sick, blood and having to sit cross legged on a carpet several times a day.
Behaviour in nursery schools can be less troublesome because the kids can't pick up chairs. However if behaviour is bad it will verge on feral. Everyone cares about the kids.
You will drown in paperwork of the most ridiculous kind. Nursery staff hover around the children filling in masses of documentation in order to prove that Connor undid his trouser buttons BEFORE he pood himself. To be a nursery teacher you must be comfortable with chaos organised in minute detail.
Infant Schools (pupil age 5 - 7)
Again infant school staff tend to be women. There will be the solitary man. This will be the result of personal ambition (see nursery) or because his Junior School has just amalgamated with the infants school next door and the new Head has moved everyone around. This will be a shock to him. Appearance will be similar to nursery. Comfortable and baggy. Infant staff have terrible hair although this is true of the entire profession.
Infant schools are good because the kids are starting to achieve some independence. Behaviour is still not so much of a problem although kids misbehave at all ages. There is still half a chance the kids are scared of the Head or the naughty chair. However some will already not give a rats ass about anything.
By the end of the infant school ALL children are expected to be able to do complicated sudoku and read Dostoevsky in its original language. This will be expected by all external bodies even if the child was still barking and eating his own faeces when he left the nursery. Other infant teachers can be a problem. They only talk about curtains.
Junior School (pupil age 7 - 11)
Junior schools often contain a mix of genders. This is because in the 70s and 80s you could specialise in infant/junior or junior/secondary. Male teachers chose the latter and may have secured a job in a junior school. They will teach in year 5 or 6 to sort out the older boys and coach the football. Now, you have to choose primary (3 to 11) or secondary (11-18) so the number of men in junior schools has dwindled. Many still train as primary teachers hoping to get a job in year 5 or 6 and then getting a shock when they are moved to year 2 (see infants). Clothing will vary. Comfortable and sick repellent is still required, however ambitious staff will wear shirt and tie (accompanied with fleece and winter boots for yard duty). Ill fitting 1980s tracksuits will appear on football days.
The kids are much more independent and, "if they are good", can stand out on the road doing traffic surveys. Some children start to get your jokes and inbuilt sarcasm.
Many kids are already completely disaffected by this point and demonstrate this by punching each other and possibly you. Like all primary staff you will be expected to be an expert in 12 subjects (13 in Wales). At any time you must be prepared to teach quantum physics, advanced pottery or the complete works of Shakespeare. In reality you will be good at teaching two subjects and blag your way through the rest. You will work your arse off for the kids to achieve the required standard. They will then forget this over the summer. This will outrage Secondary staff who will wonder why year 7 can't read, add up or walk in a straight line.
Secondary Schools (11-18)
Secondary schools have male and female staff but Secondary School teachers are subject not child focused. They don't care if Keanu is a fantastic football player. They only care that he can't count to 10. Art teachers are arty. PE staff wear shorts all year round and read Guns and Ammo in the staffroom because they've got no marking to do. Woodwork teachers smoke roll ups and stick to whatever name their subject was called when they left college. On the whole Secondary Schools are full of people for whom teaching may not be their first choice. The English teacher will have a part completed novel in her desk drawer. The music teacher will have a stack of returned demo tapes. The metal work/design technology/resistant materials teacher will be letting year 9 run riot while he works on his invention for Dragon's Den.
Kids are fully independent and get themselves to and from school unattended. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on the child, this also happens during lessons. You have a chance to do some incredibly exciting work with 6th form pupils who are able and keen on your subject. You get to see kids develop as young adults and fly the nest to work and university under your guidance.
Behaviour is appaulling. The kids are bigger than you. You might not think this matters. They do. Some kids are already lost to the system and your job is to prevent them killing anybody before they can leave at 16. The school is only results focused. The fact that Courtney has really developed her interpersonal skills means bugger all to a Secondary School unless she gets 5 A to Cs at GCSE.
Special Schools (pupil age 3 - 19)
Nobody knows anything about Special Schools except the staff that work there. Appearance is wide ranging as schools tend to cater for pupils from 3 to 19. There will always be a very cuddly nursery type, a Secondary PE specialist trained in restraint techniques and an ambitious staff member who has twigged that Special Schools pay their teachers more. The range of kids is huge. The school may cater for learning difficulties, emotional and behavioural difficulties, autism, profound and multiple difficulties, hearing impaired or visually impaired. Some Schools may contain a bit of everything.
Classes are small, sometimes as low as 2 or 3 depending on the needs of the child. There are many learning support assistants, which teachers love. Having an LSA means you've always got someone to talk to and you'll never have to do a display again. You have mini buses and can go on lots and lots of trips to 'make learning real'.
You will have to teach the same thing in fifty different ways over many years still with no guarantee that anyone will learn anything. You will be bitten by a very large pupil at least once in your career. All other teachers will look down on you, even if they are aware enough to know you exist.
School holidays are without doubt the best thing about teaching. On the negative side it can send the press and other working parents in to an utter frenzy. Many teachers deal with this by being incredibly defensive and pretending they work all summer. The fact is the holidays are THE benefit of the job. The only other benefit in teaching is that if you die whilst breaking up a fight between two rival gangs of year 11 boys your family will get a good lump sum.
Some people have company cars, some people have good pensions, some people have big salaries, some people have bonuses, teachers have holidays. My answer to this question is always the same. If long holidays was that big a deal for you, you should have become a teacher instead of spending your summer in a bank. This is very often followed with the reply "Oh god no! I couldn't do that job!".
Here endeth the lesson.