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Facebook is an interesting place to keep you informed about your friend’s activities. I also tend to use it as a summary of what is happening across the nation and the festivals of the year. Of course, yesterday it was full of the obligatory roses, chocolate and romance – but there was also a splattering of lie ins and smiling faces as the school’s half term began. It made me start to think about the differences between teaching in a primary school and teaching in higher education and when I start to think it naturally leads to a waffle…

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I often get asked why I left primary school teaching and whether or not there is any difference between teaching in school and in higher education. Although there are some differences there are also some similarities. Do I prefer one to the other? Well that is what this waffle is about.

  • Holidays – I’m not good with holidays- actually I am not really that good with time off work. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t work constantly but I like to keep busy without being stressed. When presented with a long period of time to fill I need to fill it with something which has a routine and some sort of purpose. The holidays within the school year certainly acted as catch up periods of time when the ‘pressure’ was off for a week or two. This would allow me to catch up with things without actually having to catch up and teach at the same time. One main difference with working in higher education is that there is technically no holidays. There are times when university is closed (mainly bank holidays) but apart from these times, work continues all year round. I do have days to take as holiday, but of course teaching, preparation, marking and research has to also be fit in, so I will only book these after I have completed these and I feel up to date. Although I don’t miss the holidays from primary school teaching, I think, at times, the regularity of these were good for my well being. It does seem strange when people are talking about half term and Easter holidays. Which holiday set up do I prefer? – that’s easy – higher education.

  • Marking and progression – I’m always keen to support learning and want all my learners to make progress. One way, out of many, which I used to ensure this within my primary classroom was marking the children’s work at the end of every lesson. This allowed me to see not only what the children had learnt but also how effective my teaching had been. Having this information I was then able to address the learning in the next lesson and continue to contribute to their overall progression. Within sessions in higher education there seems not to be this daily marking to be completed. I do, within my sessions, try to assess (using the one minute summary) and sometimes create something to mark which will allow me to assess the learners understanding and hence promote progression but essentially the marking occurs at the end of a module when the assignment is submitted. The marking is then equated to almost like getting all the term’s marking within a primary school in at the same time! I have always enjoyed marking – and I think, as long as I have the time to dedicated to the marking, I still do. Feedback is important for learning and progression and I hope I can continue to develop the activities throughout the module and keep providing feedback for these in order to hopefully promote progression. There is, of course, the discussion about engagement around these activities – I always had a tick list to ensure everyone had done there work in primary school – should I have one of these in higher education? I think the area of marking could be a waffle all on its own! (don’t worry I’ve made a note :))

  • Routine and subject – I am a creature of habit. I know this and I don’t cope well with disruption to my routine. (Yes, I have been called Sheldon! – wish they had included the Dr part tho!) When I was teaching in primary school, the routine was perfect for me. Every day, week, term even year! from the start to the end, the routine was set and things almost always went according to plan. There was, of course, changes to the routine – school trips, random assemblies and snow playtimes – but generally everything was good. Within higher education things are completely different. Each and every day is different. I always have to check my calendar to see what is happening and what is coming up. I could be teaching all day, visiting students in school, interviewing, attending meetings or just completing admin work – and, on some days, all of these in the same day! I will not pretend that I really enjoy this, preferring the predictability of the primary school day. Alongside the predictability of the day within primary education came the requirement to teach a range of subjects. Although I always tried to approach each and every subject with enthusiasm, I completely admit that there were subjects which I did not teach as well as others. One thing I really do enjoy about teaching within higher education is the focus on specific subjects. My overarching discipline is teaching and learning but being able to focus on mathematics, computing and science (you might not think that is focused enough) allows me to engage more with the specific pedagogy relating to these subjects and become, what I hope is evident, an expert in these subjects.

  • I was going to include the use of technology within this discussion but I realise that that might not be a ‘fair’ comparison. As I was leaving primary school, the use of technology to support teaching and learning was changing. Within higher education I think I use more than I ever did in primary school but I am sure that if I returned tomorrow I would be using more than when I left. I think with initiatives such as BYOD and the differences within the pedagogy, technology can have a more symbiotic relationship within higher education.

    I guess, if I was marking this as an assignment, I would now be asking for a conclusion. Essentially both jobs are firmly embedded in teaching and learning. I gained a lot of experience within primary schools (22 years!) and I’m still learning about pedagogy and approaches within higher education. Maybe I am wrong in trying to embed approaches which worked well in primary school to the HE environment. I would say, however, that my aims are still the same – ensuring that progression is made and that learning is enjoyable.

    Don’t forget you can engage in the levelling up game on my website and enter the competition to win a ‘I waffled with Wilson Badge’!

    I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas, please add them in the comments below (using Disqus) or send them to me via Twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, Google+ or email.

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    Have fun and I’ll catch you later


    Luke Hale · February 15, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    Refreshing to read about someone enjoying the process of marking. So often here people say it’s a major downside of the job. Like you, I think I’ll be someone who enjoys it – as long as I have processes to keep me on top of it!

      Ian Wilson · February 16, 2015 at 9:31 pm

      Thanks for the comment Luke – did you hear I used to keep ahead of my marking in the Wilson Waffling Live show?
      If you need any further advice let me know.

        Luke Hale · February 16, 2015 at 9:51 pm

        Yeah, I found it really helpful – even made notes as I was listening!
        Think I will want to mark during break/lunch, where appropriate or possible. But, interestingly, at my SE school teachers are actively discouraged from doing that – to make sure they get a ‘proper’ break between lessons.

          Ian Wilson · February 17, 2015 at 8:37 pm

          Very good point – I think it is probably a case of getting a balance – to me I would prefer to sit and mark with my coffee and have a break from the children – rather than staying later on the evening or marking at home. Individual work practices?

    Do I encourage progression? – Wilson Waffling · February 22, 2015 at 11:52 am

    […] talking about the difference between working in primary education and higher education last week, my thoughts this week have turned to something which I have been thinking about for a […]

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