Post-primary teachers will normally specialise in one or two subjects and will teach these subjects to students from the first year to the sixth year. This means that a teacher can teach up to eight lessons in one day to different classes containing up to 30 students each, often of differing ability levels.
The typical duties of a post-primary teacher will include planning and presenting lessons, setting and grading assignments and exams, in addition to liaising with other teachers, such as form tutors, year heads, vice-principals and principals, and other professionals such as guidance counsellors and educational psychologists.
Many teachers will have extra-curricular involvement in activities such as school trips, drama and musical productions, debating competitions, student fund-raising for charitable causes and a wide range of sporting activities.
A standard working week for a post-primary teacher consists of 22 class-contact hours. Additional time will be required for lesson preparation and for the grading of assignments. Other activities such as parent-teacher meetings can take place both inside and outside of school hours.
Where you could work
In Ireland, the three main categories of post-primary schools are secondary schools, vocational schools/community colleges and community/comprehensive schools. All these schools follow the same state-prescribed curriculum and take the same state public examinations. They are staffed by similarly qualified teachers, who are paid on the same salary scale. In Northern Ireland, there are two main school categories: grammar schools and secondary schools.
Getting a job as a post-primary teacher
It is unusual for a recent graduate to be appointed to a permanent teaching position immediately after qualification. The availability of permanent posts is determined by the Department of Education and Science as the number of teachers in any school is governed by student numbers, while taking account of provision of curriculum needs within a school. It is more common to spend several years gaining experience either in the same school or in a variety of locations in various non-permanent capacities before being appointed to a permanent teaching post.
There are several types of non-permanent positions, with differing rates of pay:
- Temporary whole-time (TWT) – usually where a permanent teacher is on a career break and another teacher is employed to fill his/her position. This is usually a yearly contract which can be renewed depending on the specific circumstances.
- Pro-rata contract (formally known as eligible part-time (EPT)) – a fully qualified teacher contracted to teach between 11 and 22 hours for the full academic year.
- Unqualified teacher – part-time teacher who is not deemed fully qualified for the position that has arisen.
- Non-casual part-time teacher – qualified teacher defined as working ‘for a period in excess of 150 hours during the school year but less than a full year’, eg maternity leave.
- Casual part-time teacher – qualified teacher employed on a part-time casual basis, such as casual substitution for a teacher absent through illness.
Full details of these job roles are available from the Department of Education and Science. Look for the circular PPT 19/03 and entitled, ‘Implementation of the Protection of Employees (Part-Time Work) Act 2001 for Part-Time Teachers’. After some years in teaching, it is possible to specialise in such roles as home-school liaison, transition year co-ordinator, Leaving Certificate Applied or Leaving Certificate Vocational programme co-ordinator.
In order to be registered as a post-primary teacher it is necessary to hold a recognised teaching qualification. This can either be gained as part of a specific degree programme or by completing a postgraduate teacher-training course. It is also necessary to have a degree in at least one curriculum subject. In practice, the more teaching subjects offered the greater the chances of employment.
Having studied a particular curriculum subject to degree level enables you to teach this subject to Leaving Certificate level, while subjects studied in the first year of a degree programme can be taught to Junior Certificate level.
As with primary teaching, core skills such as communication and organisational skills are important. Because post-primary teachers specialise in specific subjects, a depth of knowledge as well as an enthusiasm for the subject material is important.
Other key elements include self-belief, an ability to maintain discipline by using your own personality to best effect and being able to relate to many different groups of students of different ages and ability levels.
Many new teachers starting out in schools find that the workload is most intensive in the first few years, given that the preparation required is extensive and adapting to dealing with many groups of students within one working day can be challenging. However, the satisfaction gained in helping students deepen their knowledge of a particular area as well as the opportunity to build relationships with students during their time in school is a definite plus.