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How to Decide Between Teaching Primary vs Secondary

Deciding between primary and secondary teaching can be a daunting decision for many. If you want to pursue a career as a teacher, but you’re not sure whether you’re better suited to primary or secondary teaching, this article will provide advice and guidance to help you decide.

First, we’ll look at the different duties and responsibilities of teaching primary and secondary students. Then, we’ll explore some of the reasons why primary teaching is the right path for some, while secondary teaching is more suitable for others.

What are the differences between teaching primary vs secondary?

Both primary and secondary school teachers can make an indelible impression on their students, sometimes inspiring the next generation to achieve truly great things.

When it comes to the question of primary vs secondary teaching, there are some key differences between the two. This table provides an overview of these differences:

Primary teachingSecondary teaching
Student age: Primary teachers are responsible for teaching students aged 5-13. Usually, you will be assigned to one specific grade. For example, if you’re teaching students in the first grade, your students will be aged 6-7Student age: Secondary teachers are responsible for teaching students aged 12-18It’s common for secondary teachers to teach several different classes across all grades
Curriculum-based lesson planning: Lesson plans are prepared for children to suit their abilities at a specific age levelCurriculum-based lesson planning: Lesson plans are prepared for children to suit their abilities at various age levels
Student assessment: Set and mark homework tasks. Monitor students’ progress during class time. Write reports on student development. Set and mark testsStudent assessment: Set and mark homework tasks. Monitor students’ progress during class time. Write reports on student development. Set and mark exams
Class content: Primary teachers are expected to cover a range of different subjects in their classes, such as maths, English and historyClass content: Secondary school teachers specialise in specific subject areas. A tertiary qualification in your specialist subject area is required to be a secondary school teacher; for instance, if you want to teach maths, you’ll need to have studied applied mathematics
A creative approach to learning: Creative activities (such as painting and singing) are often used to help students learn and developA practical approach to learning: Practical activities and assessments are usually used to help students learn and develop
Classroom management: Primary teachers play a foundational role in helping students adapt to the structured environment of a classroomClassroom management: Secondary teachers are required to monitor their students and manage behaviour to ensure a productive classroom environment  

The areas of similarity between primary and secondary school teaching include:

  • Meeting with parents and guardians to discuss the academic progress of their child
  • Participating in extracurricular activities such as camps and excursions
  • Undertaking ongoing professional development and networking with other teachers
  • Supervising students during recess and lunchtime

Should I teach primary or secondary?

When pondering the question of primary teacher vs secondary teacher, you’ll need to take your strengths and weaknesses into account. It’s also good to think about what’s drawing you towards a teaching career, and what kind of outcomes you’re hoping for in terms of job satisfaction, lifestyle and salary.

Consider whether you want to teach a specific subject area

One of the biggest deciding factors for those weighing up primary teaching vs secondary teaching is subject specialisation. Are you passionate about a particular subject area, such as physics or art? If so, you’re probably best suited to becoming a secondary school teacher.

On the other hand, if you’re more interested in helping younger children learn and develop, and you don’t mind teaching a broader range of general subjects, primary school teaching is probably your best option.

Keep in mind that if you want to channel a specific interest into a career as a high school teacher, you’ll need to have completed an undergraduate or postgraduate degree with a major study in one of the approved teaching areas, and a minor in another.  If you have questions about this, please feel free to get in touch with our friendly team.

Think about the age range you’d prefer to work with

Children at different age levels require different things from their teachers. When you’re contemplating secondary vs primary teaching, it’s useful to reflect on your own experiences with children. People who have spent time with young children will know that they require a lot of close supervision, which can be challenging but extremely rewarding. Teenagers, on the other hand, are more capable of independent learning.

Teaching young children requires a more creative and playful approach compared with teaching high schoolers. Although you might have fond memories from your own primary and high school days, being a teacher is a very different experience.

Get experience and ask for advice

If you haven’t spent much time around kids, it might be helpful to volunteer at your local school, to see if you’d be suited to a teaching career. You could also consider working first as a teacher’s aide, before deciding to commit to becoming a teacher.

Additionally, if you know anyone with kids, you could volunteer for regular babysitting duties, or perhaps help out at a children’s birthday party. This way, you’ll get a better understanding of whether a career spent working with children is right for you.

One of the best things you can do if you’re not sure is to sit down with someone who is currently working as a teacher and ask them for advice. Prepare a list of questions you’re curious about, and make notes as they share their experience with you.

And if you’re wondering about primary vs secondary teaching salary expectations, it can be helpful to look at some of the current job openings for primary and secondary school teachers. Bear in mind that your salary level will depend on your experience, and it might take you several years to work up to your ideal income.

Assess your existing qualifications

To become a teacher, you’ll need to have completed a bachelor’s degree as a minimum. Beyond this, postgraduate study can help you excel in your teaching career, and give you expert knowledge in a specialist field.

Swinburne Online offers the following programs for those who want to take their career in teaching to the next level:

For those who want to transition into a career as a secondary school teacher, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in the subject area you want to teach or an equivalent qualification that includes at least a major study in one approved secondary teaching area (equivalent to one-year full-time equivalent study) and a minor in at least one other recognised teaching area (equivalent to half a year of full-time study). Both undergraduate and postgraduate prior study can be considered in your teaching area(s) method(s) assessment. For approved teaching areas, please visit the Victorian VCE study design and ACARA teaching areas.

Not only is it common to change careers and become a teacher in your 20s, 30s, 40s or even 50s, but flexible online learning has made it possible to gain a new qualification while still managing the responsibilities of a job and family.

Study teaching at Swinburne Online

If you have any questions about primary vs secondary teaching in Australia, you can get in touch with our course consultants.

Visit our Master of Teaching (Primary) and Master of Teaching (Secondary) pages for course information, or apply today.


No, we will work with the schools upon a successful application.
A placement may be able to be completed at your workplace depending on your course and circumstances. Please contact the Placements Team to discuss if this is an option for a particular placement in your course.
No, recent Year 12 students must apply through VTAC for Swinburne courses for the March intake. However you may apply for Swinburne Online’s July or November intakes.
Students studying our online education courses still have to complete placements like on-campus students. In order to register to teach, graduates must have completed at least 60 days of professional placement when studying at postgraduate level and at least 80 days at undergraduate level. Professional placements can be taken anywhere in Australia, in schools that use the Australian curriculum or early childhood settings that use the Early Years Learning Framework.
Our education degrees are accredited and recognised by the Victorian Institute of Teaching (VIT) and/or by the Australian Institute of Teaching and Leadership (AITSL) and/or by the Australian Children’s Education & Care Quality Authority (ACECQA), depending on the particular course accreditation requirements. The Bachelor of Education (Primary), Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood and Primary), Master of Teaching (Primary) and Master of Teaching (Secondary) enable you to register as a teacher anywhere in Australia under mutual recognition. For the Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood Teaching), you should check with the teacher registration authority in your state or territory and course accreditation requirements necessary for any early childhood teacher registration requirements of your state or territory.