Broadening horizons through travelling and teaching

Craig Cairns, primary support teacher

Craig Cairns, primary teacher

Craig Cairns, a support teacher for years 5 and 6 at Eleanor Palmer Primary School in London, spent his first year after graduating working in Pakistan, coding for software companies. This is a skill the maths graduate still uses today, teaching young pupils basic programming as part of the new computing curriculum.

“I’m really happy coding has been introduced to the curriculum because I think it’s something that has been lacking for quite a while,” he says. “It’s a very powerful thing for children to understand how technology works and what’s going on in the background, even if they don’t aspire to become programmers themselves.”

Having enjoyed working in schools while at university, Craig started working as a learning mentor at secondary level when he returned from Pakistan. But when it came to choosing which age group he’d like to teach and applying for teacher training, he realised his preference was to work in the broader subject spectrum that primary offered.

“I preferred the environment and the type of learning that went on,” he says. “I found some secondary teaching was quite syllabus- and test-led, whereas primary was a bit more open. I think you get to know the child a bit more because you’re teaching a range of different subjects. You spend the whole day with the same pupils, so you tend to form really good relationships with them.”

The school Craig teaches in has a link with a school in Sierra Leone through the charity Planting Promise. This has given him the chance to travel and further develop his teaching skills in a different environment.

“To teach in those conditions with classes where you have very little in the way of resources does influence your teaching practice,” he says. “Travelling broadens your horizons, too. It makes you better understand the world and see things from a different point of view.”

The long summer holidays that come with teaching have helped Craig pursue this love of seeing different places around the world, while also getting involved in projects overseas.

“I spent one of my summers in Guatemala and worked in a hospice for children whose mums had suffered domestic abuse and were trying to gain employment,” he explains. “They could drop their children off to the centre in the morning and go off and work and then collect them in the evening. It’s great for learning languages as well, which is becoming more of an important subject in primary schools.”

It’s opportunities such as these and the daily chance to make a difference that really resonate with Craig in day-to-day teaching: “It’s the best job in the world in my opinion. It’s so varied; you are part of their lives, part of their family’s lives and they’re part of your life – and I don’t think there are many other jobs that offer that.”

Find out more about primary teaching.