Miss K joins us for Wednesday Wisdom this week... Having trained in Performing Arts at University, Miss K made the decision to be a TA with special needs children in a mainstream secondary school. After 3 years of working as a TA, she took the amazing step into teaching. She completed a PGCE in Secondary English at Bath Spa University. Like many of you, she is starting her NQT year in September and has some advice for those who are just starting their PGCE (being fresh from the course!). You can follow Miss K on Instagram @missenglishnqt and Twitter @missenglishstar
I would like to start by congratulating you on considering or securing your place on a PGCE. Becoming a teacher is hard work, but like anything that is hard work, the rewards are worth it. Every day you will have an impact on the lives of young people. There is that famous quote that says ‘they may not remember what you said, but they will not forget how you make them feel’ my advice is to hold that close as you start this journey. This is my golden tip because developing strong and positive relationships with students will make all the difference to your experience as you train to become a teacher.
I am going to separate this post into sections related to some of the phases of training on your PGCE, as well as some of the most common concerns and things I wish I had known at the start of my training year. There may be some variations to your training depending on your specialism e.g Early Years, Primary or Secondary, but I will try to keep this as generalised as possible to suit all specialisms.
To begin your training most of you will have a university-led phase. During this time, you will engage with a variety of sessions, from tailored lectures and activities with your subject specialism, as well as lectures that apply to the whole cohort like SEND and behaviour management. You will have subject mentors for secondary and I assume primary also have their own mentors. These will be the tutors who will supervise you during your PGCE and be your main point of contact. Ahead of your PGCE, my best suggestion is to familiarise yourself with the national curriculum and your subject. Find out what is taught most and what your responsibilities are, as these are discussions that are likely to take place at university. If you are not already familiar, then my next suggestion is to familiarise yourself with these key terms and their abbreviations:
Pupil Premium – PP
Free School Meals – FSM
Special Educational needs and disability - SEND
Looked after child – LAC
Assessment for learning - AFL
The reason I suggest this is that you will hear them during your university phase and as soon as you get into school. Teachers often talk with just the acronym, so the sooner you know them and understand the basics of what they entail, then the quicker you will be comfortable with ‘Teacher Talk’ as I like to call it.
Perhaps the most time-consuming focus of your university training will be the written assignments that you need to pass in order to gain the PGCE qualification. There are 3 assignments and they vary in length depending on your training provider, however, the general summary of them goes as follows; two 3000-word assignments and one 5000-word assignment. The titles of them may differ, but they will generally cover the following topics: SEND, Assessment for learning, and a whole school policy. The main piece of advice here is don’t panic about these! You can resubmit if the assignment is not right the first time. There are also lots of sources that your provider will point you towards in order to support your writing.
Placement 1…your first real dive into teaching. An incredibly exciting time, but also a time that lots of you will feel apprehensive about and that is completely normal. Let me start by saying this. No one expects you to be perfect! Your first placement is all about finding your feet as a teacher, working out who you are and what works best for you. I coined this the ‘trial and error placement’ because it gives you the chance to make mistakes and learn from them.
By the time Christmas arrives, you should be teaching around 10hours a week. You will be given a lesson planning outline that will help you think about the key events in a lesson, as well as timing, differentiation, and assessment. Be aware, these can be time-consuming and most teachers will want to see them before you teach the lesson. Take the time to trial a multitude of different strategies and teaching methods because this is the best way to find your stride in the classroom.
While on placement, you will have a training mentor who will oversee your timetable and progress. You will have regular review meetings, most providers will ensure this happens once a week, where you discuss your progress and targets for the following week. It is crucial that you are honest about any struggles you have had; I don’t think enough trainees ask for help when they need it. Sometimes you are just in need of a little advice or reassurance. The biggest rush you will experience is the first time you teach a lesson that was successful, and it will happen more often than you think if you regularly reflect on your practice.
This is the longer of the two placements (primary and SCITT may have more) and the placement where you also face an increase in teaching hours. You will start with around 10 to 12 hours teaching and increase to 16 by the end of the placement. This may vary and I was certainly impacted by the arrival of Covid-19 on my placement. However, virtual teaching is an experience in and of itself, you should really have a go at teaching at session online and who knows? It may become part of the next scheme of teacher training.
You might start this placement feeling like you take a step backward because there is quite a gap between placement 1 and 2. It is absolutely okay to feel this way and have a wobble, but you will very quickly find your feet again. This placement is all about gaining the confidence in your teaching and improving your classroom practice. By placement 2 you may feel ready to start moving away from detailed lesson plans because you already know how to structure a lesson. This is individual to each teacher, don’t compare yourself. You will gradually be handed more independence and take on more responsibility, not only within your teaching but also in wider school responsibilities like parent’s evenings and lunchtime or after school commitments. I also think it is important to say that, although at this point you will be close to finishing your training, you are still a brand new teacher and you have lots still to learn and your practice still has a lot of developing to do. It is okay not to be the finished article by the end of your PGCE, but I promise you will have a lot more confidence in your ability, who you are in the classroom, and what works best for you and the students you teach. This way you can go into your new school as an NQT ready to work on yourself and enjoy the freedom to make your lessons suit your style and the needs of those students you are working with. As always, your students are your priority and if you shape your practice around them you are doing the best you can do.
Student relationships – This is my go-to mantra. Relationships are key to success in the classroom. Show them who you are from the moment they meet you, be kind and welcoming, and take an immediate interest in getting to know them. Learn names as quickly as you can!
Don’t compare yourself – Every trainee moves at a different pace and you will all have different backgrounds so some may find adjusting to school easier than others. There is no right way, you need to do what is best for you. Also, remember most teachers you meet have been doing their job for years and will appear to know everything…. they have taught it repeatedly for years, of course, they know more! so don’t feel inadequate everything comes with time.
Keep in contact with people on your course – This one may seem obvious, but it is ridiculously important. Keeping in touch will get you through some of the tougher times (because you will have them) and it also means you have a space to let off a little steam when you need to. Don’t bottle emotions up, talk about it, you will feel relieved once you do.
Time management – The PGCE is a balancing act and if you don’t time manage you will find yourself feeling overwhelmed. Decide what your priorities are for each day/week and get them done. Try to get ahead on assignments; it will make them feel like less of a mountain. Most importantly allow yourself downtime! Take some time off to do what you love and have a breather you will feel all the better for it.
Just make the most of the experience and enjoy it.
Good Luck! X