“If you’re reading this, you’re probably about to start a PGCE or you’re thinking about it – good choice, it’s totally worth it!” writes BCU Secondary Drama PGCE student Natalie Rose.
I can now officially say that I am no longer a PGCE Student, but a qualified Drama Teacher, which is slightly overwhelming but incredibly rewarding – and my god what a journey it has been!
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been speaking to people who are nervously waiting to start their PGCE in September. And you know what? Nerves are okay – it means you care, but rest assured your PGCE year is completely do-able and a great experience. And as someone who has survived, I wanted to share my Top Tips.
*DISCLAIMER: I am not a PGCE Guru. This is not me, in any way, claiming that I have all the answers – I really don’t – but hopefully this will put your mind at rest, ready for an awesome year!*
Ten Tips for Survival (and Perspective)
- Build relationships with your fellow PGCE-ers: This is so important and something that you should try and do ASAP (I know it may seem a little daunting at first). When you arrive on your first day you are very probably (if you’re anything like me) going to be slightly apprehensive, but so are the other members of the cohort. You all have a common goal and you will all go through the roller coaster of a journey together. You will share stresses, anxieties, hopes and achievements; and you will become each others best resources – not to mention becoming lifelong friends.
- Make use of your support network: As well as having support from friends on your course, during your PGCE you should be receiving support from university tutors and school placement mentors. They are there for you! If you’re struggling, need extra guidance, or you can’t quite work out how best to meet the needs of particular pupils, ask for help – you’re only human!
- Let assignments and evidence be your friend: So, this is essentially a Postgrad course; you will have to do assignments, reading, reflections (so many reflections) and you will have to evidence, what feels like, everything! Yes, it’s a bit daunting at first, but you will absolutely get it. Enjoy it – its your opportunity to become better teachers and the amount of evidence you provide will not only show what good teachers you are – it will give you something to look back at and think – ‘I did that!’
- Make mistakes: You are a practising teacher and you are not going to go into the classroom and get it right all of the time, or even the majority of time (particularly on your first placement). I learned some of the most valuable lessons within my practice through making mistakes – you’re not going to be perfect all of the time. So, if something goes horribly wrong, yes its not the best feeling, but turn it into a positive – ‘that lesson was a bit pants, but next time…’
- It’s okay to have a ‘moment’: Cards on the table, the PGCE is tough! The amount of assignments, lesson planning, marking, plus the classroom stresses and behaviour struggles. It can seem incredibly daunting and overwhelming and all you want to do is hide in a cupboard and eat chocolate – but that’s okay! You will get there! A lot of tutors liken it to climbing a mountain and it’s so true, but when you look back and see the progress that you have and will make, it is the best feeling (that mini-fist pump feeling).
- Enjoy your school placements: Your placements, in my experience will be the most challenging but the most rewarding part of your PGCE. You will experience moments of self-doubt – remember that’s okay – but you will also experience some of the best moments: sending a letter home; making a phone call to parents; seeing the progress of your pupils; and building relationships with other members of staff and your pupils (that’s right, your pupils!). Seize the opportunities to learn, make mistakes, feel like a wally but then learn from that. You ARE becoming a teacher – so enjoy that!
- Build relationships with your pupils: I cannot stress this enough – GET TO KNOW YOUR PUPILS! The quicker you get to know them, the easier it becomes to manage behaviour, adapt your teaching to meet their needs and to help them progress. Secondary school pupils can be challenging and they will try to suss you out and see how far they can push you; but if you stay positive and maintain your role as teacher you will be fine. Show an interest in them as young people and let them know you are human and not perfect – they love that!
- Don’t compare yourself to others: I struggled not to do this at first, but really, don’t do this! Yes, you are all going through, or have gone through, the same journey to become a teacher, but don’t think you have to take the same route. Some of you might take the mountainous route, some might sail the stormy seas (getting a bit poetic now), but what I’m trying to say is that it’s okay if you feel like you’re making more mistakes, or finding it harder than your colleagues. This is YOUR JOURNEY, so focus on that. Do what YOU need to do.
- Remember why you are teaching: You will all have decided to become teachers for different reasons: a stable rewarding career; a new goal in life; to inspire a new generation. Hold on to that and embrace every opportunity. And enjoy it.
- Remember who you are: Sounds like a bit of an odd one, but don’t let the pressures, work load and the daily antics of teaching re-define you. You are a friend, a son or daughter. You might love reading, photography, walking, socialising with friends – don’t lose that! It will be more difficult, but keep doing what you enjoy and what makes you, you. It’s okay to have a Netflix binge (occasionally!).
So basically, keep calm and carry on. If you know what you are doing and the best way for you to tackle a PGCE, the needs of your pupils will be met and relationships will develop. You know who you are, you have the support networks, you’re making some epic fails – but by doing this, your ability to teach, adapt and learn how to teach, will come more naturally. Keep things in perspective, you are a practising teacher, and hold on to those mini fist pump moments!
If you would like to study for a PGCE for a career in teaching then just visit the Birmingham City University PGCE page here.