PGCE reflections – Top Tips by @NQT_tweets

Tips from the experiences of a former trainee...

In this post, I will reflect back on what life was like as a PGCE student. I hope it will be of use to those of you who are about to embark on teacher training or for more experienced teachers who would like an insight into the PGCE experience from a trainee perspective.

This is a re-blog post originally posted by NQT_tweets and published with kind permission.

The original post can be found here.

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I’ll start with the lows to get them out the way which everyone completing a PGCE experiences at one point or another and it is all part of the journey. When you begin your course you are told, on a fairly regular basis, that it is going to be the hardest year of your life. I hate to break it to you but this, for the most part, is true. However, that is also what makes a PGCE so exciting and rewarding. A lot of the educational blogs that I follow refer to teaching as a career of high highs and low lows and the PGCE year definitely very much reflects this.

The harder parts of the year include: nerve-wracking observations; feeling out of your depth; being overloaded with new information; a ridiculous number of acronyms; hours of admin; missing events with family and friends while on placement; being constantly tired; getting ill; and financial struggles.

Everyone on the course hits rock bottom at some point during the year. In those moments you have just got to hang on in there, try your best and keep remembering why it is that you wanted to go into teaching in the first place. You are not alone – everyone doing a PGCE feels like that at some point and it doesand will get better.

Despite it being a really hard year the highs really do make it worth it.  After the harder October – February months everything begins to ‘click’ and you start to feel like a real teacher.

Stand out moments include establishing positive relationships with pupils and getting to play an (albeit small) part in shaping their futures; connecting with colleagues and establishing great working relationships with mentors and the wider school; sharing resources, tips and classroom tales with PGCE classmates; getting great feedback after observations; planning and delivering lessons that you are really proud of; and,  most importantly, gaining QTS and securing employment as a fully-fledged qualified teacher… (You’ll get there!)

Top tips

Below are my top ten tips for those of you embarking on your PGCE year. Hold tight and enjoy the ride even when it gets a little bumpy!

  1. Be organised from day one. Keep on top of your placement file and schedule an allocated ‘admin’ afternoon a week to catch up with lesson plans and evaluations.
  2. Focus on establishing great working relationships with your university mentors, placement mentors and colleagues. Ultimately you get out what you put in – if you prove that you want to do well and learn, then those around you are more than willing to spare their time, help and expertise.
  3. Choose your assignment topics wisely. Later on in the year when you are given more freedom to write assignments on a topic of your choice make sure you take the opportunity to research something worthwhile. I focused on questioning routines and assessment for learning strategies which improved my practice enormously.
  4. Read, read, read! Despite being short of time with assignments, planning and admin, if you make an effort to read blogs, books and educational theory then your practice will improve immeasurably. I really liked quick, easy reads with practical strategies that I could incorporate into my planning quickly.  I would particularly recommend ‘100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers: Outstanding Lessons’ by Ross Morrison McGill, ‘Putting Assessment for Learning into Practice’ by David Spendlove and ‘The Teacher’s Toolkit’ by Paul Ginnis.
  5. Get into a routine. Find what works for you and stick to it.
  6. Take baby steps. Focus on short term goals over the course of the year and pace yourself. Don’t expect too much too soon and certainly don’t expect to get to grips with teaching in placement one. Choose a weekly focus and perfect it before you move on.
  7. Turn to your course mates for support – you are all in it together and really understand how it feels when the going gets tough. Share resources, ideas and lessons to lighten the workload. Additionally, use your time in university wisely by sharing good practice and discussing what went well and what didn’t.
  8. When you first get into your classes write down where everyone sits on a piece of paper and keep this in front of you on your desk to learn names and target questioning.
  9. Take up opportunities to observe outstanding teaching in practice as often as you can, and then incorporate what you have observed into your own lessons.
  10. Brush up on subject knowledge before starting placement. There were certain topics I had completely forgotten since my undergraduate degree. That time re-learning content could have been better spent elsewhere.

Ultimately you just have to try your best, stay positive, don’t be too hard on yourself and keep at it even when you want to give up. Depending on your course, placements are around 8 – 10 weeks and you get breaks in between to recharge your batteries so hang on in there. Good luck to anyone about to start their PGCE. Please feel free to throw any questions my way.


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