1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.
  2. Hi Guest, welcome to the TES Community!

    Connect with like-minded education professionals and have your say on the issues that matter to you.

    Don't forget to look at the how to guide.

    Dismiss Notice

What makes the PGCE a difficult course?

Discussion in 'Trainee and student teachers' started by seekinginformation, May 12, 2019.

  1. seekinginformation

    seekinginformation New commenter

    A lot of people say that their PGCE was the most difficult year of their life. To make an informed decision I would like to know exactly what it is that makes the course a difficult one?

    I have recently finished a masters in nuclear engineering at Manchester and I cannot imagine a PGCE being more difficult (I worked continuously for 12 months and was always being tested).

    Does the difficulty of a PGCE also vary between universities?
  2. studentcrisis

    studentcrisis New commenter

    The difficulty level can vary between schools. My first term was in a great school, good support, lovely staff team. My second was in a school so unsupportive I’ve ended up interrupting my training due to a lack of progress on the recommendation of my uni.

    I wouldn’t have called my first term overly difficult - it was just work intensive. I enjoyed it. The second was impossible.

    The thing is you’re never just learning one thing or working on one thing - you’re not “learning to teach”. You’re learning the children, the curriculum, the pedagogy, the differentiation, the subject knowledge, the formal and informal assessments, the SEN, the expectations, the marking, the school policies, the general culture and expectations of teaching... and all at the same time. You might plan an English lesson with excellent pedagogy and assessment for learning and provision for your SEN children but totally miss the mark for other differentiation and curriculum requirements. Another lesson may be the opposite. It’s hard to do it all.

    I’ve also done an MSc and honestly my School Direct took so much more out of me. With that I mostly studied alone and took my time crafting my essays. With teaching you’re part of a huge team (some of whom may see you as a burden not an asset as the teaching training adverts like to show) and you have to churn out a lot of work very quickly - and it’s all scrutinised. In your MSc you’re working for your own benefit, in school it’s for the benefit of the class and you’re very much held to high standards at all times.
    agathamorse and Kartoshka like this.
  3. Grefintec

    Grefintec New commenter

    From my own experience, a PGCE is not difficult in terms of how hard the assignments are, it is difficult in terms of time management, behaviour management and support (or lack there of) from your placement mentor. For example:

    1. Your placement schools can be over an hour away. There was one person on my course who had an hour and a half commute. If you are expected at school for 8am at the latest, this is difficult because:
    a) You have less time to mark/plan lessons.
    b) If you have children, there is very little childcare available pre 7am.

    2. I was told by my subject mentor to spend an hour planning each lesson. In truth it regularly took longer than this at first. Plus you have to factor in the time it takes to write up your plan on the university proforma and print out/gather the resources you need for the lesson. If you are teaching a secondary science subject you need to be planning a week in advance as ordering experiments for use in the classroom is generally done the week before the planned lesson is scheduled to take place.

    3. Marking policies vary tremendously.
    a) How often books are marked: In my last school, books had to be marked every three lessons for ks3 (who had 3 lessons a week) and every two lessons ks4/5 (who had 2 lessons a week). This resulted in a marking workload of ~ 150 books a week.
    b) Targeted marking meant in addition to the marking, target questions needed to be written to consolidate the student’s learning, which then had to be re-marked at a later date.

    4. In one of my placement schools there was a meeting before school every day and a meeting after school, specifically for ITT’s once a week. At my second placement school, there was a meeting before school twice a week, a meeting at lunchtime once a week and two meetings after school (ITT training and whole school CPD).

    5. We had to write reflective accounts of our mentor meetings and observed lessons.

    6. Behaviour management. Some schools have an amazing behaviour policy, my first did and I had a very supportive mentor. My second school had a hopeless behaviour management policy. Points were given out for poor behaviour but nothing happened as a result. There were students with hundreds of points and they were rather proud of this. Behaviour is something which you need to be able to deal with and you have to learn quickly. Just before I walked in to my first ever lesson I was told “Watch out for ‘x’, they are just back from suspension after throwing a lab stool at me”. But to be honest, it is the low level disruption which wears you down unless you are consistent with behaviour management.

    7. Parents. In addition to attending parents evenings (I had 2.5 minutes to see each parent, for 60 children). You need to write reports which will also assess ability and effort. Parents will question you if they disagree. Make sure that you know what the policy is for this. At my last school, parents had to contact the Head of Year not individual teachers.

    8. Your mentor will be a busy teacher who is quite likely not being paid to mentor you, and possibly did not want to be a mentor but whose hand has been forced by the school. This can make relationships tricky.

    9. Doing the actual teaching. Does what you planned work? How do you know that the children understand what you are teaching? Do you have a back up if the IT fails? Have you planned enough/too much? Have you differentiated the lesson?

    10. Then you had to make time for your PGCE assignments. Which aren’t necessarily difficult but will most likely be based on classroom based research that you carry out so take time to plan/do/write up.

    This is what made it difficult for me anyway. Everyone one has a different experience. The workload increases across the year starting with observing lessons, teaching part of a lesson to teaching whole lessons.
  4. LongTailedTit

    LongTailedTit New commenter

    I also have a Masters in a mathematics subject (don't want to say what exactly as it's a very niche field). The PGCE has been so much harder that it's not even comparable. The workload is huge, and I almost never get to see my friends or family outside of school holidays. Once you get to the point where you're teaching daily, which happens quite soon into the course, there are deadlines every single day, and unless you've got an extremely understanding mentor there's no way to push them back if you've had a bad day or you're not feeling well etc. The lesson has to be taught, so you have to plan and teach it.

    On top of that, it's not just academic. You're being assessed every day on your classroom management, relationships with adults and children, confidence, public speaking ability and so on. Even if you're naturally good at all those things, there will inevitably be days where you fail just because you're trying to spin too many plates at once, and it feels like you're being told your personality isn't good enough rather than just your academic ability. And then at the end of the day you still have to go home and prepare to do it all again the next day.

    Even once you've got to the point where standing in front of a class doesn't feel intimidating, there's still so much to think about. You have to check whether the children are understanding what they're doing, ensure they're all making progress, have support ready for lower ability kids and extension/challenge activities ready for the higher ability ones, ensure they're all behaving and deal with any unexpected incidents, all at the same time. Sometimes you realise a lesson isn't working part way through, for example because you've made it too easy or difficult and either the kids are feeling patronised or they have no idea what's happening, and you have to change it on the spot. And you can't plan all this in advance, you have to make it happen within the hour that you're standing in front of them trying to teach, often while they're telling you in no uncertain terms what they think of you!

    A Masters is hard, I'm not trying to diminish that at all - in fact I had to suspend mine for a while as I found it so difficult at the time But having nearly finished the PGCE now, I feel like I could breeze through any of my previous qualifocations with no issues. There is just no comparison to be honest.
    agathamorse likes this.
  5. Kartoshka

    Kartoshka Established commenter

    This is one of the reasons I think teaching is such a challenging job. Each term feels like being on a treadmill: planning, teaching, marking, sleeping, repeat. Sometimes you get to the point where you would love to stop, just for a moment, but there's no option; the children will be there each day, waiting to be taught, so you just have to keep on going until the end of the term when the treadmill finally stops.
    agathamorse likes this.
  6. seekinginformation

    seekinginformation New commenter

    What is the pass rate on PGCE courses? Also, does all work need to be graded at or above 40% or 50%?

    From the sounds of it, the course (and perhaps a teaching career itself) sounds unsustainable.

    I've just finished the masters and I said I will never put myself through something like that again. I lost a relationship as I was working all the time.
  7. studentcrisis

    studentcrisis New commenter

    It’s 50% to pass but you may find you only have 2 assignments to complete in the year. The academic side is not the demanding one.

    Your teaching is the main thing and ensuring you’re meeting the teaching standards consistently (you can easily find these online) and providing the evidence. I actually found the academic assignments a nice break from work actually. Being able to just work on one piece for as long as I needed was a big change from churning out endless lessons.

    During training you also need to evidence EVERYTHING. I never found planning overly arduous because of my great support system in my first school however writing them up on uni paperwork, evaluating each lesson (using a 2 page form), then copying my resources and the kids work and then sometimes recopying it after marking or assessment... for every lesson it takes a lot of time.

    I then also had weekly tasks to do to show I was engaging with the uni based training, unmarked but all had to be completed to a good standard as they were checked by my tutor.

    I honestly think I would love to be a teacher - but at this point I’m not sure I have it in me to go back and complete the training and NQT year first.
  8. bishbashbosh3

    bishbashbosh3 New commenter

    The academic side is fun. I find the science of pedagogy and psychology fascinating. If you are used to summarising academic articles, writing the assignments is interesting and fun.

    If teaching was like giving academic presentations life would be easy. But in addition to planning your content, you need to think about which pupils will be going off task when, how to stretch the top whilst supporting the bottom, how to have a variety a different lesson endings to finish the lesson with impact no matter how far you got.

    Whilst in class, as well delivering excellent content in an accessible manner for all pupils, you also need to be reading up to 30 pupils to see how engaged they are, deciding who to question, where to move to correct behaviour without any verbal cues, when to issue behaviour warnings, when to ask stretching questions, how to sympathetically deal with totally incorrect answers.

    Think about it as 12 experiments a week, where you have to write up your methodology before, evaluate after. The intensity of the experiment will depend on the behaviour in the school. It can feel physically exhausting.

    I found it as intensive as any individual year on my PhD. It's a stamina test.

    For what it's worth, I've also bl**dy loved it.
  9. sue_farmer_library

    sue_farmer_library New commenter

    Its mostly difficult because you are dealing with kids not adults and teachers only talk about kids in the staffroom ...plus you arent able to go to the loo in your break as you forgot and told some kid/student who had played you up to stay behind after break...its 'worse than being a single parent 24/7/365 with no one to make dinner or coffee or tidy up' ...7 different year groups with age related ways of communicating in a random pattern until you laughingly get used to flipping from various media trends per age group so you can motivate...if you worked with intelligent adults believe you are lucky. Kk mi pgce was fun and so is parenting...
  10. Lucy2711

    Lucy2711 Occasional commenter

    I did my PGCE some years ago but Grefintec's comments are spot on. It's a difficult course (although perhaps not especially academically challenging) because:
    - teaching is full on, whatever the extent of your experience
    - when you're inexperienced everything is NEW!
    - support varies tremendously but even the most willing and well-intentioned mentor may themselves be desperately busy
    - when it's going well it's so brilliant that you want that feeling again and again and consequently put more and more into it
    - when it's going badly, it's very visible and soul-destroying.
  11. MrMedia

    MrMedia Star commenter

    I run a PGCE and all the above comments are correct in various guises. But if you asked me what it is the most tiring it will be the need to deliver the performance hours of being a teacher and the strain on your working memory and emotional resilience.

    The intensity of being a performing teacher is akin to delivering a presentation to your boss in the hope of a promotion whilst also successfully supervising your friend's three wayward children in the same room. For five continuous hours. Every day. And you are never allowed to let your professionalism drop, ever.

    And then you do all the planning, marking, essays, reading and having a relationship with another person on top.

    And then someone is there, with a clipboard watching you every minute of the day waiting for you to make an error and writing it down.

    That’s what we all say. It’s hard enough being a teacher with oodles of tolerance for stuff that would enrage the most staid of people, but to then have ultra scrutiny, constantly, enrages us.

    But ultimately, teaching is wonderful. Brilliant, life affirming, life changing and quite enjoyable. It’s the scrutiny and marketisation of it that you detest.
    agathamorse likes this.

Share This Page