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What makes the PGCE the worst and best year of your life?

Discussion in 'Trainee and student teachers' started by Laura89Allen, Jan 3, 2012.

  1. Hi, I've been offered a place on a secondary History PGCE to start in September. I am well aware that the PGCE is hard, but what is it that makes it so? I've heard some say it was the most horrible year of their life, and others say it is fantastic. . . I would be interested to know your experiences so far, as student teachers. What should I (really) expect?
  2. The best thing for me was being aware of I much I was learning throughout the whole year. I really miss not having the time to properly sit and reflect on why I made a decision to do this or that in a lesson and what effect it had. You can just feel yourself knowing so much more! I've heard a lot of people say you don't really learn how to teach until you're actually doing it on your own, but I've learnt a fraction of what I did last year (NQT this year). I feel like I've just been 'coping' rather than developing.

    However, it is definitely a stressful year. Plenty of all nighters before assignments were due in. And pretty much constant low-level anxiety about not being good enough, what you're teaching the next day, whether you'll be able to get up in time to shower, stop for petrol and get photocopying done, doing too much photocopying, not being creative enough, not being strict enough, not doing enough reading, feeling too tired to really want to observe other peoples lessons even though you know you should because like everyone says you'll never have the time to do it after PGCE!

    I've just changed my mind about the best thing. I would guess that whatever the reason you want to become a teacher will happen in your PGCE year. Enthusing kids about your subject, building relationships with students, imparting some of your worldly wisdom on the youth(!), whatever it is.

    Have a good year!
  3. Hi Laura,
    I am currently doing my History PGCE this year and am absolutly loving it. I wouldn't get too caught up in people saying how difficult it is and all these late nights. I remember looking through these forums before i started and going into sheer panic with the amount of people saying how hard it was and how they were thinking of dropping it altogether. Honestly, as long as you have passion for the subject, enjoy teaching the students and are organised you will be fine! It's all about staying on top of things. One thing I would advise is using time at school wisely when your not teaching to write that evaluation, create that lesson plan, look for resources. I find this has enabled me to be able to get home and have time to myself and not have to worry about any over due work or something i may have forgotten for the next day. So remember stay organised and have time for yourself!!! If you need to know anything in the up and coming months or during your PGCE year, don't hesitate to get in contact.
    Good luck for September and well done on getting onto the course.
  4. Hi, that's really nice of you, thanks.
    Where are you studying? I'm lucky in the respect that I'm very organised already, I always have work done weeks early in case something crops up, and am self disciplined - to an extent!! I just hear so many horror stories, and although it's not putting me off, I can't deny I'm not apprehensive, shall we say. . .
  5. Im studying Bedfordshire Schools Training Programme and it is a SCITT course which basically means learning in the schools rather than in the uni lecture room. From what you have said you are an organised person and so it shouldn't be a struggle - it's just what you need! Yeah the horror stories do crop u, especially on these forums i find and it made me so scared to start. However, it's what you make of it, every one is different but from the people i have talked to on the course, everyone seems to be really enjoying it, haven't heard of too many people stressing, whether the pressure piles on later in the year??? Dont worry you will be great ;)
  6. Nimstar

    Nimstar New commenter

    Firstly - congratulations on getting the PGCE place :)
    I'm just coming to the end of my first placement on a SCITT (secondary maths) and it's definately one of the hardest and most stressful things I have done (and I'm a single mum, and just come out of 16 years in the business world!) but also one of the most rewarding.
    What is hard (for me):
    1) the hours and hours it takes to plan. I currently spend about 3 hours planning a 80 minute lesson, and that doesn't include extras like making resources. Thursday night I was up with the laminator until 1am making a set of cards for an activity that ony lasted 10 minutes - but! I have that resource now, and can reuse it over and over again in future lessons.
    2) The stress: and I don't necessarily mean the negative side of it, at the moment teaching is giving me a HUGE adrenaline rush all the time due to the energy needed to sustain through lessons (especially back to back). It's more tiring than a gym session in some respects!
    3) The (lack of) holidays: yes, we get school holidays but so far my half-term was spent doing my skills tests and essay, my Xmas break was spent doing another long assignment and preparing my portfolio and preparing for formal assessments last week.
    That said, I genuinelly leave every lesson buzzing with ideas to have made the lesson or my teaching better and this has been a suprise as I expected to come out of lessons feeling down about the bits that go "wrong" (and something does every lesson however hard you plan!). I am also far more attached to the pupils than I expected to be and am going to find it very hard to leave my current school and change placements as I'll never know how those I teach get on (especially my year 10s with their exam next year).I suspect this is more because they were my "first" classes and you never forget your first :)
    I know the NQT year is also going to be very tough - I currently only teach about 1/4 of a weekly timetable and only just about manage to get the planning done, so am not looking forward to trying to find the extra time needed to teach fulltime. On the plus side whilst there will be more hands-on teaching to do (marking, reports, assessments) there won't be all the PGCE study side to worry about (assignments, portfolio, skills tests etc).
    Hope you enjoy the course and good luck!
  7. Its a good question that I also wanted to know the answer to. I'm half way through my PGCE and the hardest thing to me is constantly being in a position where you have so much work you can never finish anything. Most positions I have been in in working life if you stay up late enough you can get on top of things. With a PGCE no matter how late and how often you stay up you are always behind in your work. That drives me nuts and can be very demoralising. Having said that your cohort has the same experience and you manage to laugh about it. The teaching is also stressful but it is addictive. Stressful in that you are placed in a position of knowing very little and having to work out what and how to teach. Its perhaps addictive because Its totally engaging, when you're in the classroom all that matters is getting through it in the best possible way.
  8. I'm half way through my PGCE year and I'm loving it!!! It's true, it requires so much time, energy, patience, positive thinking, stamina.... but it's all worth it!
    I was stuck in a job I hated for 8 years and I have never thought back to it, missed it or anything of the sort, not even after a lesson which almost brought me to tears.
    It's hard work and you will have to make personal sacrifices (I know I have and some I didn't even chose to), be it friends, free time, partner etc... but the difference you make to kids lives makes it all worth it.
    The key to surviving is be as organised as possible, it will save your life.
    Good luck!
  9. The life that you know (outside of school experience and or assisting in a classroom) forget about for 9 months or so....
    This course demands all of what you have to give and the majority of your focus for the full period, by this I mean when the School you are on placement at, is on holiday's, you won't be!
    I have a young family, and a wife who understands my committments to the PGCE ICT Secondary course. It is fantastically worth while thing, learning to train to become a teacher. Yes it is hard work, but it is also very rewarding.
    You get to meet like-minded people at University, who quickly form a cameradery to help you through. There are some horror stories about Teaching Practice placements, but the truth is 90% of PGCE students would go back to their placement schools to work, if they got offered a job there.
    The teachers in general will welcome you, assist you where they can, but they will be ultimately very busy, the truth is even as a trainee you do not get a minute to yourself during the school day, if you do, then you use it to plan your lessons and do your assignment work or collect QTS evidence or practice for your QTS skills test.
    It isn't horrible but be aware that it is a lot of work, which becomes hard, if you can't time manage!
    I hope this hasn't put you off, I hope it will encourage you to accept your place and make a difference to the kids life's that you will encounter. Good Luck.
  10. The PGCE has, so far for me, been extremely difficult and sometimes very unpleasant. Having said that, it has made me a stronger person and more determined to pass. Also, I am doing this course with a three and seven year old. My subject is English and I began the course in September. So far I have been required to complete a thorough audit of my subject knowledge and am still in the process of filling in any gaps, write one 3000 word assignment and a 6000 word assignment (still in progress and there is a third 3000 word research project to come). During the periods that are university based there is much reading and research to do on teaching strategies and statutory requirements (of which the list is endless) and homework in preparation for lectures and methods (seminar-type) lessons. There are then periods that are part-university and part-school based, these times are when you prepare for teaching in school through training and observations as well as continuing the theory at university. Then there are the school placements! There are currently 33 standards that you need to pass to gain your teaching certificate - although I believe these are about to be reduced. You are given classes or lessons to teach between 50 and 60% of the teaching week. You may be given support or you may have an unsupportive environment - mine was unsupportive in placement one. You need to know what you will teach, how you will teach according to guidelines, follow government policies, follow school policies, consider issues such as equality, differentiating work, individual learning plans, numeracy, literacy and ICT, special educational needs, gifted and talented pupils, behaviour management, progression and so on. You will be observed for all your lessons and feedback is not always constructive (in my experience). Lesson planning at first takes hours and then when it doesn't work out as you hoped it is seriously de-motivating. The main issue then is time and energy. However if you believe in your subject and believe in education you will get through (probably). There are many things wrong with the education system and these are plain to see for me already but when you see you've made a difference to a student's learning it feels great. Targets and the un-ending accountability, jumping through hoops and constant changes in policies make this job very unappealing so just be aware of what you are taking on. I know different universities structure their courses in different ways but be prepared to take on a more than full timetable no matter what. I sound very negative I'm afraid - this might be tiredness and stress - however I am still carrying on because I believe that the more experience (which you gain very quickly) the easier and more enjoyable teaching will be. If you like a challenge this will do it and if you are really determined remember it is less than a year (an intense and steep learning curve) but still the time in school for me (the real pressure) has only been 7 full weeks so far with another 12 to go. I have heard of some really great experiences in the first placement and so take this as worse-case scenario but make sure you are prepared if you decide to go ahead. The most important thing (or two things) are to love your subject and to really want to teach. Good luck.

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    The PGCE is a tough year and its best to see it as a survival course:

    Take all assignments as they come: build a realistic time table

    Eat healthy and lots of rest, even 20 mins nap after coming home from school
    and drink lots of water.

    Be open to criticism: mentors from school and uni will observe you and all aspects
    of the standards, take their advice whether you agree or disagree, you will
    learn a lot about yourself as a person/ teacher.

    Don’t put things to the back burner make sure you get your key skills don’t
    before spring / summer.

    Most important don’t panic!!! you have passed the interview stage your soon
    to be uni mentors can see that you have the qualities to be a good teacher and
    will support you, just dont bug them too much, you have to be a sponge and soak
    up lots of information.

    my pgce was hard mainly because i was not used to all the paper work, but i
    had supportive mentors and love teaching and the positive experience i gained
    from sharing my knowledge with kids. There are other factors as to why I had a
    positive time on the PGCE course, I have no family responsibilities and was
    financially prepared for the year and have a very supportive partner who would
    make me lunch and dinner (yum).

    My advice may not be great but you will find your own way of surviving.

  12. MizUnderstood

    MizUnderstood New commenter

    It really isn't all bad! I can honestly say that I am not currently overwhelmed, I'm getting the work done on time, I passed my first 4 week teaching practise and first assignment before xmas with flying colours and without spending every night and weekend consumed with planning, and I have another TP starting in a week and I am feeling pretty well in control.
    Don't get me wrong the week before my first TP I was thinking "WHAT AM I DOING!?!?" and felt like I wasn't ready, but after the first lesson I realised I was fine, and in my first week I had 2 of my observations done and got good grades and great feedback and points I could work on to develop so I knew I should just chill and enjoy the ride!
    The stress only gets to you if you let it, and teaching consumes as much of your life as you allow it, the first few weeks of my course I was working late every day, if I wasn't doing stuff related directly to the course I was looking online at lessons and resources for ideas for hour upon hour. It suddenly dawned on me that I had totally changed the way I work, in the past I've actually been used on training sessions in my previous job as a good example of someone who manages their time well and does everything to a high standard and can keep plenty of plates spinning without letting anything drop, at the start of my course I went a little too overboard, and I was going against my usual motto for life "Work smart, not hard", was starting to feel overwhelmed and was not really feeling like I was in control. I had a cry, wiped my eyes, then pulled my socks up, and since then I've been working much smarter instead of harder.
    My top tips for reducing stress;
    Know where to find the best quality ideas/resources etc - you do not need to reinvent the wheel, it does not make you a bad teacher to use good quality ideas that originally belonged to someone else, by using the fantastic stuff out there you will have fantastic lessons, I magpie ideas constantly, adjust things that I like, and if I want something very specific only then will I make it from scratch.
    Smartboard/Powerpoint presentations are an easy way to get a whole lesson planned out before trying to write a lesson plan, BUT they don't have to have millions of effects so don't waste too much time, think "will making these words/picture spin onto the slide, and these ones fade in etc" actually ENHANCE the learning or am I just wasting another 10 minutes? Obviously effects are needed in some circumstances but only bother if they are necessary.
    When I get the medium term plans and know what I will be expected to teach, I search for a few hours (for TP1 I think I spent about 8 hours over a weekend - that was for 4 subjects, over 4 weeks TP - about 40 lessons worth) for ideas/resources across the subjects, this really helps me get a full understanding of the unit/topic/subject and makes me fully prepared for the next step. I then pencil onto the blank weekly timetables what they need to cover, think about the final outcome of the unit and track back...how will I get to that outcome? Then I think about the LOs for the lessons that will lead to this final outcome. Because I have I spent the time 'pre-planning' and I have found much more stuff than I need, when I sit to plan the individual lessons I have all the resources/ideas to hand and only need about 30-60 minutes to put together the lessons for the next day.
    Ask everyone you work with where they get all their ideas/resources from - and magpie them
    If you are stressed tell someone who can help, this isn't supposed to be a totally painful experience!
    Finally - if you are totally overwhelmed and stressed - admit it to someone who can help, the tutors are paid to support you, and they might be able to suggest a minor tweak in order to relieve the pressure, it isn't a sign of weakness to ask for help, it's a sign of someone strong enough to admit it.
    (p.s. I'm doing this course whilst raising a family, so please don't think it's because I'm young free and single without any outside commitments that enables me to be so 'carefree'!!)
  13. What a brilliant, uplifting and helpful reply! I haven't even got my place confirmed as yet but have been reading this thread to prepare myself for the hopeful good news I get a place. I'm really excited about the PGCE and determined to do everything I can to minimise my stress and work efficiently, so been reading this for helpful tips and reassurance (but also to prepare myself for the workload and organisation needed). Reading what you wrote about medium term planning and searching for resources in preparation actually gave me happy visions of myself enjoying searching for good resources and getting things organised!

    Thanks to everyone else who has contributed to this thread so honestly too. :) Laura xx
  14. Hi Laura,

    I'm currently doing an English Secondary PGCE at Leicester uni, and I think the best thing I could say to you is that no job has the fantastic moments that teaching does :) Don't get me wrong, over my first placement (in an extremely tough 11-16 city comprehensive) you would have found me a couple of times in tears in the departmental staff room! But I certainly wouldn't say it's the most horrible year of my life! There's plenty of paperwork, and if your uni is anything like mine you'll have to 'reflect' on everything (and I mean EVERYTHING), and sometimes it can feel as if you're not getting anywhere, but that's just the nature of the beast. I can honestly say that despite the numerous lessons that have ended in more detentions given than praise stickers, the lessons where I've kicked out kids whose behaviour is just beyond the pale, and the evenings I've found myself feverishly writing up lesson plans, teaching is THE most rewarding and special thing I think I could do with my life. If one thing gets you through, it's the moments your students surprise the hell out of you: when a year 11 girl in your class that you thought hated you say's 'Miss, you know, you're a legend', or when you receive your first Christmas card from a pupil (which I've kept) :) But I would tell you two things: first, you HAVE to accept that you just cannot do everything; it's not possible. Second, lying gets you through this course- my PGCE coordinator told me that :)

    The best of luck with your PGCE year, it is truly rewarding and enjoy every moment you can!

    P.S. There are two resources on the TES: one called 'The Starter Generator' and the other called 'The Plenary Producer'- LIFESAVERS!!!
  15. I completed a PGCE in Design technology last year and although there was a very heavy workload it wasn't stressful, in fact the only thing I found stressful were other people being stressed! I think it was more the fact that there is alot of new information to take in makes it seem harder at the time but as long as your organised and willing to work a long day so that you can have weekends free to relax 9/10 times then it's a great experience!
  16. I'm doing a primary PGCE at the moment and I'm enjoying it so much, best decision I've made in a long time. Yes it is hard work but so is everything in life. As long as your organised and keep on top of things you will have a great time. I can't believe I'm nearly two thirds the way through the course and I think that is down to how much fun I have had and how much I have learnt. I've met so many fantastic people which is a bonus. Beat piece of advice I can give you is enjoy your time before the course and relax, start the course keep organised and make the most of every minute. Good luck!
  17. You are living my life!! Going through exactly the same experiences as you. Working full pelt over Christmas and having to sacrifice precious time with my own kids has been really tough. There have been definite highs and lows - the latter has included wondering if it's been the right move for me after all but those thoughts are usually the result of a frustrating class or late night lesson prepping session,
    Good luck to the history teaching in waiting if you do decide to take the place.
  18. I'm doing a primary PGCE at the moment and it is both amazing and horrible at the same time; the thing that makes it so hard is remembering and keeping up with all the hundred things you need to do in addition to just planning lessons, which takes hours on its own- it's finding evidence for your Q standards, keeping up with school based tasks and assignments, making sense of assessment, it goes on and on.
    There is no doubt that a PGCE is an endless and intense learning curve and often frustrating because you get something right in one lesson then get it wrong the next because you were concentrating on another issue you didn't perform so well in before.You just have to accept all the advice like a sponge and act on it next time, even if you don't always agree- its usually a good idea to follow the advice of the person who is assessing you!
    Its also so rewarding, I will be gutted when I finish the placement I'm on now because at the end of all the hard work it comes down to the fact that I love being with the children, every day they make me laugh and touch me emotionally in so many different ways. I want to learn how to do this well so I can be the best teacher I can be for the sake of the kids.
  19. Whether you enjoy/hate it I think it depends on a lot of different thing.

    The school you are in (and their policies)
    Your mentor
    The teachers who observe you
    The PGCE students who are with you in the school

    I had two schools that were very different. One I hated and one I enjoyed.

    However, both schools were equally very critical and negative in observations. Since moving onto my NQT year I regularly get very good observations and don't put half as much effort into the planning of lessons. I also recently got outstanding for an observation of a lesson I planned on the fly (last minute obs). To put in the most effort you have ever put in in your life (this was my case on the PGCE), only for someone to pick up on every negative is exhausting. It's hard to put yourself out there. If you have critical yet positive mentor and observers your PGCE can be an exhilirating experience. If you feel constantly beaten down and feel whatever you do is not good enough then it can be exhausting and humiliating.

    Also the goal post for observations tends to change whichever school you go to, or even simply in a different classroom. Ofsted obviously have criteria, but every teacher has their own idea of what is right. In one school I developed a style of teaching that (by the end) would achieve very good observations. Yet when entering another school these types of lessons would no longer impress. This could also happen within one school between teachers. So you would have to teach one way to impress one teacher and another way to impress another.

    Always be positive and, I always say, don't let the PGCE put you off teaching if you do have a bad experience. Be prepared to take some serious drubbings after lessons and don't fall to pieces if you do. If it becomes a slog, slog it out until the end. At least get into the NQT year an teach, for real, before considering dropping it.

    The PGCE is a simulated experience and is a very odd experience. It gives you the idea and the general know how before you start to teach but you never really know how to teach or what it entails until you do it on your own.

    As I also mentioned the students who are with you in the school are in the same boat and know what you are going through. They will be your support group during this potentially horrible time. They will almost be a surrogate family.

    My final words are, it could be tough, it could be amazing but whatever happens go into teaching as it could be one of the best things you ever do.
  20. literacystars

    literacystars New commenter

    I'm doing my GTP at the moment so slightly different, but from what I've seen and heard the rewards and trials are identical.

    Seeing kids blossom under your care is so rewarding, and some of them come out with the most intuitive things that you may not have considered. I enjoy that we're learning together at times, and when we really get stuck into what we're doing it's thoroughly enjoyable.

    There are tough days though: I've had a nightmare lesson today, where I pretty much came out crying (not in front of the pupils though thank goodness!). Everyone's right essentially: the kids aren't stupid, they can spot the trainee a mile off, and while your younger groups may be willing to ignore this, your older groups most certainly won't. They test you and try it on, but when you have that small breakthrough (like my one kid that FINALLY sat in his assigned seat rather than wandering round the classroom for a while) it really does make it worthwhile and puts a bit of a shine on your day.

    So I think my view returns to a bit of a cliche: focus on the positives, learn from the negatives, and give it all you've got. Training's been tough but it's reinforcing that this is what I want to do, so don't worry!!

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