Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The calm before the storm...

Well the final day of my summer holidays has been spent in school.  We have a total of 7 days in the classroom before we are getting kicked into the hall and building work will commence.  My team teacher and I are feeling more than a little fraught at the moment as we have been able to do next to no preparation for our new class and classroom.

The beginning of the holidays held such hope, the building work was going to be put off, we had all of our boards beautifully backed and even got on top of some of the classroom prep work.  We now have half a day to move loads of furniture from our room (another classroom's) and get our classroom semi-ready for Thursday....

It all feels a bit mental, and this being my first teaching job, I feel a bit like I am at sea being thrown about with no idea what to do.  However, after reading this post on 'Finding your Marigold', I feel I have the best teaching team ever!  We are on the same wave length and she is most definitely my Marigold!  If you've not read this article and are an NQT, then read it now!

I spent most of today helping another teacher sort out her classroom, as we can't yet do anything with our's.  I've had a great day getting to know my team even better though and even got talking to the caretaker who told us he used to do gardening projects as an after school club.  It pays to talk to others and find out their talents, as we have now invited him to teach our class how to make seed bombs!

Tomorrow it all begins, INSET day before the chaos begins on Thursday, oh no wait it's already started!

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

PGCE Survival Guide

Wow time flies! This time last year I was where you are, just starting your PGCE.  It's such an exciting time as you are raring to get going and I remember feeling like it was taking forever to get to the important things and to get into school.  Well you will very soon be where I am and wonder where the year went!

You've probably read loads this summer and have been out and bought a million folders as well as a large shopping trolley's worth of stationary!  We've all been there.

It's good to have this excitement so hold on to it for the whole year as things will seem tough beyond measure sometimes, but you absolutely can do it, you can come out the otherside as an NQT and join the most rewarding profession.  Having lived and breathed the PGCE for the past year I have some advice and helpful tips to pass on to those of you just beginning your journey.  Let me know if any of them have been of any help during your year and any other PGCE survivors please pass on your advice too by leaving a comment!


  • Stay on top of your paperwork! There is a mountain of it and the longer you leave it the quicker it will build up.  The type of paperwork will vary depending on your university.  I had to prepare things for my folder in the orientation weeks of placement, get this done ASAP so they are out of the way, then you don't need to worry about these for the rest of the placement.

  • Lesson plans - I wrote as many of these as possible on a weekend, even if it was just writing out the structure of the lesson then planning in key questions and filling in the rest of it the night before.  They take forever to write out, let alone actually planning the lesson so it flows. 

  • Your Key Stage 2 placement will most probably be tougher than your KS1 placement!  There's more marking and I was making PowerPoint Presentations for most lessons as well as writing the lesson plans.  In Key Stage 1 I barely used the interactive whiteboard, I only used it for video's and images as a lot of my lessons were very interactive from the start.

  • Work-Life balance - This is really difficult when you are on placement.  Everyone will tell you it is very important to have this and to make time, but sometimes it is impossible.  I managed this by working smart, some of my friends would stay up until 2am but I had a cut off point of 9pm (apart from when I had an observation, then I worked until 11pm).  I had a coffee and chat with staff after work for 20-30 minutes then got on with my work.  I would have a break for dinner when I got home and then worked until 9.  I never worked Friday's after school but worked 11am-4pm on a Saturday and Sunday.  The key is to get your life back during the holidays!

  • When the going gets tough - I had a really tough moment around April time, we were only a few weeks into our last placement and behaviour was tough in my class, we had an assessment week at university and I had an interview at my placement school.  I didn't get the job and my confidence was rock bottom (they later changed their mind so I did actually get the job!).  This will happen to you at some point and you need to lean on people, whether this is your boyfriend, housemates, family, friends or coursemates.  Do not let this moment break you and instead come back fighting after a couple of days rest!

  • Jobs - Your coursemates will start looking after Christmas probably, jobs will trickle in slowly and you may have someone dripping on you all the time about getting a job.  Don't panic, lots of jobs come in around April or later.  My advice is try and visit schools before you apply, if there is an NQT pool in your city, go for it as it's great interview practice if nothing else and take your time over your application and make sure you tailor it to each school.  During your interview try and stay calm and just sit and think about the question for a minute or two, I did this during my interviews and it really helped me to focus on the question and hit the key points rather than charge into the question and waffle.  I was told I interviewed very well and I put it down to this technique!

  • Essay's - As obvious as it sounds, keep the objectives at the forefront and make sure you hit them.  Also research how to write critically, it's not all about including as many references as possible, it's about digging deeper with your reference and picking it apart then comparing it to another piece of research.  This was one of the biggest things I learnt this year and my essays jumped from 55 in the first one to 76 by asking for help on how to write more critically.

  • Books - Don't buy books! I bought a couple from Amazon for a pittance (luckily) but barely used them and the library had umpteen copies of them anyway.   I looked out at charity shops and carboots and found some for 50p each, so if you feel you need books then find them this way and save yourself some money.  If you feel you must buy a book then Sue Cowley's are worth a read, but any others you will find in the library!

  • The essentials are a laptop or I had a Window's tablet that was much easier to transport.  It's ideal to take your laptop in to do work in school (my second placement gave me a laptop so it's worth asking, they might have a spare).  I had a laptop rucksack which was really big so I managed to get my folders and packed lunch in it too.   USB stick to transfer documents, Dropbox to store all of your PGCE work so you can access it from anywhere, this was probably the best thing I could have done!  My mentor and I shared a folder too so he could see all of my plans without me printing it all out.

  • Volunteer your skills - This was one of the best things I could have done, it made my job applications stand out and helped to build relationships.  I was a graphic designer before moving into teaching so volunteered this skill whenever I could.  I worked with the PTA on a new logo and I made resources for school-wide use.  I also volunteered at any school event, so did face painting at the summer fair, organised the costumes for the Year 6 play (this was a bit manic and did add a huge amount of stress), baked cakes to raise money, donated items to raffles.  Literally anything you can do to help, just offer your help whenever you can.

  • Go the extra mile - Think outside the box sometimes or push it a little, you can when you're a student so it's a good time to plan a daring lesson or organise something yourself.  For example, I got some firefighters to come with the fire engine when we did the Great Fire of London as our topic.  I used my contacts to get engineers to come in and help us build bridges and shelters during STEM week, I also planned a code-breaking treasure hunt around the school during this week.  I held a formal debate during a Literacy lesson, I set off an air raid alarm in an observations and the children had to shelter under their tables, I dressed up as King Charles II and invited my class to the palace.  If you think of an idea and it scares you slightly when you think about doing it, then go for it.  It brings the learning alive for the children and the buzz in the room is unbelievable.  Please share your best lessons with me! I would love to hear about them :)

If you have any other questions then don't be afraid to ask! Comment below and I will update this post with any information you might want to know.  If you need any help with anything during the year just get in touch, I'm more than happy to share my ideas with you.

Any current teachers who would like to share their advice then please post below too!

I hope this helps and I wish you lots of luck for your PGCE year, it will be incredible and you will make it out of the other side with a ton of amazing stories to tell!

Monday, 15 February 2016

The job hunt begins...

Wow it has been quite a while since I last spoke to you all! As soon as I began my PGCE I threw myself into it, so I haven't had a whole lot of time to blog.  I have kept a diary though so I can remember all of the events from the past 6 months.

I hope to talk through my experiences from my PGCE and hopefully answer any future trainee teachers questions in the process.  I remember reading loads of trainee and NQT blogs before I began the course, just to get an idea of what it would be like and how I might cope.  There are A LOT of negative posts out there, which will no doubt terrify you and put you off so don't believe everything you read, it's easy to over exaggerate when you are feeling stressed.

Whilst I'm not promising that I won't post anything negative, I do have a lot of positives to share with you and hopefully some tips on how to stay on top of paperwork and make the most of the experiences.

I will begin with where I am at the moment though, because it is a rather exciting time right now.  I am hunting for my first teaching job.  It is such a huge decision and I have promised myself that I will find one that is right for me.  I was given some advice to apply for everything and anything that comes up, and whilst I can see the benefit in that, as I'm sure you will get a better feel for the job from the interview.

I can see some flaws in this plan though, surely I want to make sure I am right for the school and the school is right for me.  I am therefore carefully selecting where I am applying to, I've found an incredible school and have applied today (my first application!) so I have my fingers, toes, everything crossed for this.

The application is a bit like a UCAS one, all of your details and then a personal statement, usually 2 pages long rather than to a set amount though.  It is so difficult to get everything down in that length but I found a brilliant way of easily writing one.


  1. Take the personal specification which will come with the application and jot down all of the points in a word document.
  2. From there use bullet points under each item and note down an example of where you have shown this attribute.
  3. It's then much easier to make sure you cover all of the points in your statement.
I have yet to hear whether I will be getting an interview from my application so I will save the details of what I have put in mine for when I know it's a good personal statement!

If there's anything you wish to ask just leave a comment and I will be sure to answer them in future posts.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Mentally preparing myself

Yes I confess....I have an arts degree, I studied Textile Design at university.  I absolutely loved my degree but can feel the concerned looks from you all about how I will cope with a PGCE course.  I've heard from almost everyone that it will be the toughest year of my life and I that I must be mad!

My degree was very heavy on 'Independent Study', which I feel is quite a lazy way of teaching.  My taught hours at university were quite sparse in my first year and this only diminished through my second and third year.  Yes we had a lot of coursework to produce compared with some degrees where exams were the main form of assessment, but I'll admit I was able to coast along for the most part.

So you can imagine what I'm thinking, how will I cope with a demanding PGCE course when my undergraduate degree was a fairly smooth ride.  I'm coming at a PGCE course from a completely different place than I would have been straight after my BA though.  My confidence was rock bottom when I graduated and I went on to set up my own freelance design business where I worked from home.  This definitely didn't help matters, although I enjoyed it at first I could feel myself shrinking.  I barely saw anyone, I didn't want to go out and I began to hate designing and being on my own all day.

I had to make a change, so two years after graduating I began looking into other careers.  Teaching has always been on my horizon and I had looked into it at different stages of my life, but it had never been the right time, or I had been too swayed by the arts.  Now was the right time.

I gained school experience and have been volunteering at a primary school for almost a whole school year.  My confidence has soared since I've left the safety of my design studio and entered the chaos of the classroom, and I couldn't be happier!

How will I cope with a PGCE?

I've tried to prepare myself as much as possible.  I've read tons of blogs on the subject to try and get a picture of what the weeks will entail, what the placements will be like and the amount of work I'll have on my hands.  I don't think I will truly know until September and the course begins, but I like to be as prepared as I can be. Only three and a half months left!

How should I prepare for it? Any suggestions are welcome!

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Questions to prepare for!

You're going to get a lot of questions thrown at you throughout your interview, you also need to really think through these questions and come up with some killer answers for them.  Having these answers will help you with your application, through any written test, group interview and the individual interview itself.

The all important:

  • Why do you want to be a teacher? - This questions will be asked all the time, even by people in the profession who are thinking why on earth do you want to be a teacher.  Having a good solid, passionate answer is key.  This answer needs to convey you're commitment to the profession and make the interviewer see that you've thought this through, thoroughly, and that you definitely want to be a teacher for the right reasons.
  • What makes a good teacher?
  • What qualities do I have that will help me in teaching? - link this to the above question
  • What are you looking forward to most about the course?
  • What concerns do you have about the course?
  • Why this course?
  • Can you cope with the demands of a teacher training course/PGCE? - back this up with evidence.
  • Why go into teaching now?
  • Why should we take you? - similar to what qualities do you have, talk yourself up!
  • What skills do you need to improve? What is your weakness? - pick this wisely.
  • Talk about a time you had to use your initiative.
  • What did you enjoy about your work experience? - Think of very specific examples of things you did.
  • What is your ideal classroom set up? - Think about the classrooms you've seen and what you've liked about each, don't forget to adapt this for different ages.
  • Talk about a strong lesson you observed.
  • Talk about a weak lesson you observed.
  • Talk about good classroom management - think of some strong examples you've observed.
  • Talk about some good behaviour management techniques - good to read up on this topic as it always comes up.
  • Were there any difficult scenarios you encountered?
  • How would you ensure there were equal opportunities in your classroom?
  • Why not designing? - I came from a design background, so if you are in another profession at the moment then have an answer for why you are leaving it.
  • How would you teach a mixed ability class?
  • Why primary?
  • What are your hobbies and interests? - Very important! These are all extra skills you can incorporate into your teaching (musical instruments, sports, artistic skills, etc).

There could be any number of questions asked but if you have a few of the main ones perfected then you should be able to handle some of the others.  If you would like a few more to practice then this website is fantastic and has a HUGE list of them!

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

What to read up on before your PGCE interview

What do you need to read up on before your interview?

I had a little research before my interviews on what the main topics surrounding education are and what I should really know about before embarking upon the dreaded interviews.  I didn't really come across much help on this topic so have put together my own post to help future applicants when it comes to their interviews.

There's so much information out there that it can be a little overwhelming to see what the important topics are and what you may get asked about.  Here are the ones I have found have been useful to know at least a little about, as they do come into a lot of the conversations I have had.

The National Curriculum - I don't really need to mention this as this should be an obvious one to all, but you really need to know a bit about the politics behind the decision, what some of the experts think of the new curriculum and how ours compares to others in the world.

We have quite a rigorous new curriculum which has set some targets a lot higher than they were previously (certainly in Numeracy) so read up on this.  Also it's good to form an informed opinion on the curriculum reform.  Think about how the teachers will cope with the new curriculum and how different teachers may find it more difficult than others.

Getting rid of levels - Up until now we have worked in levels in primary schools, the expected level at year 6 is level 4.  They have recently done away with these and have brought in new systems as well as allowed schools to use their own.

Types of schools - Academies, Free Schools, Academy Converters, Community Schools.  You need to know some of the advantages and disadvantages surrounding these

New Floor Standards - Have a little research around this.

Classroom Management - you'll have seen a lot of this during your experience but it's worth having a read up on other ways of managing your classroom which will help your lessons run smoothly.  You need to think about the layout, children's responsibilities, routines, how you will organise books, homework, etc.

Behaviour Management - This is such a monumental topic that you could easily be reading up on this for weeks!  However look at some of the main approaches (behaviourist, cognitive) behind behaviour management, as well as looking at some of the big names in this area (Paul Dix, Tom Bennett, Bill Rogers).  You should be able to use these to comment on what you saw during your school experience.

Any recent initiatives - Have a search to see what has recently, or will be coming into education in the future.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

What do you need to be observing during your school experience?

The most important part of your application is the experience you need to gain.  You may be a teaching assistant, so have this in abundance, but if you aren't you will need to get some relevant experience in a primary school.  The minimum for most Universities is about 10 days (2 weeks), but some may ask for more.  Note that this is a minimum, they are often looking for a lot more than 2 weeks, they want to see your commitment and that you know for sure this is the right career for you!

I had 5 full weeks in primary schools, 4 weeks at a summer school, I'm a Girl Guide leader and have continued on at one of the schools for two days a week.  If you have a couple of weeks and have been given an interview I would recommend mentioning that you are making time for additional experience (this is good if you have a full time job and need to work it around that.  This will show you are actively wanting to gain more experience.

So what do you need to be doing during the experience?

You need to be watching the teacher, if you can try and get experience with a couple of different teachers, so you can compare their teaching styles and see what works well and what doesn't.  I remember hearing one lady who went for a PGCE the first time around and she spent an enjoyable two weeks with the children but didn't observe the teacher at all!

Watch how a teacher speaks to the children, how they start and end the day, how they calm the children down or how they get the class to quieten down.  See how they structure a lesson and observe different lesson styles where they are working independently, in groups or as a whole class.  Look at behaviour management techniques and how they may stop behaviour before it gets too far, this may include how they time manage so there's little time for children to get rowdy in-between lessons or tasks.

There's so much to observe and it's a good idea to watch how teaching assistants techniques differ to a teachers, how substitute teachers work, NQT's, student teachers, they will all work differently and you will begin to see what works well and what doesn't.  I took a notebook along and jotted down everything in my lunch break and at the end of they day, so you don't forget anything!

I also took a lot of time to get to know the teachers I worked with, I helped them after school if they needed anything doing, such as marking books or redoing a display.  This gave me a bit of time to ask them a few questions, they are busy people though so just ask them a few each night and you will soon have answers to all of your questions.  Don't bombard them!

If you have the chance to help at any after school clubs or at any events then I would highly recommend you do this, it will show you are happy to go the extra mile!  I helped out on several school trips as well as an after school Halloween disco where the teacher was on her own so she really appreciated the extra help.

Next up will be some questions you should definitely ask and some answers that I found to be helpful.