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.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

My Interview Experiences!

And so we come to the dreaded've set off down this path of pursuing a PGCE, the application had been a fairly relaxed aspect of this journey so far.  You are aiming to get some interviews from sending in your application, but for me, when those emails landed in my inbox all I felt was panic.

I sent my application in on the 3rd of December, the next day I had an email for an interview on the 9th of December.  It can be a really quick turnaround, so once that application has been sent off you need to start preparing for possible interviews.  A lot of the Universities will ask you to prepare specific things too, so getting a head start on what is in the news and behaviour management, among other teaching aspects will give you plenty of time for the extra pieces they will ask for.

All of the interviews will differ but usually include similar aspects, you'll probably have a maths and English test, a group activity (this can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes), a presentation and an individual interview.

I had two interviews and a third one which I declined because I was luckily offered my first choice.  I'm going to run through my two interviews for you so you have an idea of what you will go through.

Interview Number One

Ok so the first one was with Nottingham Trent, before this interview we were asked to undertake a research activity where we had to take two texts from educational sources and annotate them.  They had to be looking at the effective teaching and learning of Primary School children.

There were about 9 of us at this interview but there were supposed to be 12.  We were all sat together to begin with so our certificates could be checked through and photocopies collected.  This is such a good place to get to know each other, it puts you at ease a little and I certainly felt more comfortable during the presentation part of the interview after having a little chat.

We then went into the room we would spend most of the afternoon (it was a half day interview, 1-5) where we took the maths test to begin with.  They should be fairly simple maths, so just brush up on your maths knowledge beforehand.  Next came the group task, we had 9 points that we had to put into a hierarchy of what was most important to achieve effective learning.  We then had to talk as a group (groups of 3) and make a group hierarchy.  They just want to see you can effectively argue your point, make sure you speak up and if you feel other members of your group have made a good point then say it, and back it up with why you have changed your mind.  I think this may be what let me down!

We then had to pick a point each and do a group presentation to the whole group.  Highlighting why we put certain points in certain places.  There were three interviewers who then asked a few questions, again make sure you speak up here.  I tend to be more of an introvert and know this is a weakness (although NEVER tell them your shyness is a weakness!) so didn't say as much as I should have at my first interview.

After this we had an English test where we were asked to write a page based around a quote we were given and our research, this is mostly to see what your grammar, spelling and handwriting is like, but it has to be relevant aswell.

Finally there was the individual interview, this was a little grueling, I had done a lot of annotating for my research and was questioned a lot on what I had chosen, so it is good to understand what you have written down.  There weren't really any questions to catch me out, there were the usual 'Why do you want to be a teacher' 'what qualities does a good teacher have'.  There was also a science question where you were shown what three children thought about seeing a cat in a pitch black room and had to say how you would help them build a better understanding.

I heard back from them a week later, whilst on my way to do my skills tests, Unsuccessful.....bad timing haha.  And to top it off my computer crashed during my Numeracy test so I ended up having a little meltdown at the test centre.  Whatever you do, don't open the email, or look at your emails, if you are on your way to do your tests.  I still passed both though :)

Interview Number Two

My second interview (and my first choice) was at Derby University.

Before this interview we had to prepare a 1 minute presentation about why we want to teach and our experience and take a resilience test to see what our strengths and weaknesses are.  Make sure you practice the presentation, not word for word, but time yourself and get it fairly smooth so you don't bumble along on the day.

This was a really good interview!  We had to be there for 8:45 and when I turned up there were about 8 of us, we were sat chatting for a little bit as the University was running a little late.  By the time they were ready there were about 35 of us!  The majority of applicants seemed to be teaching assistants too, so I felt way out of my depth and it started to plant seeds of doubt in my mind.  Spoiler Alert: I got a place, so it doesn't matter if you aren't a TA who have years of experience.

We had the whole certificate checking and then were sat chatting for a while, again it's nice to get talking to others in the same position.  Don't go telling them all about what you've looked into and what you feel is important at the moment though, you've done lots of work researching so you are prepared, so don't give away all of your key points.  I happily showed a girl how to do short division but kept my cards pretty close to my chest and spent most of my time listening to the others.

We were then taken to a lecture theatre for the Maths and English tests, fairly straightforward.  Next we had an hour long presentation by the University all about the course, while this was really interesting (and I jotted down some important buzz words they may have been looking for) it was a tiring day because we all knew what was coming and our adrenaline had been going for hours.  After that we had a lunch break before we split off into groups.

My group was all girls (about 7 of us) and we had two lovely interviewers.  They were really smiley and I felt completely at ease, I will say this though, don't let them draw you into a false sense of security.  You are still at an interview and you don't want to get chatting when you are there to hit on specific points and to get across how great you will be and how much you want to be a teacher.

We started with the one minute interviews, the interviewer changed what she wanted slightly though so I had to adapt it on the spot.  A lot of the other girls didn't, so make sure you listen to what the interviewer is asking and adapt on the spot if needs be.  Next was the group discussions, we had two discussions, both 15 minutes, one about issues and initiatives in teaching at the moment and the other about behaviour management.  If you do your reading around the topics you should be fine.  Make sure you jump in, some girls would warble on for ages, often repeating exactly what they had said just to fill time.  This doesn't look good, you're better to jump in with a good point, expand on it or draw in another theorist/issue, the consequences etc, then jump out and let someone else come in with a point.  I didn't do the most talking at all, I made sure I jumped in regularly and had a very relevant point.

After this there was a very quick 1-1 part of the interview, first with one lady, where we were given our test results from earlier and had a quick thinking task.  We had 2 minutes to read through a list of 5 types of lessons, think up a relevant lesson and tell the interviewer.  It was over before I knew it!  Get a starter, the main lesson (something interactive) and a plenary if you have time to tell it.  In this situation you're just going to talk about a lesson you've observed, so have a think through some good ones.

The last part was a 1-1 with another lady where we talked through the record of a achievement/portfolio we had taken along.  I think this is where my strengths came across, I have plenty of school experience but I have a lot of extra skills and interests that I told her about.  If there is anything I would advise, it is to have some hobbies that show you can bring extra skills to teaching.  I come from a design background which involves a lot of drawing and computer work, I'm a drummer, kickboxer, I've done Duke of Edinburgh aswell as extra online courses in design and photography.  I also included a costume design project I did at university.  Anything at all that will give you an edge is worth mentioning!

So that is a run through of the two interviews I attended, I'd love to hear about some other interviews!  If you would like to have a guest post detailing your PGCE interview then please leave a comment!

Again if you have any questions don't hesitate to leave a message!

Monday, 26 January 2015

A run-through of the application

The application is only the beginning, but this is how you get yourself into the interviews, so you need to shine on paper aswell as in person.  I'm going to give a run through of what I included in mine and how I set it out to give you an idea for when you write yours.

When writing my personal statement I must have tweeked and gone through it about 30 times before actually sending it.  I found it really helpful to take a little time away from it and come back with fresh eyes after an hour or two.  You may see something you didn't before, or find a better way of phrasing something which cuts down the word count (meaning you get an extra couple of pieces in).  I also want to mention that I sent mine off at the beginning of December, applications opened mid October this year so you don't have to be straight in there on the day they open.  You can relax a little (but not too much!) and make sure you have it perfect before you send it on its way.

There are quite a few parts to the application that you need to think through carefully, the main part is the personal statement, but there's also your work history (where you can write 200-250 words for each) which needs to be written carefully as you can slot in a few more relevant skills!

Ok so starting from the top, you've got all of your personal information (fairly straight forward!). Next are these three, smaller sections, where I've added some helpful hints I've picked up along the way.

  • Your Choices: The tip I have here is take care when choosing which order to put them in, because the universities know you've put them as 'choice 2'.  I didn't realise they were in a hierarchy and at one interview the tutor mentioned I had put them as my second choice.  So they do know!
  • Your Qualifications: Straight forward, with the breakdown of your degree I put the titles of every module I did, this will give them an idea of what topics you have done.  Having come from a Textile Design degree I had all of the design modules you might expect but had some they may not have expected.  Photography, Marketing and the History of Art are among some of them.  You may have done some modules that show another skill, so write all of the titles out!  If the titles don't clearly show what the module is about then you could tweek them to give them so they do know.
  • School and Work Experience: This doesn't just have to be about your school and work experience.  I put any voluntary work in here too, so being a leader at GirlGuides and volunteering at a summer school.  I also put about my non school related work experience (waitressing and designing).  There are skills that can be transferable from any job, you just have to think about it.  This section is a good way to build upon what you have written into your personal statement, but whatever you do, DON'T REPEAT YOURSELF!!  You have the perfect opportunity to get a couple of extra skills across here, so think carefully about these sections.
And so we have made it to the main section, the Personal Statement.....

The first paragraph, I kept mine fairly short compared to the other paragraphs and made an impact, this paragraph was about why I wanted to teach.  It's a fantastic place to start and a perfect way to show your passion for the profession.  You'll get asked this at every interview too so a couple of sentences that sum it up perfectly is a good starting point.

My second paragraph I spoke a little about my journey to this point.  I've come from a design background, having done a Textile Design degree I went on to set up my own business as a freelance designer.  Quite different to teaching, but I linked everything back to how it would help me in a teaching career.  It explained what I've been doing (not just sitting around twiddling my thumbs) and the skills I have gained that are transferable.  Think about the skills that will give you an edge, I spoke about my strong IT skills and confidence with new software packages, with ICT being a fairly big change to the new curriculum I felt this would give me a little edge.  This also nicely ran into my more recent experience and me school experience.

The biggest chunk I spoke about my school experience, this is the most important part, however you need to expand upon your experience and show what you've taken from it.  I wrote a bit about my guiding, my volunteering at a summer school (literally a sentence on each) and then the bulk was the school experience.  You need to talk about what you learnt, maybe pick a couple of specific parts and what you learnt, for example a certain way the teacher managed behaviour and why it was effective.  Differentiation and how the teachers dealt with this, or how they included children with special needs, were there certain methods the teacher used?

Next I wrote a sentence or two on the extra events I took part in at the schools I volunteered at and finally a closing paragraph which included my extra curriculars.  You may not think these are important but they show a bit more about you and that you have interests outside of teaching.  I've done my Duke of Edinburgh, kickboxing, drumming and costume designing which will all be useful as a teacher.  Don't leave this information out of your personal statement!

The last section is your references, teachers are incredible busy people, so ask nicely.  I asked one of the teachers I worked with during my experience and she gave me a sparkling reference!  Also, make sure you let them know how much it means to them that they have taken the time to write you one, give them a very nice thank you, a present or two and let them know how it goes for you (if they are interested).

This has got to be one of the best websites for helping you write your personal statement, there is an abundance of ideas, so you definitely won't be stuck on what to include.  If you still are then you haven't got enough experience!

If you have any questions just leave me a comment and I will answer them in my next post!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Pre-PGCE Application: What you need to do

I'm well on my way to becoming a teacher!  I've set this blog up to record my journey from application to interview, to trainee and hopefully to a fully qualified teacher!

I've come to this profession from a design background, having graduated with a Textile Design degree in 2012.  I spent the past two and a half years freelancing before settling down and pursuing a career I am very passionate about.  Teaching.

Now when I first sat down and truly began to think about embarking upon a PGCE course I didn't really know much about the process, what would be involved and how much work it would be.  My first bit of advice for those of you considering a PGCE course is to DO YOUR RESEARCH!

Little story: I came across a lady, who when she first wanted to go into teaching, merrily went to get her 10 days experience for her application but hadn't done any research into the application process and what would happen at the interviews.  She loved working with the children and got involved when she was volunteering, however, she hadn't watched the teacher at all, so when it came to applying and interviews she was way out of her depth and ended up withdrawing her application.  What a waste of a year!  Don't let this happen to you!

You can look at different courses and they will give you a little idea of what is involved but I found the best way is to trawl through forums, look on youtube and read PGCE student blogs to get a better picture (I'll be posting some of my favourites in later posts).  Find out from the people who have done it, they will be more than happy to let you know how stressful and tiring it is.  If this doesn't scare you off then maybe a PGCE is for you.

Once I'd decided that I definitely wanted to go into teaching I started to look at the requirements for these courses, three of the main ones are:

  • 2:1 in a UK Honours degree (tick)
  • At least grade C in GCSE English, Science and Maths (tick, tick, tick)
  • Have recent experience in a UK Primary School

Now most courses state 10 days experience as a minimum but my advice would be to get as much experience as you can.  A lot of applicants are teaching assistants, who have a wealth of experience, so if you are like me, a graduate from a different profession, then you need to be able to talk about what the teacher did and why they did it that way.  You need to be able to reflect on your experience and the best way to see what works and what doesn't is to observe a range of teachers, from teaching assistants, to NQT's, to teachers who have done it for years.  Also try and get experience in both Key Stages if possible (there is a huge difference in Primary School!)

I spent 5 full weeks in these schools (2 in one and 3 in the other) then continued on at one for 2 days a week and mentioned this in my personal statement as if shows a huge amount of commitment when you are just volunteering.

Lastly start to think about what skills will make you stand out, you are going into a process that is saturated with applicants who all have C's and above in their GCSE's, who have 2:1's in their degree and who have a lot of experience.  You need to bring more to the table than merely what the Universities are asking for.  Make yourself shine and take up extra curricular activities if your lacking, I'll come back to this point in a later post but for now just make sure you are thinking about what skills you can gain to give you and edge and help your application.

Sneak Peek of what is coming:
  • Lots of links to websites I have found to be extremely useful!
  • What you need to be looking at when on placements.
  • Extra curriculars and how important they are.
  • The application process
  • The interviews

If you have any questions at all then leave a comment and I will try and answer them in my future posts!