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!