Saturday 27 August 2011

Advice to New PGCE Students

This time last year I was feeling really excited about the start of my PGCE. The PGCE, for those of you who don't know, is the Post-Graduate Certificate of Education, which is a one-year course you do to get Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) in England and Wales. There are other ways to get QTS (like the GTP) but I think the PGCE is the most common. Our neighbours in Scotland do a similar course, but they call it the PGDE, because they just had to be different.

If you're about to start your PGCE, you might be wondering what to expect. My university gave me hardly any information about what the course was actually like before I started. Luckily, you guys have me to fill you in.

Expect to...
  • Have loads of fun in the first few weeks. This will probably be university-based and, if it's anything like my experience, you will feel like you're back in seconday school again. I loved it, especially as I made lots of new friends (hi, if you're reading this!).
  • Be asked to do lots of reading. My advice is this: don't do it. It's pointless. You learn nothing about teaching from books. You only learn from hearing other people's stories, or from being in a classroom yourself. If you get picked on during a seminar, use an anecdote from your own school experience as a pupil, rather than something from the book. The teacher will never know ;).
  • Have lots of paperwork. When you get given a piece of paper, decide imediately which of the following categories it comes under: "important" (as in, to do with you getting your qualification), "seems important but is actually unnecessary" (the details could be typed into your phone so that you can throw the paper away, the information on it is somewhere on the university's website), "useful" (an idea for an activity, the name of a good book for your essay, a website to check out),  "they say it's important but honestly I'm never going to look at it again" (an article, a PowerPoint handout). As soon as you know what category it comes under, you will know what to do with it: file it, make a note of it then recycle it, ditto, recycle it immediately. **Edited to add** Start collecting articles and things that could be used in the masters essays right from the start. As Liz pointed out in a comment below, the "post-reading" that was set us was often very good for using in the masters essays.
  • Be placed in a school far, far away from where you live. If you have a car, this means not too much inconvenience but a sudden huge rise in your petrol costs. For pedestrians like myself, it means catching the bus at 6:20am, and falling asleep on the bus on the way home. My advice: buy a bus pass, and if you're in the midlands, use Traveline's brilliant website.
  • Spend about five hours planning your first lesson, only to have it turn out a complete disaster. Hey, it's a rite of passage!
Our university sessions involved a disproportionate amount of origami.

The task was to make something that will hold five ping-pong balls. Our group made origami bunnies.
I think my most important piece of advice is to make some friends within your subject and organise a Friday afternoon pub trip every week. It's great to be able to let off steam about how annoying the course is and how terribly your first lessons have gone. Without this, I don't know how I would have survived!

I think that's enough for the first half term (also known as the calm before the storm).Good luck to all new student teachers and enjoy it whilst you can. The NQT  (Newly Qualified Teacher) year is apparently a lot harder (gulp).

Emma x x x


  1. Nicely put Emma! Why don't you add something about the essays too? I realised too late that loads of the reading they'd set/mentioned as great post-session (yeah, sure!) reading was great referencing material for the Master's essays. So I'd especially mention collecting reference-able material for essays early since most things (smaller essays, lessons, etc) can be awful but corrected later if necessary but redoing the Master's was a horrendous stress for those unlucky in that area.

  2. That's a very good point. I didn't have enough references in my first essay and that lost me marks. I will edit the above to include that. Thanks Liz!