SarcAndSpark
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My PGCE Experience

Two years ago, when I was thinking about applying for a PGCE, I found it quite hard to find out about people’s PGCE experiences. There’s a lot on the internet telling you how tough it will be, but not much telling you exactly what to expect in detail. I thought, by sharing my experience, it might help people know a bit more about what to expect, and to make more informed decisions about whether it’s something they want to do right now.

If you’re a PGCE graduate, or you’ve finished another kind of ITT course, then it would be great to hear about your experiences too! I’m happy to answer any questions anyone may have in this thread!

Caveat: I’m deliberately not naming the uni I went to, and obviously I won’t name my placement schools. A few details have been changed or deliberately kept vague to preserve anonymity. This is just my experience at one uni and two schools- your mileage may vary! If you think you know the uni I went to or any of the schools involved, I’d ask you not to name it in the thread, but I’d be happy to confirm/deny via PM.



Getting Started (September + October 2018):

In September 2018, I was a bright-eyed trainee teacher! I had my place on the course, I’d completed my SKE, my DBS and health checks had all come back ok, and I’d passed the dreaded literacy and numeracy tests! I’d been accepted on Secondary (Biology) PGCE at a well known uni in a city in the South of England.

But, before I even got to uni, I had to complete a period of experience in a primary school! All secondary trainees have to do this, but most unis don’t stick it right at the start of the course. I also had to arrange this placement myself. Fortunately, I had a contact who worked in a primary school near my parents’ house, so it was relatively easy for me to arrange a week of experience.

I wasn’t especially excited about starting my ITT journey in a primary school. For the last two- and a-bit years, I’d worked with young people, and I’d chosen secondary teaching for a reason (no, not the massive bursary). Children under the age of about 10 are very touchy-feely. They like to hug you and sit on your lap. They’re also very needy and cry at the drop of a hat. I’m not the most motherly, comforting sort of person, and teaching very small children just didn’t appeal to me.

However, it was a pretty easy placement. I rocked up each day at about 8.30 and was assigned a class to help out in. I mostly acted as a TA, helping small groups of children or individuals. I observed some whole class teaching. I read stories to some classes. I did a bit of playground duty. So far, so easy!

I also had a report to write for uni. This was my first bit of academic writing for about 4 years, and I obsessed about it. I agonised over it. I was desperate to make a good impression on my academic tutor. Looking back, I don’t know why I bothered! The report didn’t count towards any of my masters credits and wasn’t even essential to get QTS- and yet I probably put more time into it than anything else academic during my PGCE!

Anyway, in late September, I happily waved good-bye to the brightly coloured classrooms and cheery assemblies of KS1 and 2 and headed off to uni. For the next month or so, I’d be spending most of my time in lecture halls and seminar rooms, without an under 18 in sight!

The first few days of uni passed in that sort of mental getting to know you, trying to make a good impression flurry of fresher’s week- only without quite so much alcohol and a bit more time spent actually learning stuff. We had some whole PGCE cohort lectures on pastoral/general teaching type stuff, and we also spend some time in subject groups. Science was pretty big at my uni- at the start of the year, there were over 30 science trainees (the split between sciences was about 20:5:5).

In between getting pissed at the local spoons, and exploring the general nightlife of the city, I learned a lot about how schools work, the science national curriculum, how much my uni tutor scared me, and what “great” teaching looked like. A few weeks in, we were even let loose in an actual school in small groups to do some lesson observations, which was pretty fun. We lovingly spent hours planning 10-minute activities for our fellow trainees, and I discovered that leading a dissection whilst hungover is a pretty bad shout!

All in all, though, I was having a pretty good time with a pretty great group of people. And then, reality hit!

October-December 2018 (Placement 1)

Just before October half-term, we were given our placement schools. We were told schools on a Friday, and we had to get to them on the Tuesday of the following week. I’m pretty sure unis let you know these things at the last minute, so you have limited time to complain!

The first thing I noticed about my school was that it wasn’t in the same city as my university. In fact, it was about 50 minutes’ drive away (according to google maps). Due to the fact that so many schools have science departments that are falling apart at the seams, and the uni’s insistence that it was only going to send trainees to schools rated good or outstanding, a lot of us ended up with ****ty commutes. Mine was nowhere near the worst of the year, and at least I had a car to do it in (some people ended up travelling well over an hour by public transport, including having to change trains).

So, on my first day, I dutifully got up at the crack of dawn and drove to my school. I ended up getting there massively early and spending a nervous 30 minutes or so waiting in reception. Fun fact: I didn’t see reception again in this school, until the day I left and handed my ID badge in.

The week before half term, I spent a few days in school, meeting everyone and doing a few lesson observations. I was sent off on half term with a lesson to plan for my first week back, and a general feeling of being a bit overwhelmed. Despite that, I was still in the stage of feeling like I could be an awesome teacher. I hadn’t had to stand up in front of a class yet, but how hard could it be? I’d yet to face the sinking feeling when no-one wants to stick their hand up to answer your question, or worse, no-one wants to shut up and let you talk.

Then, I taught my first lesson. It didn’t crash and burn, or anything. Looking back, those kids who I thought were quite tricky were actually lovely and generous. They never talked over me, were never rude to my face, and 90% of them tried their best with whatever stupid task I had come up with. However, that first lesson was mediocre at best, and my mentor highlighted a couple of kids who’d done the square route of **** all for 50 minutes. It felt like the end of the world, and I went home and cried.

Things did mostly get better on that placement. The department were mostly quite young, and all lovely. My mentor had my back. I had some lovely, enthusiastic classes and got to do lots of practical with Y7. Even my low set Y9s were only tricky in the sense none of them wanted to answer a question in front of the class ever- behaviourally, they were easy. Sure, I had to set a few detentions, and a had a running battle with one girl over a lost book, but looking back, first placement was easy, and I honestly just didn’t appreciate it.

The biggest issue I was facing was a hellish commute (50 minutes easily turned into 90 minutes in rush hour traffic) and a clunky IT system which let me down every so often, leading to me having to improvise a lesson without IT at one stage, whilst being observed by my uni tutor. I’d spent hours on that powerpoint, and to this day, no pupil has ever seen it! The other issue was that despite being a biology specialist, the majority of what I was teaching was chemistry, which was pushing my subject knowledge to the limit at times.

The best thing about that placement though, was having an experienced mentor who could push me to improve, whilst having my back and helping me jump through all the university’s hoops.

During this placement, outside of the commute, my workload was pretty manageable. The school had a very generous marking policy (once a term + end of topic tests) and I had a small timetable and ramped up my teaching load slowly. I had an assignment to do, but the deadline wasn’t until after Christmas, so I carefully ignored that!).

By the time I’d reached the uni Christmas party, I was feeling pretty good about this whole teaching thing!

January and February 2019 (Start of Placement 2)

I finished the autumn term with a week in uni. The spring term was going to be spent entirely in school, except for a few “recall” days. I was in a different school, with a shorter commute, and a pretty good local reputation. Before going into school, I was excited. I was thinking about all the things that would be better about this school compared to my last one, and how I’d put all the stuff I’d learned the term before into practice.

On my first day in my second school, I sat in a classroom with my fellow trainees, whilst a member of staff talked to us about visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles and told us why the school didn’t need a behaviour policy. If you’ve got some experience teaching, you can probably see the red flags in that sentence.

There were some good things about this school- my mentor was lovely, for starters. However, I was also her first trainee, and looking back, there are things I would have done at the start of placement differently. At this stage, I really was still a baby teacher- honestly barely more than a foetus. However, buoyed by my last placement, I took on a lot of classes very quickly, starting with my tricky Year 9s and needy, mixed ability Y7s.

Unsurprisingly, I quickly started having behaviour issues in my classes. The impression I was getting from class teachers was very much that if only I could plan the perfect lesson that engaged the classes and had just the right level of challenge, they would behave. Then, if only I could create the perfect seating plan. Then, if only I could change just about everything about my demeanour and behaviour in the classroom.

A lot of my inventive lessons that I’d spent ages planning crashed and burned. I was spending all my breaks and lunches with kids in detention. Because I was so busy with one absolutely awful class, I was letting things slip in my other classes. I tried to talk to my uni tutor for support but for whatever reason (the school has a great reputation locally, and he’d seen me have a pretty good observation recently) he didn’t think things could be that bad- and I was so busy with planning and marking outside of the school, that it was hard to find the energy to push for extra support.

A few things kept me hanging on- there were some lessons that went well. There were some classes I liked teaching. I was building up relationships with some of the kids. Also, I was in school with a bunch of great trainees in other subjects, they were having some similar issues to me, and the camaraderie kept me going a bit. Meanwhile, elsewhere on the course, people were dropping out, and I knew I wasn’t ready for that to be me… yet.

In school, as well as your subject mentor, there’s also a person who’s in charge of all the trainees and NQTs in the school. She also knew I’d been having issues, and the specific class I was having issues with. I think she probably knew some of the kids in that class by reputation, too. Unlike my uni tutor, she took my concerns seriously and arranged to come and see me with the class.

The observed lesson absolutely crashed and burned. At the time, this felt like the most awful thing in the world. I felt like a complete failure. I cried my eyes out that night, and honestly wasn’t sure I’d be able to go back into school after half term. However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It was decided that the class I’d been given wasn’t suitable for a trainee at this stage, and I’d get a different class on my timetable after half term!

February-April 2019 (End of Placement 2)

For various reasons, I wasn’t super excited about going back into school after half term. There was a lot of stuff that had led to me feeling like the last half term had ended on a low note. I’d also been pretty ill over half term, and I wasn’t completely fighting fit. This was the stage of the course where people were starting to drop out and there were times when that looked like a really tempting option. But I needed the bursary to keep paying my bills, and I wasn’t sure what I’d do if I did drop out, so I took myself back into school to start a new half term.

Luckily (for my future teaching career), the half term didn’t get off to a terrible start. I taught some lessons that went well, got some praise from teachers I really respected, and things started to look up. My uni tutor came to observe me teaching a sixth form lesson and gave me some really good feedback. My sixth form teaching was the one thing that was really praised all the way through my PGCE, actually, and that class was brilliant- really enthusiastic and teaching them was fun.

The week after, I had a couple of lessons that for various reasons went really badly. One of the toughest things about the PGCE is that when things go wrong, you aren’t allowed to just move on. You have to spend time dissecting it, pulling it apart, figuring out why- I totally understand the value in this. However, when you are struggling with workload and struggling emotionally anyway, and you’re spending 30 minutes after every lesson talking about what you could do better, it starts to get a bit soul destroying.

I had a really tough period, where I was crying all the time and dreading school. Because I was dreading school, my planning was crap, and then my lessons weren’t going well. It was a vicious cycle. I was getting close to the point where I thought it was the end of the road for me. I felt like I was clearly a crap teacher, and what was the point anyway?

We had a recall day coming up, so I arranged to meet with my uni tutor to talk through what was going on. Despite me trying to communicate how I was feeling to him, I think he had it in his head that I was basically fine. I think he was shocked by how bad things had become, and if I’m honest, he wasn’t the most helpful. He did signpost some uni resources, but his advice basically boiled down to “find a way through this or quit”. He told me if I was serious about staying, then I should start applying for jobs, as this might give me the confidence I needed to get through the course.

Apparently, I wasn’t quite ready to quit, because that Saturday, I woke up and started applying for jobs. I also made myself an appointment with the uni mental health support team.

The next week, I really needed a sign as to whether I should stay or go. I’m not a spiritual person, but sometimes I feel like life tells you what you should do. That Wednesday, I got an invite to my first job interview. I took it as a sign to keep going and stay.

For various reasons, I’d decided that I didn’t want to stay working in the city I was training in, and so I was applying for jobs in the South-West, nearer to my hometown. So, that weekend, I was able to spend a weekend with my parents and go to a job interview on my way back up on the Monday. I didn’t get the job (it went to someone more experienced) but that gave me the confidence to keep going and reminded me that I could teach, and why I wanted to be a teacher.

From there, it was only a week and a half to the Easter holidays- easy!

April-May 2019 (Getting a job)

The first week of my Easter holidays was mental. I had two job interviews lined up, one after the other, 100 miles apart. I also had a 3000 word assignment due for uni. That week, I drove 500 miles and wrote 3000 words in about 5 days. I didn’t get either job, but I did later get a distinction for the essay (I’m not sure what that says about me, if anything).

After that, I had two weeks to essentially chill, and apply for jobs. I was back in uni for a bit after Easter, so I didn’t even have any planning to do!

Slowly, I started to decompress, and my mental health started to improve. I went back to uni feeling refreshed, and in a better state of mind. I can’t even really remember what we did for those couple of weeks in uni. I do remember those few weeks being quite tricky. By that stage about 40% of people had jobs, and a lot of the remaining 60% were competing against each other for each new job that came up.

I had another interview, which involved another long drive, only for the job to go to someone who was already on long term supply in that school. The next week, I had two more interviews lined up, and I’d already decided that if I didn’t get either of them, I’d have to reassess my game plan for getting a job. To be honest, I was still having doubts about the whole teaching thing, and I’d reached the stage of the year where I had enough money saved that dropping out of the PGCE wouldn’t have caused me any financial problems.

You’ve probably noticed this essay isn’t called “Why I dropped out of my PGCE!”- so you’ll have guessed that I got a job! It was actually a pretty brutal interview- unlike most teaching interviews, where you get the lesson topic in advance and you’re able to spend all weekend planning a 20 minute teaching session, we got the topic on the day, and we were to teach a full 50 minute lesson. There was also a marking task and a student panel, as well as the individual interview. Perhaps I got the job because of my stamina!

Anyway, getting a job just before going back into school was a game changer. Firstly, somebody wanted me and actually liked my teaching. Secondly, I couldn’t drop out now and leave my lovely school in the lurch.

May-July 2019 (The Home Stretch).

So, back to my placement school. Not everyone went to the same placement school for their third placement, but unfortunately, I was stuck with it. Luckily, I had a new timetable with different classes, and even better, I had a lower teaching load than last half term. This placement was only 5 weeks, with the May half term in the middle.

I was a different person during this placement. Part of it was that I had a job- I couldn’t believe that they would fail me and leave my future school in the lurch. I think part of it was that I was now in classes with some more experienced class teachers, who were helpful and supportive. I think it was also just so close to the end- I could literally count down the lessons!

Perhaps because of my new, relaxed persona, I got on well with my new classes. Because I was mostly teaching within specialism, and I had a smaller timetable, my workload felt like it had been slashed in half. I was a different person. I didn’t go home and cry, anymore! By this stage, I’d also really made friends with the other PGCE students in school- it was interesting to talk to them and realise we’d all gone through similar stuff in the term before but hadn’t been close enough to support each other. They were a really great bunch, and I wish we’d been able to support each other more from the start.

Anyway, soon enough, my final placement was over, my final assignment was written up, and I went back to uni with my head held high. I’d made it.

We had two weeks at the end of term, mostly doing “fun” enrichment stuff- cross curricular workshops, trips to some of the local science themed attractions, that sort of thing. It was way more relaxed than the weird time after Easter- pretty much anyone who wanted a job had one, and we were all focusing on the 8-week summer holiday! Soon enough, it was our final day, spent sitting in a park, drinking cider in the sun.

Unfortunately, not everyone had made it- about 25%-30% of those who started the course at my uni that year dropped out or took a suspension of studies. There are lots of reasons why people drop out of a PGCE, but I think it’s fair to say that some of those students could have been supported to finish or would have finished in different circumstances. I know that I could have easily been one of them, yet I’m doing alright on my NQT. I think it’s something that we need to look at, as a country with a shortage of teachers.

I don’t want to finish on a downer, so I will say that whilst the PGCE was the hardest thing I had ever done, I am so proud of myself for getting through it. I hope, by sharing my experience, I can give you some insight into the reality of what the PGCE can be like- and also let you know that there is light at the end of the tunnel! I haven’t gone into every issue I had during the PGCE, partly because I don’t want to make myself identifiable, and partly because I’m aware that the schools/uni involved can’t reply on here, so it would be pretty unbalanced. But if you’re on a PGCE and think you’re facing similar issues to me, then please do get in touch, and I’ll do my best to help!
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Tearex
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Thanks for sharing - I’m definitely leaning towards school based training but it was interesting nonetheless - particularly in terms of commuting to “outstanding” and “good” schools as I read this in a training description and wondered “Where?!?!” and out of town may well be the answer 😐
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It was all U
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(Original post by SarcAndSpark)
My PGCE Experience

Two years ago, when I was thinking about applying for a PGCE, I found it quite hard to find out about people’s PGCE experiences. There’s a lot on the internet telling you how tough it will be, but not much telling you exactly what to expect in detail. I thought, by sharing my experience, it might help people know a bit more about what to expect, and to make more informed decisions about whether it’s something they want to do right now.

If you’re a PGCE graduate, or you’ve finished another kind of ITT course, then it would be great to hear about your experiences too! I’m happy to answer any questions anyone may have in this thread!

Caveat: I’m deliberately not naming the uni I went to, and obviously I won’t name my placement schools. A few details have been changed or deliberately kept vague to preserve anonymity. This is just my experience at one uni and two schools- your mileage may vary! If you think you know the uni I went to or any of the schools involved, I’d ask you not to name it in the thread, but I’d be happy to confirm/deny via PM.



Getting Started (September + October 2018):

In September 2018, I was a bright-eyed trainee teacher! I had my place on the course, I’d completed my SKE, my DBS and health checks had all come back ok, and I’d passed the dreaded literacy and numeracy tests! I’d been accepted on Secondary (Biology) PGCE at a well known uni in a city in the South of England.

But, before I even got to uni, I had to complete a period of experience in a primary school! All secondary trainees have to do this, but most unis don’t stick it right at the start of the course. I also had to arrange this placement myself. Fortunately, I had a contact who worked in a primary school near my parents’ house, so it was relatively easy for me to arrange a week of experience.

I wasn’t especially excited about starting my ITT journey in a primary school. For the last two- and a-bit years, I’d worked with young people, and I’d chosen secondary teaching for a reason (no, not the massive bursary). Children under the age of about 10 are very touchy-feely. They like to hug you and sit on your lap. They’re also very needy and cry at the drop of a hat. I’m not the most motherly, comforting sort of person, and teaching very small children just didn’t appeal to me.

However, it was a pretty easy placement. I rocked up each day at about 8.30 and was assigned a class to help out in. I mostly acted as a TA, helping small groups of children or individuals. I observed some whole class teaching. I read stories to some classes. I did a bit of playground duty. So far, so easy!

I also had a report to write for uni. This was my first bit of academic writing for about 4 years, and I obsessed about it. I agonised over it. I was desperate to make a good impression on my academic tutor. Looking back, I don’t know why I bothered! The report didn’t count towards any of my masters credits and wasn’t even essential to get QTS- and yet I probably put more time into it than anything else academic during my PGCE!

Anyway, in late September, I happily waved good-bye to the brightly coloured classrooms and cheery assemblies of KS1 and 2 and headed off to uni. For the next month or so, I’d be spending most of my time in lecture halls and seminar rooms, without an under 18 in sight!

The first few days of uni passed in that sort of mental getting to know you, trying to make a good impression flurry of fresher’s week- only without quite so much alcohol and a bit more time spent actually learning stuff. We had some whole PGCE cohort lectures on pastoral/general teaching type stuff, and we also spend some time in subject groups. Science was pretty big at my uni- at the start of the year, there were over 30 science trainees (the split between sciences was about 20:5:5).

In between getting pissed at the local spoons, and exploring the general nightlife of the city, I learned a lot about how schools work, the science national curriculum, how much my uni tutor scared me, and what “great” teaching looked like. A few weeks in, we were even let loose in an actual school in small groups to do some lesson observations, which was pretty fun. We lovingly spent hours planning 10-minute activities for our fellow trainees, and I discovered that leading a dissection whilst hungover is a pretty bad shout!

All in all, though, I was having a pretty good time with a pretty great group of people. And then, reality hit!

October-December 2018 (Placement 1)

Just before October half-term, we were given our placement schools. We were told schools on a Friday, and we had to get to them on the Tuesday of the following week. I’m pretty sure unis let you know these things at the last minute, so you have limited time to complain!

The first thing I noticed about my school was that it wasn’t in the same city as my university. In fact, it was about 50 minutes’ drive away (according to google maps). Due to the fact that so many schools have science departments that are falling apart at the seams, and the uni’s insistence that it was only going to send trainees to schools rated good or outstanding, a lot of us ended up with ****ty commutes. Mine was nowhere near the worst of the year, and at least I had a car to do it in (some people ended up travelling well over an hour by public transport, including having to change trains).

So, on my first day, I dutifully got up at the crack of dawn and drove to my school. I ended up getting there massively early and spending a nervous 30 minutes or so waiting in reception. Fun fact: I didn’t see reception again in this school, until the day I left and handed my ID badge in.

The week before half term, I spent a few days in school, meeting everyone and doing a few lesson observations. I was sent off on half term with a lesson to plan for my first week back, and a general feeling of being a bit overwhelmed. Despite that, I was still in the stage of feeling like I could be an awesome teacher. I hadn’t had to stand up in front of a class yet, but how hard could it be? I’d yet to face the sinking feeling when no-one wants to stick their hand up to answer your question, or worse, no-one wants to shut up and let you talk.

Then, I taught my first lesson. It didn’t crash and burn, or anything. Looking back, those kids who I thought were quite tricky were actually lovely and generous. They never talked over me, were never rude to my face, and 90% of them tried their best with whatever stupid task I had come up with. However, that first lesson was mediocre at best, and my mentor highlighted a couple of kids who’d done the square route of **** all for 50 minutes. It felt like the end of the world, and I went home and cried.

Things did mostly get better on that placement. The department were mostly quite young, and all lovely. My mentor had my back. I had some lovely, enthusiastic classes and got to do lots of practical with Y7. Even my low set Y9s were only tricky in the sense none of them wanted to answer a question in front of the class ever- behaviourally, they were easy. Sure, I had to set a few detentions, and a had a running battle with one girl over a lost book, but looking back, first placement was easy, and I honestly just didn’t appreciate it.

The biggest issue I was facing was a hellish commute (50 minutes easily turned into 90 minutes in rush hour traffic) and a clunky IT system which let me down every so often, leading to me having to improvise a lesson without IT at one stage, whilst being observed by my uni tutor. I’d spent hours on that powerpoint, and to this day, no pupil has ever seen it! The other issue was that despite being a biology specialist, the majority of what I was teaching was chemistry, which was pushing my subject knowledge to the limit at times.

The best thing about that placement though, was having an experienced mentor who could push me to improve, whilst having my back and helping me jump through all the university’s hoops.

During this placement, outside of the commute, my workload was pretty manageable. The school had a very generous marking policy (once a term + end of topic tests) and I had a small timetable and ramped up my teaching load slowly. I had an assignment to do, but the deadline wasn’t until after Christmas, so I carefully ignored that!).

By the time I’d reached the uni Christmas party, I was feeling pretty good about this whole teaching thing!

January and February 2019 (Start of Placement 2)

I finished the autumn term with a week in uni. The spring term was going to be spent entirely in school, except for a few “recall” days. I was in a different school, with a shorter commute, and a pretty good local reputation. Before going into school, I was excited. I was thinking about all the things that would be better about this school compared to my last one, and how I’d put all the stuff I’d learned the term before into practice.

On my first day in my second school, I sat in a classroom with my fellow trainees, whilst a member of staff talked to us about visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning styles and told us why the school didn’t need a behaviour policy. If you’ve got some experience teaching, you can probably see the red flags in that sentence.

There were some good things about this school- my mentor was lovely, for starters. However, I was also her first trainee, and looking back, there are things I would have done at the start of placement differently. At this stage, I really was still a baby teacher- honestly barely more than a foetus. However, buoyed by my last placement, I took on a lot of classes very quickly, starting with my tricky Year 9s and needy, mixed ability Y7s.

Unsurprisingly, I quickly started having behaviour issues in my classes. The impression I was getting from class teachers was very much that if only I could plan the perfect lesson that engaged the classes and had just the right level of challenge, they would behave. Then, if only I could create the perfect seating plan. Then, if only I could change just about everything about my demeanour and behaviour in the classroom.

A lot of my inventive lessons that I’d spent ages planning crashed and burned. I was spending all my breaks and lunches with kids in detention. Because I was so busy with one absolutely awful class, I was letting things slip in my other classes. I tried to talk to my uni tutor for support but for whatever reason (the school has a great reputation locally, and he’d seen me have a pretty good observation recently) he didn’t think things could be that bad- and I was so busy with planning and marking outside of the school, that it was hard to find the energy to push for extra support.

A few things kept me hanging on- there were some lessons that went well. There were some classes I liked teaching. I was building up relationships with some of the kids. Also, I was in school with a bunch of great trainees in other subjects, they were having some similar issues to me, and the camaraderie kept me going a bit. Meanwhile, elsewhere on the course, people were dropping out, and I knew I wasn’t ready for that to be me… yet.

In school, as well as your subject mentor, there’s also a person who’s in charge of all the trainees and NQTs in the school. She also knew I’d been having issues, and the specific class I was having issues with. I think she probably knew some of the kids in that class by reputation, too. Unlike my uni tutor, she took my concerns seriously and arranged to come and see me with the class.

The observed lesson absolutely crashed and burned. At the time, this felt like the most awful thing in the world. I felt like a complete failure. I cried my eyes out that night, and honestly wasn’t sure I’d be able to go back into school after half term. However, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It was decided that the class I’d been given wasn’t suitable for a trainee at this stage, and I’d get a different class on my timetable after half term!

February-April 2019 (End of Placement 2)

For various reasons, I wasn’t super excited about going back into school after half term. There was a lot of stuff that had led to me feeling like the last half term had ended on a low note. I’d also been pretty ill over half term, and I wasn’t completely fighting fit. This was the stage of the course where people were starting to drop out and there were times when that looked like a really tempting option. But I needed the bursary to keep paying my bills, and I wasn’t sure what I’d do if I did drop out, so I took myself back into school to start a new half term.

Luckily (for my future teaching career), the half term didn’t get off to a terrible start. I taught some lessons that went well, got some praise from teachers I really respected, and things started to look up. My uni tutor came to observe me teaching a sixth form lesson and gave me some really good feedback. My sixth form teaching was the one thing that was really praised all the way through my PGCE, actually, and that class was brilliant- really enthusiastic and teaching them was fun.

The week after, I had a couple of lessons that for various reasons went really badly. One of the toughest things about the PGCE is that when things go wrong, you aren’t allowed to just move on. You have to spend time dissecting it, pulling it apart, figuring out why- I totally understand the value in this. However, when you are struggling with workload and struggling emotionally anyway, and you’re spending 30 minutes after every lesson talking about what you could do better, it starts to get a bit soul destroying.

I had a really tough period, where I was crying all the time and dreading school. Because I was dreading school, my planning was crap, and then my lessons weren’t going well. It was a vicious cycle. I was getting close to the point where I thought it was the end of the road for me. I felt like I was clearly a crap teacher, and what was the point anyway?

We had a recall day coming up, so I arranged to meet with my uni tutor to talk through what was going on. Despite me trying to communicate how I was feeling to him, I think he had it in his head that I was basically fine. I think he was shocked by how bad things had become, and if I’m honest, he wasn’t the most helpful. He did signpost some uni resources, but his advice basically boiled down to “find a way through this or quit”. He told me if I was serious about staying, then I should start applying for jobs, as this might give me the confidence I needed to get through the course.

Apparently, I wasn’t quite ready to quit, because that Saturday, I woke up and started applying for jobs. I also made myself an appointment with the uni mental health support team.

The next week, I really needed a sign as to whether I should stay or go. I’m not a spiritual person, but sometimes I feel like life tells you what you should do. That Wednesday, I got an invite to my first job interview. I took it as a sign to keep going and stay.

For various reasons, I’d decided that I didn’t want to stay working in the city I was training in, and so I was applying for jobs in the South-West, nearer to my hometown. So, that weekend, I was able to spend a weekend with my parents and go to a job interview on my way back up on the Monday. I didn’t get the job (it went to someone more experienced) but that gave me the confidence to keep going and reminded me that I could teach, and why I wanted to be a teacher.

From there, it was only a week and a half to the Easter holidays- easy!

April-May 2019 (Getting a job)

The first week of my Easter holidays was mental. I had two job interviews lined up, one after the other, 100 miles apart. I also had a 3000 word assignment due for uni. That week, I drove 500 miles and wrote 3000 words in about 5 days. I didn’t get either job, but I did later get a distinction for the essay (I’m not sure what that says about me, if anything).

After that, I had two weeks to essentially chill, and apply for jobs. I was back in uni for a bit after Easter, so I didn’t even have any planning to do!

Slowly, I started to decompress, and my mental health started to improve. I went back to uni feeling refreshed, and in a better state of mind. I can’t even really remember what we did for those couple of weeks in uni. I do remember those few weeks being quite tricky. By that stage about 40% of people had jobs, and a lot of the remaining 60% were competing against each other for each new job that came up.

I had another interview, which involved another long drive, only for the job to go to someone who was already on long term supply in that school. The next week, I had two more interviews lined up, and I’d already decided that if I didn’t get either of them, I’d have to reassess my game plan for getting a job. To be honest, I was still having doubts about the whole teaching thing, and I’d reached the stage of the year where I had enough money saved that dropping out of the PGCE wouldn’t have caused me any financial problems.

You’ve probably noticed this essay isn’t called “Why I dropped out of my PGCE!”- so you’ll have guessed that I got a job! It was actually a pretty brutal interview- unlike most teaching interviews, where you get the lesson topic in advance and you’re able to spend all weekend planning a 20 minute teaching session, we got the topic on the day, and we were to teach a full 50 minute lesson. There was also a marking task and a student panel, as well as the individual interview. Perhaps I got the job because of my stamina!

Anyway, getting a job just before going back into school was a game changer. Firstly, somebody wanted me and actually liked my teaching. Secondly, I couldn’t drop out now and leave my lovely school in the lurch.

May-July 2019 (The Home Stretch).

So, back to my placement school. Not everyone went to the same placement school for their third placement, but unfortunately, I was stuck with it. Luckily, I had a new timetable with different classes, and even better, I had a lower teaching load than last half term. This placement was only 5 weeks, with the May half term in the middle.

I was a different person during this placement. Part of it was that I had a job- I couldn’t believe that they would fail me and leave my future school in the lurch. I think part of it was that I was now in classes with some more experienced class teachers, who were helpful and supportive. I think it was also just so close to the end- I could literally count down the lessons!

Perhaps because of my new, relaxed persona, I got on well with my new classes. Because I was mostly teaching within specialism, and I had a smaller timetable, my workload felt like it had been slashed in half. I was a different person. I didn’t go home and cry, anymore! By this stage, I’d also really made friends with the other PGCE students in school- it was interesting to talk to them and realise we’d all gone through similar stuff in the term before but hadn’t been close enough to support each other. They were a really great bunch, and I wish we’d been able to support each other more from the start.

Anyway, soon enough, my final placement was over, my final assignment was written up, and I went back to uni with my head held high. I’d made it.

We had two weeks at the end of term, mostly doing “fun” enrichment stuff- cross curricular workshops, trips to some of the local science themed attractions, that sort of thing. It was way more relaxed than the weird time after Easter- pretty much anyone who wanted a job had one, and we were all focusing on the 8-week summer holiday! Soon enough, it was our final day, spent sitting in a park, drinking cider in the sun.

Unfortunately, not everyone had made it- about 25%-30% of those who started the course at my uni that year dropped out or took a suspension of studies. There are lots of reasons why people drop out of a PGCE, but I think it’s fair to say that some of those students could have been supported to finish or would have finished in different circumstances. I know that I could have easily been one of them, yet I’m doing alright on my NQT. I think it’s something that we need to look at, as a country with a shortage of teachers.

I don’t want to finish on a downer, so I will say that whilst the PGCE was the hardest thing I had ever done, I am so proud of myself for getting through it. I hope, by sharing my experience, I can give you some insight into the reality of what the PGCE can be like- and also let you know that there is light at the end of the tunnel! I haven’t gone into every issue I had during the PGCE, partly because I don’t want to make myself identifiable, and partly because I’m aware that the schools/uni involved can’t reply on here, so it would be pretty unbalanced. But if you’re on a PGCE and think you’re facing similar issues to me, then please do get in touch, and I’ll do my best to help!
Very informative description of your PGCE year. Thanks

Personally I think a lot of changes need to be made in supporting potential teachers.
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(Original post by Tearex)
Thanks for sharing - I’m definitely leaning towards school based training but it was interesting nonetheless - particularly in terms of commuting to “outstanding” and “good” schools as I read this in a training description and wondered “Where?!?!” and out of town may well be the answer 😐
Yeah, certainly we were expected to commute outside of the city- however, I would be wary of training in a school that has been consistently receiving poor ratings.

(Original post by It was all U)
Very informative description of your PGCE year. Thanks

Personally I think a lot of changes need to be made in supporting potential teachers.
I do agree, and as of next year, changes are coming in to help with the NQT year and give new teachers more support.

I think the pressure you're under when training is also symptomatic of the pressure all teachers are under in schools- if your mentor is busy and stressed, they often can't support you as they might in an ideal world! There is a large burden put on mentors, and often they aren't given much extra PPA or support to help with this.
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