OK, so I figured now it’s end of term one of trainee teaching and end of semester one of PGCE study I’d list my top tips for PGCE/teacher training survival for anyone out there who may be considering applying around now for the course next year.
1. Don’t worry if you’re scared – stepping into the classroom for the first time is hard for even the most confident of us. It’s something new, it’s the first big step to fulfilling your ambition, it’s the first time you’ve been ‘the teacher’ and not the student in this kind of formal environment. It is OK to have your teeth chattering, knees knocking, brow sweating and heart pounding. It’s OK to think that everyone instantaneously hates you and that every conversation going on in the room is one making fun of you. It’s ALL GOOD. Don’t worry, take it in your stride and go back next time! It all gets easier. Hey you could even blog about your experiences to make others feel better when they think they’re the only ones who feel like that.
2. Take time to get to know the students and to let them know about you – these early days when you’re not really doing a lot other than observing are priceless for getting to know the students. Ask them why they are studying this course, what they want to do in the future, what they do now besides study, show an interest in them as people. Tell them that you are a student and that you know your specialist subject inside out but are learning to teach and they are going to be the ones to help you learn the most. It helps to break the barriers and build rapport. Hey you could even blog about your breakthrough moments to let your peers know that they do happen.
3. Use techniques – use the techniques you are taught on classroom management, planning, inclusion, differentiation and all that and then add it to the stuff you found out by doing number 2 above and you will feel comfortable very quickly. Hey, you can even blog about the ones you use, where you learned them and how they worked or didn’t work for you.
4. Don’t be in a hurry to run before you can walk – even though others on your course are telling you they’ve been teaching whole classes from day one unsupervised and they have tons of responsibility, congratulate them and be thankful that you are not them. Be glad you have the time to do number 2 and 3 above and to observe your mentor in action, see how he/she interacts with the group (they are used to them) see what you like and don’t like. Critically analyse their performance, perhaps in private at home just for your own information if it gets too near the knuckle. Be glad to observe, get to know the students, get to know the procedures, spend time getting to grips with systems (data bases and procedures), get to know the curriculum, the programme you’re teaching, the assessments and all of that stuff NOW, because once you start teaching fitting it in is not going to be so easy. Hey, you could even blog about it (noticing a theme) and share the things you learn, ask for help with problems you may be having and help out peers who may be struggling.
5. Keep your files and paperwork up to date – In line with 4 above, take this time before you start teaching properly to keep all of your academic teaching files up to date, play with new tech, design new tasks, work on assignments because again as I said above, when you start teaching properly you will not have so much time for all of this, getting on top of it all will make things less stressful in the long run. Hey (I know I know) you could even blog about it when you’re having a hard time keeping up or when you’ve got everything just right, you could share some tips for keeping on top of it all. Keep on top of your course work, this is an essential as deadlines crop up super fast and at very inconvenient times like Christmas. Don’t let it slide, this is what is going to pass your course, this is going to make you a qualified teacher, this is the important bit… as important if not more so to your qualification than actually teaching (although that is hugely important too of course). Hey you can even blog about it (stop groaning) to celebrate your triumphs, share your grades, encourage your peers.
6. Attend your classes and read – this is really important, you can miss so much from just one session. You might be able to catch up using slides shared online or from sharing notes with colleagues but you can’t catch up on anecdotal experiences which may have been shared and discussions. Also if you are doing something like a microteach or something else which depends on peer observation and feedback it’s good in the interests of team work to turn up but also you miss out on so much if you’re a no show. There is much learning to be done from peer students and it’s all valuable. We are going to be professionals, professionals depend on peer networks for support, advice, information, resources and JOBS. Be a part of your group to benefit from all they can offer you now and in the future. Don’t forget to read, sign up to all of those useful Twitter and Facebook sites, TES, Guardian Education and the wealth of useful information sources that are at our finger tips. Get your blog up and running, read other blogs, comment, have discussions and debates, share your unique experiences. It will all help you to be the best teacher you can be. Hey you could share things you found interesting on your blog and you can write about your thoughts on theories and continue a classroom debate.
7. Don’t forget your specialist subject – while you are busy teaching and learning about teaching you might let that subscription to The Economist lapse or the HBR which was your lifeblood for the past 3 years of a business degree go unread for weeks, you might lose the avid interest you had in current affairs. Don’t let it happen! You really need to be on the ball with your specialist subject, keep up to date, don’t miss out, your teaching needs to be contemporary, there is no point teaching history to a business class they want to know what’s happening in the world now, what laws are affecting them today. You could blog about new developments within your specialist field or how you included something important into a lesson that maybe wasn’t planned to be included, especially if it is something ground breaking or particularly note worthy relating to your subject.
8. Technology – keep an eye on what’s going on out there, what tech there is to help you make lesson planning easier, to make learning more fun and engaging, test it out and try it. Lots of it is fun to use. Powerpoint has been the presentation medium of choice for way too long now, it’s survived as the ‘go to’ for nearly as long as the OHP did. There are more engaging, more visually stimulating, more useful tools out there, try Prezi it’s great! Make your lessons more dynamic, young people are used to having information shoved in their faces, visually stimulating and appealing, it’s how businesses work their way into their brains, they use imagery, colour, music, voice, work your teaching into their brains in the same way, make it engaging and familiar. Hey, you could share things you find on your blog, now that’s an idea!
9. Reflection and Criticism – reflect on everything you do, after every lesson you teach, learn to do it quickly, in action if you can and learn from it. Meet with your mentor and take criticism, ask your students for feedback on your performance, use your trainee period as a learning experience, that’s what it is. Don’t shy away from difficult situations, get stuck into them now while you have the support of your lecturers, mentor and peers. Once you are in a job you will not have as much support as you have as a trainee, you will be expected to perform and deliver more so than you are as a trainee. Enjoy being a trainee and being allowed to get things wrong. Of course reflection is a lifelong discipline that you need to be getting into and making mistakes is something that you will always be allowed to do, but get the whoppers out of the way now. Hey, now you really could use your blog for this, you can reflect on your day, your placement, your observations, your lesson, you can share feedback from your students and peers you can summarise how a mentor meeting went and share any news you may have.
10. Keep your ILP up to date – this document will show you how much you have grown as a teacher and how much you have learned and how hard you have worked, it will give you direction and set a path for you to follow. It will stand you in good stead for the workplace when you have to back up requests for CPD training with objectives in your PDP. Also remember to keep your CV and your profile on any job search sites up to date, that’s important and will become even more important in the next semester. Hey, (last time now) you can even blog about it, shout it out when you achieve a target or seek help and ideas on how to achieve a target that’s proving elusive.
Over arching all of these tips is the need to enjoy what you are doing, cherish the journey, learn from everyone around you, build a good relationship with your mentor, talk to them if there are any problems, when you feel like you can’t be bothered or it’s going nowhere or wondering if you’re cut out for it your relationships with mentors and lecturers are invaluable to keep you on track and to bolster you on a bad day. They have been there and more than once too! Keep at it and be delighted with each step you make towards fulfilling your dream of being a teacher… we’re already teachers of course but you know what I mean. Keep up with all of this and you’ll have a happy smiley face by Christmas.