All Done

Inspite of being ill at the beginning of this break and then nearly cutting my finger off and not being able to write or type too well and losing my phone I’ve had a rest and I’ve got everything complete and ready for submission.  This week has been a really upside down, tizz of a week, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I’m so glad I’m done with studying for the holidays now though, it was worth cramming it all in so that I can have a good break next week and stop thinking and dreaming about essays and lesson plans and presentations.

Some good news about work for September though, I have a couple of options open to me and it’s just nice to know that there is work out there.

If you’re thinking of doing this next year keep on top of your work so that you get to actually have a break in your breaks. For some it’s going to be your last chance in a long time to have nice long holidays from work where you don’t have to use the time to prepare for next semester.

Heading into the final push now and hopefully next week will refresh me and prepare me for that.



When is a volunteer not a volunteer? When they are a PGCE student.

Someone asked me today if I get paid for my placement and I said no. They asked it I’m a volunteer and I said not technically no but then I thought well I guess I am essentially a very willing volunteer.

But it’s not really something I think about, or thought about until today. It made me reflect on how I see things and I came up with this (please read on to the end before jumping to an early conclusion on my take on this):

When I arrive for an 8am meeting and when I offer to cover a class and come in on a scheduled non teaching day, when I volunteer my time into the future (attending and helping out with the awards night in late June and helping with next year’s induction days in July long after my placement and PGCE will have finished) I forget that I’m under no obligation to do any of this, my teaching hours are in the bag, observations are done (bar the one I had to add on) and it’s all essentially arbitrary now. It’s costing me to attend the placement in terms of  travel and not being able to work in a paid job while I’m on placement. I would but there are just not enough hours in the week.

But I don’t even think of that because this is not a volunteer role. It is all excellent, valuable exposure and experience that is worth far more to me than the costs; hidden or obvious. It’s a priceless experience in the sense that money really couldn’t buy it and it’s far more than a volunteer role. If you view it as a volunteer job you are in the wrong mind set, it is far more than that, it’s not something you are doing out of the goodness of your heart it is something that will help build you as a professional and equip you for the career you have chosen. What you are getting is on the job training and support from a range of professional people often on a 1:1 basis. How much would that cost you if you wanted to put a price on it? I know we pay for the PGCE course but that about covers (if that) the tuition and other facilities we use to study. So rather than being a volunteer role it’s a trade off: the training and support and wealth of expertise to tap into for my time and willingness to participate in the experience.

It’s a unique insight into the world you want to spend the next how many years of your life working in, it’s an immersive experience which someone has kindly offered you to support you in meeting your career objectives. We know so many educational establishments are under pressure financially especially in FE and their staffing is cut back to the bone and so to offer this opportunity is something to be grateful for, it’s an add on to an already busy workload for someone or indeed for many people.

Besides that, it’s a real privilege that teachers are willing to hand over their classes to you. We know the bond that develops between student and teacher and letting go of what feels like a surrogate ‘brood’ is not easy, trusting an inexperienced stranger with the class you’ve shaped and moulded is a big step and we need to be mindful of that too. I can’t imagine (or rather I can) how I will feel one day when I repay the favour.

I sometimes have been frustrated by the pace of my placement but now looking back I think it’s been perfect. It’s eased me in, allowed me to digest the experience in small chunks and to build up the skills and understanding necessary to be where I am now: confident, equipped and prepared for the role.

Of course it’s also allowed me time to study too which is important when it comes to the qualification. I’m simultaneously working on finishing off my professionalism essay, writing up my specialist interview, writing up my ILP targets, writing my conference paper and presentation and at the same time keeping my ILP up to date as well as my teaching file and this blog. That’s no mean feat to be working on all of that academic work at a masters level while lesson planning, delivering teaching, reflecting on teaching and everything that goes with it all at the same time. That’s not to mention having a life still outside of the PGCE… although I think that is holding itself together by a thread.

I can’t imagine doing all of this while parenting small children or having a significant caring responsibility for an elderly or sick relative or being in poor health myself, it must be so tough. Seriously if you’re thinking of this for yourself for next year, give it some really good, long hard thought as it really isn’t an easy ride. Make sure that the PGCE is the right route into teaching for you and make sure that this is the right time for you to be making this career move, make sure you have the time and the energy, the support and the right level of commitment because it’s a hard intensive slog.

For people who have had high levels of teaching from early on in their placement and those who have taken on paid teaching jobs and have a higher level of responsibility with that it must be even harder and I can only applaud them for coping. But I do get it, the goal is to get a teaching job, if that opportunity presents itself while you are training then it would be a tough one to turn down.

I am a big fan of the PGCE or at least some pre-service teacher training to prepare for life as a teacher and I’ll blog about that towards the end but even though I’m a fan of it and would highly recommend it I am not willing to put anyone under any false illusion that it’s easy or the best route for everyone.

Think the process through, think your opportunities through and weigh them up before being eager to rush in. If someone had offered me a 30 hour teaching contract in November I would have jumped at it and it would have been a huge mistake for me because I know that I would be in serious trouble now trying to cope. I would have probably dropped a level for sure at least.

I probably would be second thinking the need to complete the course…”I’ve got a teaching job without it so what’s the point?” that logic might have crept in. But I’d be thousands of pounds in debt for something I bought but never took delivery of and that would be senseless so I’d be under pressure to continue and complete and probably down on myself for not giving it my all.

It’s not just the course and placement and work, there are things happening in my children’s lives which need attention and there are things in my own life which need attention and they are often on the back burner for a little longer than they should be. Fortunately the kids are old enough to understand but do consider if the people around you will be supportive and understanding and help you rather than hinder you through this big step. Think about a partner or spouse, kids, friends even who might not take too well to a year of trying to talk to someone with their head buried in a book or who might begin to tire of being guinea pigs for your latest fantastic lesson idea. You have to consider the impact of the commitment to study and the commitment to teaching and all that entails during and outside of working hours on the people who should be your support at home. Some relationships can falter simply because you’re learning something new, you’re speaking a different language you’re interested in and focused on something that might not be a common interest and that can sometimes cause unanticipated problems.

Know your limitations and set yourself realistic goals, keep organised, set tight deadlines and you’ll make it through but don’t expect it to be the walk in the park that you might have imagined. It might be easier for someone younger and more mentally fresh and physically alert but then on the other hand as an older person you might have more experience of working long hours, going without sleep, acting professionally on auto pilot and of good systems for self management which make life easier. There are pros and cons to all perspectives. Just be sure to really seriously give it some thought before you start on the path.

It’s not a volunteer job, it’s not easy study, a PGCE is demanding in many ways and it’s best to consider all of the possible implications now and make sure that you’re prepared for it. Don’t just do it because it’s something to do, don’t do it because it’s the only funded post grad course you can find, you have to want to be a teacher or you will sink under the demands of the role, you have to want to get the most out of it or you will sink under the paperwork.

It’s a great course and a fantastic experience just don’t take the decision lightly it’s tough in so many ways and you need to be prepared for that. Places on PGCE courses are in high demand, don’t take one up for the wrong reasons or if you don’t think you can see it through. Sometimes we have to be true to ourselves and exercise some social conscience too.

Assignments, marking and feedback

It’s amazing how little things about teaching give you a boost. I think it’s all of the firsts you experience and how important a milestone each one becomes. It’s all about taking responsibility, developing professionalism, being trusted with the learner’s success and future really.

Each step consolidates that feeling of being a teacher.

It’s quite a transition really from whatever we were before to what we are now, it’s a step by step, little by little process and it builds up all of the layers which are essential to be set free fully fledged and ready to take on your own full time role.

As the assignments for the courses we teach are more or less written in stone and IV’d before the course begins I  didn’t think I’d get chance to influence a piece of work essential to passing the unit.  But a few weeks ago I got to write an assignment for an element of a unit I’m delivering and it was an interesting experience. Reading into the spec and working out how best to demonstrate the required learning had taken place, considering differentiation and coming up with something work based and interesting too. I managed to create an assignment which embedded some of the other essentials too, using a variety of software, literacy and numeracy (depending on how far learners want to challenge and extend themselves), employability, E&D and sustainability. So there was added value in there too. I appreciate that I had more time to spend on this than I would if I was in post and so I relished that time to fine tune the necessary skills.

I took the lead from my PGCE tutor and included a writing frame which was commented on as a good idea by my mentor. I’ve been involved in a few conversations about writing frames this week and the conclusion is that it’s better to write one frame and put it out there than to repeat a million times what you expect to see included in an essay or report. It’s not like it has to be followed, it’s not like it’s spoon feeding. The only information you are giving is the advice and guidance you would give anyway either as a group or to individual learners. So they can be useful  in the interests of saving time and repetition as well as allowing learners to have your guidance accessible to them at all times and in all places… on the go teaching and support. I guess that’s what it’s all about in this modern world,  it’s not just about what happens in the classroom for students who are used to information on the go, easily accessible any time, any place.

Just a bit of digression here but I just want to say that it’s important what you learn from each other as a peer group of student teachers, it’s important what you learn from observing your mentor, it’s important what you learn from self reflection but don’t forget that there are expert teachers who are also teaching you every week and you shouldn’t forget to watch them and see what tips you can pick up and that’s not just in the classroom but in the way they prepare and feedback on assignments, the way they share information with students and the whole package. There is a tendancy to forget that the very people teaching us are a bigger part of the journey for us, watch how they manage a class of chatterbox adults, think about how they make you feel when you are in their class. It’s the best (and for some of us last) chance we get to see things from the student perspective for real, without just imagining what it’s all like. Be critical too, if you don’t like something or think it would never work with your students that’s as important to keep in mind as the things which you feel would work well and the things you do like.

So of course the assignment… that’s what I was talking about. It had to go to IV but because I was doing this outside of the usual time frame (assignments would usually be cast in stone by now as I said) and that takes time I had to let the learners start working on the draft. I was pleased when I opened the upload slot today and they started dropping in completed assignments and a quick look showed me that they seem to have grasped the task well. I can’t wait to start marking them now and have my first real shot at marking and feedback. I’ve done some already but nothing as formal as this is going to be. Again, it’s a small step to have my own marking pile (even though that is virtual these days and it’s more of a small stack) but step by step and it all builds the full picture as I said at the beginning, these little milestones are important.

It was a good day today I think we have to build up trust in the students so they come to us and ask for help and advice, it’s not something that flows from the beginning, they are a little tentative with us and loyal to their regular teacher.  That’s another gradual process when you’re on a placement and something which probably isn’t much different with your own ‘real’ class as it does take time to build that relationship. So to arrive at that point where the students come to find you in the staff room for a bit of help and where the phone rings and it’s you who is asked for by the voice on the other end are just more of those little steps towards becoming a real teacher and feeling that sense of professionalism develop inside yourself.

At the end of my morning and afternoon sessions I had a straggler who wanted to ask a question and for a bit of help with an assignment and I kind of like that, I like that they have that trust in me now to feel able to do that.

Little by little and eventually you get there. So for my next trick I will practice and learn the art of constructive feedback and how to deal with the fall out from that.









Resource Alert for Business Teachers

I only just realised that BP do a set of resources for teaching business at various levels.

It’s free to use downloads and what I’ve looked at seem really good and very thorough. This one was of interest to me specifically and may be useful to other post 14 business teachers either to map in to course spec or to run as an add on project or even a competition or to add a little to for older students.

Copy and paste the link below but you will have to register to use materials but as I say it’s free.

Tutorials, target hours, tiredness and teaching… in that order.

Had a really useful group tutorial yesterday. It was good to hear other ideas and start to get excited about the conference coming up in May. I”m really looking forward to it and to developing my ideas from the outline they are now into a presentation and a paper. I’ve been toying about with presentation ideas and think I’ve come up with something that will make it interesting and engaging.

I’ve presented tons over the years and still get nervous every time. Teaching has made me think more about presenting and making Imagethings engaging not flashy, concise yet informative, logical and with clear objectives. What I will have to do for this one is avoid it sounding and looking like I’m teaching a lesson.

I’ve seen teachers who teach as if they are presenting something they have learned as if they’re doing their own assignment. I’m aware that it could maybe work the other way round where a teacher presents as if they’re teaching a lesson and not as if they are presenting their own work. There are subtle differences and I’m going to have to be careful to not blur the lines having become used to teaching.

It’s great though that my presentation skills have improved no doubt through teaching (the theory and the practice).

I nearly hit my 100 hours independent teaching mark this week too. There were a lot in the beginning which were made up from 1:1 work on assignments and preparation time and some bits of teaching and class sitting but since winter half term the hours have really been racking up fast. I know those hours are draining and that’s something any teacher will agree with (well all of those I’ve spoken to anyway). I can really appreciate that Friday feeling my colleagues and other teachers I know display.

I never appreciated how intense it was going to be teaching for an hour or two at a time, being effectively responsible for twenty odd people being educated, entertained, engaged, interested, motivated, patient, well mannered, good humoured, comfortable, happy, suitably challenged, included and all of those other balls teachers have to keep on juggling. On top of all that you are performing, youImage are on display you are being observed and silently or otherwise judged. Your ideas, those fantastically inspired tasks and activities you spent hours devising, creating and testing are out there at last being test driven being enjoyed… or not, doing their job… or not. There is so much going on, so many tiny almost invisible pressures on a teacher in the classroom which are tiring and can be very draining.

That’s not to mention the outside influences; what if you didn’t have such a good sleep, what if you’ve got worries or troubles at home, what if you’re not feeling 100% health wise, what if you’re just not feeling on top of your game today? You still have to plough on and smile and deliver a fabulous lesson and maybe after that you have to rush to deliver another and another.

Besides all of that you are doing it all on your own essentially, you don’t walk out of a class sit down and have a coffee and a chat and reflect on what happened with a colleague who was in there experiencing it with you, it was just you and the students. When they bustle off to their break or their next class you kind of deflate for a moment and look around your empty classroom like you’ve been abandoned, like it’s the end of the party and Imageyou’ve been left to go around and pick up all of the burst balloons and paper cups. Sometimes you may want to share a triumph or off load a problem or run something by someone but in reality those opportunities won’t come until later or won’t come at all that day. But I guess you have to get over it and reinflate quickly as your next class starts to pour in. I guess that’s when time with colleagues becomes even more precious, just to have some adult non student contact.

For a full time teacher  time with colleagues is often snatched as they all whizz in and out of classes. As a trainee there is undoubtedly far more down time to be had but I observe the teachers around me and see how they rarely get to touch base and how they value it when they do. These are some of the things you don’t appreciate in  life before teaching and things you really need to contemplate before you head off down the path. I’m not saying it takes huge physical energy or huge physical fitness or even the optimum of health to pull off but it does take a mental toll and if your brain is tired then your body is tired.

ImageTips for every day really but these are definite top tips for teachers: Drink lots of water all through the day, sleep well at night, make sure to have breakfast and lunch. Besides giving you the hydration and energy to get you through a day they give you a chance to sit down, often with other adults (colleagues for lunch) and you get a break from those pressures talked about up there^^^^ and a quick battery refresh.

I need to lose a ton of weight gained largely through illness and physical inability to do the things I used to do to keep the pounds at bay but I’ve lost half a stone in the past couple of weeks because teaching has given me a kick up the backside to make me re-find my former fit and healthy self because she is needed and now the illness is under control there is no excuse. There is no denying that staying active and healthy is a big part of teaching, not because you have to run around a lot or stand a lot but because it keeps your brain functioning well and you need it functioning well. If you are fit and healthy and if you exercise and eat and drink well then you will be less likely to suffer from stress and related illnesses both mental and physical. Your brain will be more on the ball and your wits will be sharper. This work is demanding, it really is. I’ve heard or seen so many student teachers of varying ages and fitness levels comment on how exhausted they are after a  90 minute lesson and how shocked they are by it. Don’t underestimate it and do all you can to prepare for it. Really, don’t be surprised when after your first 90 minute lesson you could easily climb into bed.

You can sip water all day, in class and out of class, you have time between lessons to scoff a piece of fruit, a few grapes or an apple and then to make a healthy lunch choice to give you a vitamin and mineral boost without leaving you feeling lethargic and weighed Imagedown. I never thought I’d be giving health advice as part of my advice to new teachers but it’s good advice I promise you. Regardless of where you’re starting from e.g dire health (me) to super fit this is advice for everyone and anyone to either help improve your health and fitness or stave off stress and those bugs that  seem to spread around schools and colleges like wild fire.

I covered a class after tutorial yesterday. I never get to teach on a Monday as that’s PGCE theory day when we’re in class ourselves at the uni from 9-5. My group tutorial started and finished before lunch so I offered to cover an accounting class for one of my usual groups. There weren’t many of them there and there was a peculiar atmosphere. It was like the last day of term before Christmas… that kind of feeling. Students were in good spirits but not very interested in doing any work. Cast your mind back to the last few days of term when you were a teenager and remember how you had already begun to wind down the week before and all thoughts were focused on the next few weeks and what you would do with all that freetime… that’s where they were at I think. I do remember it even though it was a long time ago.

I gave them a task that their usual teacher had set but they hoodwinked me. Beware of the hoodwinking that goes on when you are covering a class for someone else. I’ve not fallen foul of it thus far but I’ve had my first experience of it now.

There was a bit of confusion and that can also happen when you are covering a class where you are unfamiliar with the content. Not Imagebeing familiar with teaching the subject although (rustily) familiar with it having learned it myself I found myself agreeing that a task to find a break even point was impossible without a knowledge of how much the sale price per unit is. I hadn’t been taught that the variable costs were the sales price, I thought the variable costs were the production cost per unit on top of fixed costs and sales price included a profit margin. So it was confusion all round BUT some learning did take place as we did discuss the effects of fluctuations in the variables and the merits and otherwise of the analysis method.

I guess covering a class can be a minefield or an opportunity to showcase your flexibility and we can’t all get it right all of the time so I’m not beating myself up about it and it’s just another one of those delightful learning experiences and it was a favour done which is always gratifying.

Last three teaching sessions coming up this week tomorrow and the next day and then it’s Easter break and a chance to get all of those written assignments and files up to date and cleared off the to do list and hopefully to have a rest and to free my mind from thinking of study for at least one of the weeks… at least that’s the plan.