I think I might have just done enough to pass my PGCE but I won’t be celebrating just yet. I was so engrossed and committed to supporting the students to the bitter end that it became my focus and my teaching file was a side issue. To me this felt terribly right yet terribly wrong all at the same time. The dilemma of the PGCE student, focus on the teaching or the theory? You won’t get one without the other that’s for sure so it’s a balancing act. Hopefully my grades already in the bag will go someway to helping keep me afloat overall and my observations and essays (at least one of them) should help. Fingers crossed.
My placement hasn’t quite finished yet. I’m going to drop in during management week just to get a feel for some of the planning that goes on behind the scenes but the teaching element is complete.
I can honestly say I have loved this placement. I have really enjoyed the opportunity to learn so much about the teaching role and the behind the scenes elements of teaching. Some of it I can relate so easily to my experiences in the public sector and much of it came as an eye opening experience which I had not anticipated.
When I spent time researching and contemplating my area of practice I definitely made the right choice so it was time well spent. I would advise anyone who is not sure where they want to teach or which subjects or which qualifications that they spend some time investigating, it pays off. Also I would strongly advise that if you do not want to work in the only area you can get a placement don’t do the placement, defer for a year, take an alternate route into teaching, don’t do it for the wrong reasons because you will not enjoy it and the students will not get the best of you and you will not get the best for your own development. Imagine how you would feel if your children had you as a teacher, someone who was displaced, uncomfortable and in this for the wrong reasons. Students are someone’s children, they are people and not doing the best possible by them is an abuse of your position.
I really felt like a part of the team on this placement. It was odd yesterday handing my keys in and my mentor telling me that they didn’t want to take them off me because I felt like one of them now. We had such a good fun day yesterday, now the main stresses of teaching were done and we could reflect and relax a bit as everyone started to catch up on paperwork and tying up loose ends. It reminded me of my days spent as a professional temp in London and how it was always commented in my departing testimonials how I never had a temporary approach to my work and always managed to become a part of the team. More often than not I’d have been offered a permanent position (not this time I should add before anyone misconstrues that) but I didn’t take those opportunities because I loved temping, it allowed me to have so many new experiences, to never grow stale in a role, to be constantly enthusiastic and all of that allowed innovation to flow and I was able to leave my mark… maybe that’s something that my inner Leo needs to do. I guess at this juncture in my life it would be nice to have stability but I think I thrive on living on a rocking ship, it keeps me alert and I know from my years in mental health that keeping the mind alert is not a bad thing as we age. I think I know now that I need to work in supply, something I’ve long suspected.
This approach doesn’t mean that I don’t feel a tinge of sadness when I move on, of course I do, I’m a highly emotional person but I can put that aside and allow the practical side of my nature to take over. I’ll miss the students and I’ll miss my colleagues, all of whom have taught me so much. I’m so grateful for every single one of them and the countless questions they’ve answered, the tips and tricks they’ve shared, the way they have coped with my intrusion into their world in such an embracing manner and the way they have helped to restore my confidence which was pretty low at the beginning of this journey.
I feel that I have achieved more than I ever expected as a trainee teacher. In terms of achievements that can be measured I’ve been pulling 1’s out of the bag on observations since my second observations and they have increased in number through to the end. That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement, of course there is, there always is. Some things were beyond my control, such as the environment but I did the best I could possibly do within it and that was noted in other ares of observations so those ugly 2/3’s were balanced out in the overall grades. Looking back on my observations makes me aware of one thing, there are consistent identifiable strengths in terms of behaviour management, rapport with students, use of resources and activities, relating learning to the workplace, embedding of literacy and numeracy as well as ILT, anecdotal teaching, flexibility and pace and pitch of delivery and embedding of employability and E&D. It also makes me aware that there are some elements which can shift in terms of success or otherwise from observer to observer and from class to class which will always require more effort and more thought.
I guess my biggest lesson is no two lessons are the same.. never rest on your laurels you are never going to be perfect at this so never imagine that you are or will ever be, it is a learning process and always will be. Not that I ever thought I would be perfect, I’m highly self critical and always looking to improve and if I feel I can’t improve I know I’m not looking hard enough at myself.
Another measurable achievement is that in all of the units I taught independently in both years 1 and 2 my students all completed, most within the tight time frames and many were producing work of a merit or distinction standard consistently and quite a few were hitting those higher grades on first submission. This helped me identify a couple of things; firstly I must have been teaching effectively, secondly I must have explained the assignment briefs clearly and thirdly I must have been offering adequate support and motivation to complete. I know with some this took some additional effort and I worked extra hours and stayed longer and offered lots of one to one support but that’s what teachers do, they are there for the students not for themselves. I saw this exampled by my colleagues in the department. I saw their commitment to ensuring the students achieved and their delight when it happened. There may be grumbles about the additional input (mine included) but those grumbles are quickly replaced by smiles and sighs of relief as yet another one passes and achieves what seemed to be unachievable. There is a great sense of belief in the students and I love that, I love that it is about them not us, it’s reassuring and warming and I’m proud to have been a part of a team who felt like that. It’s not one of the measurable things but it’s one of the most important things.
Now for the less measurable – I managed to help one of the students directly into a job and another three told me that they felt the learning they had undertaken on my unit helped them to secure jobs through confidence in the interview process and preparedness, another one told me how she had felt a greater sense of self belief at an interview for a work placement as she had been supported and encouraged in a way that made her feel she could do it when she felt she wasn’t good enough. I’m proud of these things, they are what matter as much as or more than the distinctions and merits and the 1’s at OTLS.
And the end – the unexpected thank yous which I am going to mention because there is not much reward in a trainee role, we do it for the experience there is no money involved, it costs us to participate but the rewards outweigh even the training experience when students come to you, purposefully seek you out to thank you, to tell you how much you are appreciated and how they could never have achieved their qualification without you. It is so heartwarming.
I learned so much from this experience and one of the main things is be flexible, get to know the kids, find ways to incorporate the things they are interested in and enjoy into their learning even if it deviates from your plan, as long as you achieve your end goal it’s a win win situation.
Don’t listen or get involved when they have gripes and moans about other teachers, they are more than likely griping and moaning about you to their other teachers, don’t kid yourself that you are their favourite even if they say you are, they will tell you that as a lever to pull to get them what they want… which is to do as little as possible.
However, if they tell you that they like a particular teacher take an opportunity to learn, ask them why, ask what the teacher does that impresses them and then speak to the teacher concerned about it and find out as much as you can to use in your own practice and to your advantage. See if them liking the teacher is supported by the teacher achieving good results, ask the teacher if they are an outstanding at OTLs be frank and open they can only tell you to mind your own business. If that teacher is a fellow trainee, speak to them and ask what they do and how they are managing to achieve the lofty status of ‘liked teacher’.
Above all else, never see a student as difficult, never see a lack of resources as prohibitive, never see an environment as ruining your teaching, never let team dynamics distort your approach to teaching, see everything as a challenge, a learning opportunity and a chance to do better, to overcome and to achieve. Focus on the student, their achieving is what matters, that’s what you are there for, nothing else. Fill yourself with positivity, believe in you, believe in them and you both might just surprise yourselves.
If you genuinely care about other people achieving their full potential no matter who they are, where they come from, what they do, then this is a job for you and if you’re wondering if you should go down a teacher training route or not and you do not feel that this is your prime motivator then have a serious think about what you are doing and why you are doing it.