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Ok – I know that some of you are by now fed up of my constant references to teaching (and languages) but a couple of people out there have actually followed-up the teaching bit of my random personality as they have aspirations of becoming a teacher themselves (good luck to them – I would always encourage people to go for it!).
In this case, what I propose is a quick run down of the basic training you need to go through in order to get qualified as a teacher in secondary education (sorry, but I can’t comment on the primary sector).
First things first though, before we even get to the qualifications bit – before becoming a teacher you have to ask yourself some basic but obvious questions. Amongst others, you have to ask yourself if you see yourself actually ‘being’ a teacher and funnily enough, this is not as patronising as it seems. Before picking up your own crayons and your pencil case and waddling off back to university, it is helpful if you consider the current climate for teachers. I’m not even talking about pay and conditions (that’s another area I’ll save for later) – I mean you have to appreciate what it can be like in some schools. Basic teacher training by route of a postgraduate qualification (a PGCE – Postgraduate Certificate in Education) means you have to normally spend two long placements in schools and considering that most kids in this country are taught in mainstream secondary schools you will have to deal with these very ‘normal’ conditions of teaching varied, very ‘streetwise’ kids of differing academic and behaviour levels. If you accept these and are still interested in becoming a teacher – read on. If, by chance, the words ‘streetwise’ and ‘kids’ have frightened you, you have my permission to exit this opinion now.
Accepting that the PGCE is the most popular route for people who want to enter teaching after their undergraduate degree, here’s an insight into what it’s like. Yes folks, warts and all.
The PGCE year is probably one of the most hectic, dramatic and melodramatic years you will ever have in your life. In theory and practice, it takes a normal graduate of any subject and transforms them into those mystical things we call – ‘teachers’ and it can be heart-wrenching stuff!
WHAT IS THE PGCE COURSE LIKE?
A PGCE is always a mixture of academic study (yes, folks ‘more’ essays have to be written) and more importantly classroom teaching – out of the two, teaching practice in schools is the larger element and counts more as to if you actually pass the course or not.
Considering that this practice is more valuable than any teaching theory, it is useful to know what to expect and how you are graded in the classroom. Most universities and teacher-training institutions alike will grade the classroom assessment of you into something like the following categories:
1. Subject knowledge – your level of the subject specialism you are teaching to pupils.
2. Classroom management – your ability to ‘manage’ the class as a whole, including some unruly pupils (obviously they do occur and your ability to deal with them can affect your performance in this category both positively and negatively).
3. Planning and teaching – your ‘organisational’ ability – how well do you plan lessons and how well are pupils able to learn as a result of your classroom and lesson planning?
4. Monitoring and assessment – your ability to mark pupils work and give feedback, etc.
5. Other professional qualities – your ability to increase the role of a teacher as much as possible (for example by offering extra-curricular activities, participating in parents evenings, etc.).
HOW WILL I BE ASSESSED?
Thus, in terms of assessment, during the course of your PGCE year, you will be watched by accredited school mentors, other teachers, heads of faculty, school heads, etc. to see if you are capable in the above criteria. If so, provided you have backed up your teaching file with the string of required essays, lesson notes etc. (these requirements vary between each course-providing institution), then you will pass.
As a warning, assessment is not as twee-sounding and straightforward as it may seem. As a student teacher you will find that it is not only pupils you have to deal with but adults as well. Being ‘watched’ as a trainee can leave you in the vulnerable position of having to teach, learn (from the kids), watch and be watched all the time. If you hate being scrutinised (mainly by ‘insistent’ adults rather than pupils) then again you have the permission to leave this review now.
BUT WHAT IS IT ACTUALLY LIKE?
If I made the PGCE qualification seem too simple (and surely I didn’t?!) – then the overriding question in this opinion is to be found in the heading above, but saying this, asking of ‘what it is actually like’ is a question capable of bringing about a huge range of answers.
Making it as personal as possible here, I found my training year to be one of the best years of my life for better or for worse. Normally it is the common opinion between my other friends (who have also trained to be teachers) that this is a make or break year. Training for any profession is a big thing and can take a huge chunk out of your life (often leaving your friends, family, relationships, social life, etc. in the lurch) whilst forcing you to make other sacrifices (planning, teaching, thinking ‘all the time’ etc.). Above all this, teaching initially carries the burden of having to deal with ‘difficult’ kids with a huge range of personal, behavioural, learning problems, etc. As kids are additionally and ultimately your ‘canvas’ in this game – you learn to create a side in your personality here that makes you experts with them and the structure of the PGCE, with its breakdown of concentration in various categories, helps you to do this.
I’ve been teaching now for two years and looking back five years or so ago, I never would have dreamed I would have been able to do this job, knowing what I know now. The rubrics of doing a PGCE however make it all possible. It’s a course worth doing and a job worth aiming for but think ‘wisely’ before doing it and be prepared to work bloody hard.
Good luck to you all and, as ever, if anyone needs more specific advice on this course, please feel free to just ask me!
My experiences are very similar to yours - I too am in my second year of teaching. I personally had a worse NQT year than PGCE but that was because Ofsted arrived in the first 6 weeks and the build up was horrendous.
Anneli86 10.06.2005 20:27
Great review. I've often wanted to find out more about PGCE's. Very informative. Anneli x