Embarking on a PGCE is a commendable step for aspiring teachers, a pivotal platform that furnishes them with foundational knowledge and techniques for a career in education. Yet, as many veteran educators would confess, there’s a vast chasm between theory and practice. Drawing insights from recent graduates, this post delves into the ten profound aspects of teaching that a PGCE might not entirely equip you for. From the stark realisation of sole classroom responsibility to the emotional rollercoaster of bidding farewell to students, we shed light on the nuances of the teaching realm that often remain unspoken. Whether you’re reminiscing about your initial teaching days or gearing up for a PGCE, this deep-dive is an illuminating read.
Beyond the PGCE: Real-World Teaching Challenges
Understanding the comprehensive scope of teaching and its various challenges often requires insights from those who have recently stepped into the profession. With this in mind, we reached out to a diverse group of recent graduates, each with their unique journey post-PGCE, to gain a deeper perspective. Our goal was to unveil the unspoken, unexpected, and often surprising aspects of teaching that a standard PGCE qualification might overlook. Through candid conversations and reflections, these graduates shared the top ten things that, despite their rigorous training, they felt were missing or underrepresented during their PGCE journey.
1. Being All On Your Own
Well, maybe not quite alone. You might have a teaching assistant; maybe even two. However, there is no way a PGCE can prepare you for the first time you stand in front of your class knowing that it is exactly that: yours. Your responsibility, your four walls, your career.
I know that there will be a support system in place in most schools, but for the majority of the day, it’s all down to you.
“The moment you realise your class is your own and you don’t have a mentor in the corner of the room telling you what to do. You don’t have someone cheering you on at the back or supporting you to improve something that didn’t work. I know it sounds obvious, but the first half-term was where it really hit me that the children’s progress and attainment truly was my full responsibility and not somebody else’s. There is no room for wasted time or a settling-in period – progress and learning begins from the first moment with your new class!”
2. How To Create Your Own Routines
During a PGCE, it is very unlikely that you have put any routines into place; those small things that are oh so important.
Do your class know to line up outside before coming in? Do you even want them to? Who hands out books; is it your responsibility, or a student’s?
On a PGCE, trainee teachers step into someone else’s routine, which is comforting, but unrealistic. When you’re a teacher, you have to create your own. This can be challenging.
“On a PGCE, you often take over your mentor’s pre-existing routines and transitions, and then suddenly you have to work out how best to do snack & story time (I had no idea that the logistics of the distribution of fruit in year 1 could be so time consuming!). But I realise now that trial and error is okay; you will find something that works.”
3. How To Deal With Responsibility
Okay; so this is pretty similar to number one. It came up so many times, and it’s such a big thing for new teachers, that it bears repeating. Teachers have so many responsibilities; things that just can’t be replicated on a PGCE.
“The gravitas of being responsible for 30 young children, their progress, their enjoyment of school, and, sometimes, even their managing of situations and relationships during the school day. You want each and every child to do their best and, at times, if you stop to think about how much that really means to them, their future, and to yourself, it can be a little overwhelming. In training, your mentor/the class teacher you are with has that responsibility, so you never fully understand it until you have your own class.”
4. Teaching Extends Outside Of The Classroom
If a PGCE is anything to go by, teaching begins and ends in the classroom. There is nothing else to consider or worry about. No parental complaints; no safeguarding issues; no playground scrapes. You just wait in your classroom for 30 students to arrive, try your best to educate them, and then say goodbye after an hour. The reality, of course, is really quite different.
Your relationships with parents are vital, so be the professional they expect you to be. Be visible, approachable and try to say good morning to parents as well as children. Make sure you communicate the positives to them so that, if you do have to talk to them about something negative, you have already initiated a relationship that is based mainly on positives. I do ‘Caught Being Brilliant’ slips that we quickly fill out if a child has done something fantastic (helped another child, overcome a problem, etc.). At the end of the week, we send them all home so that parents know that we recognise the little things that their child does that makes them special.
5. Teaching Extends Outside Of The Walls Of Your School
Before you are a fully blown teacher, it is difficult to understand exactly what it is like to live in the same town or city as your students. The awkward hellos in supermarkets; the looks of puzzlement when you’re spotted at the cinema (wait, teachers have lives outside of school?); the horror of being seen on a date!
I bump into my students in shops all of the time. At first, I found it awkward – but you get used to it. I once spent an evening in the same bar as two of my sixth form students. My drink order very quickly changed to Diet Coke!
6. How To Keep A Straight Face
Every teacher has been there – surely? At least, most of the teachers I spoke to when researching this blog have. Nothing – not your PGCE, not a SCITT program, not years of teaching experience – can solve the issue of trying to keep a straight face when a student does something inappropriate, but genuinely funny.
The worst had to have been when a pupil’s phonetic spelling looked very much like a swear word, and, without realising the issue, I asked another pupil to read it out.
The one time that I just could not keep a straight face was when one of my Year Threes presented me with a picture they had drawn of a camel. It was anatomically correct… and aroused. A quick Google search later and there, in the first few images, was the very camel that the pupil had (innocently) used as inspiration.
7. How To Maintain A Work-Life Balance
Unsurprisingly, this came up a lot. No one could offer any real insight or advice into this but if you would like to understand more on work life balance we have created a post on addressing work life balance .
“How to maintain a work-life balance. Yeah, I’m still working on that one.”
8. Everyone Makes Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes – even the most experienced teachers. That’s why they put those little erasers on the end of pencils.
There’s nothing wrong with making a mistake. In fact, it’s the best way to learn. However, it’s also important to remember that every mistake you make has been made before. Don’t be embarrassed about them; ask for advice. There will be someone on the staff who has been in the exact same position as you.
Teachers don’t always get it right first time. The most important thing is that you recognise when something doesn’t work and you find a different way.
9. How To Prioritise And Delegate
When you get your first class, it can be tempting to try and do everything by yourself. You want to impress so badly that you take on more than you can handle. It’s important that you realise that not everything needs to be done right now, and not everything needs to be done by you.
Learn to prioritise and delegate. There will never be enough hours in the day, and you need to think about what is crucial, what can wait, and what other people can help you with.
10. Saying ‘Goodbye’ Can Be Tough
Teachers that have been in the profession for years are so used to it that they probably feel next to nothing when their class moves on. Some may never suffer any difficulty in saying goodbye. But it is likely that you will.
Even the most frustrating of classes will, at a point in the year, do something to impress or astound you. Your students will become a really big part of your life. Which is why, come the end of the academic year, you might find it a little emotional saying goodbye.
The feeling you have when you have to say goodbye to your first class. Over the year, you grow attached to the children you have taught, mentored, nurtured, and seen grow into lovely young people. The last few weeks and then the last goodbyes of the summer term were a challenge, but the feeling of pride you have at the same time is worth it. I’ve heard that you never forget your first class, and I certainly won’t.
In summary, while a PGCE lays the foundational groundwork for teaching, there’s an expansive world of classroom experiences that it might not cover entirely. As highlighted by the testimonials of recent graduates, real-world teaching comes with its own unique set of challenges and rewards.
Embracing these challenges and savoring the joys is integral to professional growth. Remember, mastering the art of teaching isn’t just about the certificates or qualifications, but the invaluable lessons learned from daily classroom interactions. For those on the verge of a PGCE or those reflecting on their journey, it’s crucial to understand that while formal education prepares us, it’s the hands-on experience that truly shapes a teacher’s path. Embrace the journey, learn from every moment, and continue to enrich the world of education.