Now, I’m not going to pretend that I’m worldy-wise I know all there is to know. Actually, most of my advice comes from the mistakes that I probably made and have learned from. This will not be a Baz Luhrman-‘Suncream’-style moment of epiphany. But I’m going to include the things that I wish people had told me before I started (not that I would have listened).
- Don’t do this on your own.
Your first port-in-a-storm will not be your friends, family or loved ones, but those you are doing your course with. These people will be your rock for the next year. Set up a Whatsapp group, Messenger, whatever, but make sure you do it. Whether you’re having referencing woes, looking for a lift, a library buddy, an inspirational quote or want to moan about the kid that threw up during your final observation (yep, that happened to me), these guys will be there for you. At times- most of the time, actually- they will be the only people that really understand what you’re going through.
At the same time, try to avoid pushing away those you love. My boyfriend and I had a really difficult year, mainly due to me being a complete psychopath and us both having dramatic career changes. At times, my priorities were completely messed up; make sure you keep your in check.
2. Learn how to drive while crying
OK, quite a depressing one. I am not a crier, unless I’ve had too many vinos and then anything goes. This year I spent a lot of time trying not to cry, before having random spats of uncontrollable sobbing. I tried to save these for the drive home, so that I wasn’t looking like a nutter to my mentor. Most of it was due to complete exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed, not because of any particular thing that had happened, as your skin becomes elephant-hide thick by the end of the course. That being said, when I cried during my final observation due to the insanity of Year 7s (see above), my mentor told me he was relieved I wasn’t a robot.
3. Learn to take criticism, but how to receive compliments, too.
I don’t know if I’m quite unique in this way, but I am OK at taking criticism; I think it’s quite a British trait in some ways. Sometimes I don’t always take it on the chin as well as I should, but I’m OK with someone saying that I’m a bit crap. This will happen A LOT during your PGCE year. I was utterly blessed with two of the best mentors, but some of my cohort were spoken to without any tact or diplomacy, which can be difficult to take when you’re 30 and have worked in management and you know yourself how to deliver feedback. At times it feels like they’re ripping you apart to build you back together- they are. But it’s an important part of the process, and you’ll be a better teacher for it.
However, take the compliments. They’ll keep you warm at night. I really struggled with positive praise- God knows why. My mentor told my Uni tutor to give me positive praise after an observation, because he said I was ridiculously rubbish at receiving it and needed to hear it so I knew how well I was doing. He realised later on that I didn’t actually realise whether I was doing well or not, because I was just blocking out all the nice stuff and focusing on how I needed to improve my practice (ugh, that word- you’ll hear that often). However, when I doubted myself (often), that praise was invaluable.
4. Keep some money back for supplies.
It pains me to say this, because schools should be supplying things, but they just can’t (or at least the schools I was in couldn’t). The budget cuts have been vicious, and teachers are feeling the brunt of it. Stock up with glue, pens, card, A3 paper, cut out figures, post-it notes, staplers, paper clips and an abundance of paper. I would also recommend getting a cheap laser printer. I know this sounds excessive but most schools operate using print credits, of which you won’t often get given many. If you’re in a department that kills trees for a living (hands up for English) you will be printing astronomical amounts every day. More experienced teachers get away with projecting stuff and having students copy it down; however, you won’t have the same command of the class as other teachers and handouts are a godsend. If you’re teaching lower ability students, they need handouts to make good progression sometimes- if you’ve run out of printing credits and you’re teaching in 10minutes, then you’ll have a problem.
5. Be organised.
This one pains me to say, but really and truly, this is the key to success. Now, I feel hypocritical saying this, because I am the least organised person you will ever meet. I left my car keys on a shelf in Morrisons the other day. I drove off with my purse on the roof of my car after getting petrol. I once left my work pass next to a chicken ceasar wrap in Tesco. However, I channeled every part of my energy into being organised for this course and it worked. It was only when my mentor got into my car and realised I basically lived in it that he understood that I really wasn’t organised and that I live (and drive) in what my boyfriend has named Teacher Pit.
Right, so how to do it? Buy a teacher planner– it literally saved my life. You’ll begin to see lessons in sequences, rather than one-offs and that is VITAL by the end of the PGCE. You can pick one up from Amazon and it’ll work like a dream (https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/144131573X/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o06_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1). Do the pre-reading!!! Honestly; read as much as you can before you start- especially if you’re teaching English. There is nothing worse than stumbling through texts you don’t know, trying to teach them and show progress when you yourself have barely progressed. Read all of the GCSE texts (some are challenging) and a range of Children’s Lit, which is a joy in itself. And take time to revel in reading; you might not get the chance to read for pleasure before the end of the school year. Get folders and print stuff out regularly; don’t do a massive print out and try to annotate everything the night before an observation or moderation. Try and keep up with demands from school AND uni; both will be vying for your attention and both will be adamant that THEY are your priority. To be honest, your priority will be whatever is due first, but I have to agree with my lovely mentor; the lesson and the kids is your priority. Get their learning secure; yours will follow. Have your stationary sorted:- you don’t want to be scrambling around for green pens, red pens, highlighters, stamps etc. Just have an abundance so you don’t rush to Asda at 9.55pm to get a red pen before they close. Make lists; the most satisfying exercise of all time. Put little things on their that are achievable and cross them off so you can feel like you’re not completely unworthy when you haven’t done everything you set out to do.
6. Manage expectations.
IT WILL NOT BE LIKE ANYTHING YOU THOUGHT. You are not Robin Williams. Kids will not adore you. It’s unlikely they’ll throw a chair out of a window or hit you, either. If you’re doing a core subject, remember that they are being made to be there, especially at GCSE, which seems unfair to them. They were given the choice to take a range of amazing subjects, and were forced to take yours, something they might struggle in. Don’t assume they’ll behave during observations (see above) but also remember that an observation might not necessarily be a fair reflection of you or the kids. Little Jimmy who told you to ‘eff off last week may be all sweetness and light when someone’s in the room.
Equally, this isn’t all about lessons and teaching. Lessons are the marvellous bit, when you can be with the kids and watch the amazing progress they make. It’s the rubbish that goes along with it that’s problematic- tracking, reports, marking (the endless marking…), meetings, parents. Basically, adults. Adults make this job difficult.
7. Take care of yourself.
I am guilty of not doing this. I am currently sat at home with fatigue after basically killing myself trying to do this course and have a social life. I didn’t have one at all pre-Christmas, to the point that my friends staged an intervention. I was just so focused on getting through and not drowning- my two best mates actually came round and forced me to put up my Christmas tree with them because I had become a nutcase. By the time May rolled around, I found a bit more of a balance, but it tipped the other way when I had my final Master’s assignment due, a close friends’ hen party (in Marbs!), her wedding, my best friend’s 30th, my cousin’s 40th…the list went on. Don’t do that, either- you need at least a day to work at the weekend, or you’ll end up with too many late nights and you dropping the ball somewhere.
So, what to suggest. Buy lots of fish fingers- if you haven’t got time to cook, a fish finger sandwich will be like a gourmet meal. Emergency chocolate is good. Bananas are the one- they serve as a quick snack and give you the energy you need to get through the next lesson/cry on the way home. Try and do exercise- it does help (not that I’ve done much at all). Give in to some of your vices- coffee, chocolate or Diet Coke (that would be me).
Most importantly; give yourself a damn break.