Let’s be honest, doing a PGCE is tough. It’s a rollercoaster ride of pain, stress, endurance and perseverance. Yet there are also moments of pleasure, satisfaction and a deep sense that you are doing something truly worthwhile. Few career paths can match the sheer intensity of a PGCE – the challenge comes from having to learn so many new things all at once.
Yes, doing a PGCE is tough. But it is worth it? Absolutely.
Having recently trained as a teacher myself, I’d like to share some of my experiences and offer some candid advice to those who are thinking of going into teaching. So let’s jump in.
The highs and lows of teacher training
For me the lowest point came around 3 months into the course after stress had turned me into a bit of an insomniac. I remember just staring at a wall thinking ‘why am I doing this to myself?’ Yet through those troubled times and I found strength and support from my mentor at school who encouraged me to put my health before my career. It was his empathetic and wise words that got me through the next few months. That, and a few sleeping tablets.
On the other hand, relationships I formed with other people rank among the high points. Staff members and other people on the PGCE helped provide moments of sanity throughout the working day, while the relationships with the pupils reminded me why I was there in the first place. This becomes especially apparent when you teach members of your form group and you see the contrast in behaviour and respect, because they have seen you in a different, pastoral role. It is perhaps then this element of being a role-model that is the most precious experience. Indeed it is on days where you are just living life – probably stressed – yet doing your best to engage young minds that pupils get to see how you really cope with life, and perhaps glimpse something worth replicating.
Advice for aspiring teachers
- First piece of advice: talk to someone. Parents, friends, old teachers – seek as much information and advice as you can before you start. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, and it will help to inform your decisions.
- The second piece of advice would be to know why you personally want to do a PGCE (not just why you think people should generally). For me, as a maths teacher, it was to learn how to creatively develop and enact lessons using a curriculum, to learn more about how young people learn, and also gain access to the education system and see how it is managed. Part of the fun was experiencing what it was like to see the reverse side of the classroom, to be facing a class rather than absorbing information from a lecturer or teacher.
Some thoughts on the education system
The problem I found, however, was that the freedom I anticipated was missing. I didn’t expect to be able to just walk in and be a great teacher, but I did think there would be more room to develop deeper relationships with the young people, rather than training them to pass exams and spending majority of my time trying to meet the standards listed for the course. The problem therefore manifests itself with the feeling that, although you have finally been given the opportunity to teach and inspire young minds, you still feel stuck in the examination system, not only getting the young people to pass their exams, but permanently having to make the grade yourself.
Yet if you enjoy a competitive system where all opportunities for self-development drive you forward, then you will do well. One of the great things about teacher training is that every day genuinely is a learning curve and you get to see yourself responding to the most random situations without prior experience; and even though something similar may happen the next day, it will entail a completely different problem to solve or manage. It is in moments of chaos and work-overload/meltdown that you find an inner strength that you tell yourself ‘at least I won’t make that mistake again.’ And you learn. In this respect, there is no better practical, hands-on learning experience available on the university market I believe (even the business courses!). One of the wonderful things is that you get to share your experiences with the other people on the course, and talk about the highs/lows/moments of pure genius/disasters, and remember that you’re all in the same boat!
When you realise that you are the person that can make the classroom either a place of refuge and inspiration or a place of dread, and that these young people are effectively in your care from the moment they walk in the classroom, the levels of immediate responsibility run high. Sometimes you will feel under-qualified, but the confidence you learn as a result of holding your nerve is priceless.
Teacher training – you can do it!
Teaching is not an easy option, but it is worthwhile. If you decide to embark upon a PGCE there will be highs and lows. It’s a rollercoaster of a year, but if you stick at it you’ll find it was worth the ride.
You can do it – good luck!