by Luke Rudge
The phrase goes, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach,” but I’m pretty sure the person who created that phrase hasn’t taught a day in their life. As a graduate of Linguistics and French from the University of the West of England, and a current Secondary MFL PGCE student in the same institution, I aim to disprove this claim and maybe give you an idea of why pursuing a PGCE is one of the most satisfying, varied and challenging paths you can choose.
I could write for hours on the multiple facets of teaching, the post-Uni journey to the PGCE course, current affairs in teaching, etc. but for brevity I will give you an idea of what you could expect from a PGCE course (particularly at UWE) and some tips to get you on your way if you think this might be the right path for you!
Teaching courses come in multiple flavours, such as the traditional PGCE route, School Direct, Teach First, etc. These flavours seem to change every year, but at the heart of it, any training course will have the same end goal: to train you up through a variety of methods into a qualified teacher, in practise and academically speaking. UWE offer two routes – the ‘traditional’ PGCE (controlled mainly by the University) and the newer School Direct route in association with the Cabot Learning Federation (controlled mainly by the academies in the federation).
PGCE courses require an application and an interview, but you must ensure beforehand that you have recent observational experience of teaching in the phase you want to teach (e.g. primary or secondary). Interviewers love it if you can critically analyse situations, so try to observe as much as you can: the subject content, the method of content delivery, the layout of classrooms, methods of classroom management and how the school operates in terms of heads, principles, support staff… Note it all down and make sure you can summarise it in a professional manner.
You will need to know the subject you want to teach to a high level, so expect to be tested on your knowledge. Don’t feel too pressured to get it all correct, however. A PGCE will give you the opportunity to brush up on skills that you may have forgotten and give you an idea on how to transform your specialist knowledge into content that primary or secondary pupils will understand. Try this: think of a subject area that you studied when you were 12. How did your teacher educate you? Did you learn everything about the subject or just a few surface facts? How did you know that you had progressed from knowing nothing to knowing something? These will be some of the questions that you’ll be asking yourself when you start planning and evaluating your own lessons!
It takes a lot to be a teacher. You might hear how they have all the best holidays and how they only work 9am – 3pm. These are just rumours! Right now, I’m halfway through my first placement and I am teaching 10 – 12 hours of lessons per week. This might not seem like much, but remember that each lesson needs to be planned, all resources need to be sourced or created, a record of lessons and evaluations must be kept, there will be extra-curricular things to take care of such as break time duty and after-school clubs, alongside completing assignments for University… hopefully you can see that what looks like an easy task on the outside actually requires a lot more time and dedication than many believe.
However, please do not let this be a deterrent! You will hear many current and former PGCE students telling you that their PGCE year was “the hardest year of their lives.” I’d like to think that this isn’t true. Of course, it has its extremely challenging moments, but these are always balanced out by those moments where you know that what you are doing, and what you are training to do, is one of the best jobs in the world. For all the times where you have to give a pupil detention for not completing their homework, or have a difficult conversation about an incident at break time, there will be those “Eureka!” moments where a pupil finally understands that tricky concept, where two pupils finally mature and move on in order to work together as a team, and seeing your pupils move on into the world with smiles on their faces during the day that all teachers live for – Results Day.
Remember: you’re never alone on a PGCE. You’ll have your subject classmates, your mentors, your tutors and a whole host of students across the country in the same boat as you. There are multiple networks and unions out there to help you get through the year and a great deal of support is available at any time if you need it.
Teaching is not a job; it is a career, and a great one at that. If you can take the ups with the downs, get your creative juices flowing and be seen as a role model to hundreds – if not thousands – of eager young minds, then apply for a place and see where the PGCE path can take you!
Some extra tips on PGCE application and the course itself:
- Do some preliminary research on schools in your area via Ofsted, current affairs in education and frameworks in place such as the National Curriculum; this information will help you greatly during interview
- Depending on your degree classification and subject you wish to teach, you may be eligible for a bursary of up to £20,000. Search online for teacher training bursaries to find out more
- Speak to current and former PGCE students for information. The above is my view, and as much as I have tried to keep it neutral, other trainees will have other things to say. Talk to us; we don’t bite (as long as we’ve had our morning coffee)
- Check the course you want to apply for and what you will be accredited with. Be aware that not every route will lead to a PGCE qualification
- Send an e-mail to schools to see if they can let you observe lessons for a day or two, but don’t be surprised if they cannot accommodate you; they’ll want to help, but schools are busy places!
- Give an air of confidence in your demeanour. A mentor of mine once told me that “children are like wolves,” in the fact that they can sense when you’re fearful. Remember that you aim to be the one in control, whether this is at your interview, your observations or even as a fully qualified teacher; be human, but have faith in yourself and your abilities