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Starting at the Deep End- a month into my PGCE

After the first month into his PGCE, Tom (SENDISaundersRE) reflected on how it went and offered top tips that helped him the most.

SENDI Saunders Journey

I started my PGCE a little over a month ago and it has been one hell of a first month. I feel like I have hit a new level of tired that I have never experienced before. That said I have enjoyed every minute of it and wouldn’t change it for the world. So, I thought I would share this blog as a reflection of my journey into teaching so far and share tips that have helped me. 

Thinking back to the day I found I was successful in my interview; I was absolutely ecstatic and ready to get started. However, never did I think it would go so quickly and we would be in September already! It’s been a rollercoaster of a year and the beginning of my PGCE has added to the forever memories and exciting start to my teaching career. Especially, the now life-long friends and colleagues I have connected with the journey so far. Go #TeamWorcRE!

Of course, that hasn’t come without anxiety, nervousness and the dreaded imposter syndrome but ever since I can remember I couldn’t imagine ever not going into teaching as a career. So, for me, the idea that I will be working with the next generation of critical thinkers, leaders and members of society is the driving force that reassures me that I have chosen to go into the best job in the world. 

I am very lucky that my PGCE journey started from day one in school, as I am doing a school direct route with an amazing community centered teaching alliance based in Warwickshire. I am very fortunate to be based at an outstanding, community-driven and friendly school, which works with staff and students to make it the best it can be. Ever since my first day on INSET day, I felt part of the school and the wider community, working with my mentors, department staff and whole school staff. I am also very grateful for my wonderful University course team and tutors who have made the transition from students to trainee teachers a smooth sailing one, filled with fun, engagement and reflective thinking. I cannot wait to see what the year ahead brings and tackle them head-on to become the best teacher I can be.

One thing I learnt very quickly is the importance of getting to know students’ names and the power that comes from that. From asking a student to tuck their shirt in, asking them to refocus in lessons or redirect their attention to learning. With this, it also develops towards the community aspect of school and being invested in the life and experiences of our students. 

Many teachers I have spoken with have mentioned the power and value of having corridor conversations with students, particularly those who may not get on well in your lessons. From just asking them how their day is going, or how their football match was this weekend to what they thought of their favourite TV show last night. In essence, this is the part of school life that best allows us to get to know students by showing that we care and are invested in them, both inside and outside of school.  

Thinking back to my own educational experiences, this is what made me feel welcomed, valued and part of the school community which makes school seem less daunting and overwhelming. That said, it is always important to acknowledge how students feel and reassure them that it is okay to have those feelings because they are real, true and valid to those individuals. This key thinking links to the idea that every student in our classroom and indeed school will have their own unique and individual experiences and life beyond the walls of the classroom. 

Consequently, this is something that I feel as teachers we should be mindful of in making sure that our students are okay, through having those corridor conversations. As a trainee teacher, emerging into my career this excites me and reminds me that I have a purpose in life. The RE teacher in me says that it is something that I feel called to do and one that I am proud to say I do, prompting me to believe that dreams do come true. 

It is important to remember and reflect on the fact that as trainee teachers we are on a journey and we’re still right at the start of it. Therefore, we are not the final product and will of course face challenges and make mistakes because it is an important part of the progression of training to become a teacher. With that, it is worth remembering, that no one is perfect and no one will not face hiccups along the way. Through embracing our PGCE journey, learning experiences and obstacles it will support us to grow into the best teacher that we want to be. 

Fundamentally, I believe that education is one of the most powerful tools within society to change and transform the lives of the world’s future generations. It is a privilege to be able to contribute towards this and work with young people every day. Which despite the many challenges, there is always something that makes me smile each day. 

Here are some of the top tips that I think have best supported me in my PGCE journey so far. 

My Top 5 Tips to support you at the start of your PGCE

  • Get prepared and organised. Get a diary or planner whichever works for you but make sure you have somewhere you can make notes of dates (there are a lot!) and things you need to remember. Also, make sure you have a good pen because you will inevitably write a lot. Make sure you also have some kind of rigorous filing system whether that be a hardcopy or digital version because there will be tons and tons of important documents, plans and paperwork that you need to keep copies of and edit as you progress. 

  • Create a routine and develop a good work/life balance. Teaching is known to be a challenging career for this, but it is important to remember that our own health and wellbeing matters. Some ideas for this include not working past 9 pm, not working on Sundays, or only working at school when it is needed. Remember to make time to see friends and catch up with them, whether that be for a coffee or a night out, as it’s important to have time out of teacher mode.

  • Observe, observe, observe! When you first enter your placement school you will be observing a lot of lessons. Whilst this may seem frustrating, it is highly beneficial and a big part of the learning experience for us as trainee teachers. I like to make a lot of notes which include teaching ideas, pedagogical approaches in the classroom, behaviour management strategies and how to approach challenging behaviour. I often make notes of verbal and non-verbal communication methods. Make sure you get yourself a notebook to write what you observe in practice because it may be useful to your own practice and teaching methods. 

  • Be open minded, ready to learn and be involved. While going into your placement school can be very daunting and overwhelming, it is important to remember why we are there and the opportunities we have in front of us. Always take on board feedback, new ideas and embrace the opportunity you have been blessed with. If you get the chance to run a club make the most of it and let your creative side run wild because it will massively help develop your student-teacher relationship. Also, if you get the chance to go on a school trip, go for it! Basically, take every experience and opportunity you can! 

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions and enjoy it! I think it is important to remember that every teacher started where we are today and built their way up. So try not to compare yourself to how they engage in lessons and teaching because they will have been doing it for a lot longer than we have. Also, don’t be afraid of it, enjoy the process of progression and the journey of it because it will go so quickly. Finally, be excited and take hold of every opportunity you can.

I know it will not be an easy year and will be filled with many challenges and obstacles. However, that is what I am most looking forward to as it helps in shaping me to become the best teacher that I can be.

Thank you for reading this, I hope it has been useful and insightful into the first month of what a PGCE journey looks like. You can find me on Twitter, reflecting on my journey and tweeting all things education and more as @SENDISaundersRE. If you have any questions, please get in touch! 

SENDI Saunders Books

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The author

Tom has been passionate about education and teaching for as long as he can remember. Throughout his own educational career he has been invested in working with leaders and professionals to develop an inclusive, equitable and enriching community to promote and celebrate difference, diversity and individuality. He is particularly interested in the research and practice of superdiversity and special educational needs and how this can develop an inclusive, quality first teaching RE classroom and school community. Tom completed his BA (Hons) in Special Educational Needs, Disabilities and Inclusion in 2021 at the University of Worcester, achieving a first class honours. He is now studying towards his School Direct PGCE in Religious Education at the University Worcester and with Shires Teaching Alliance. Tom tweets as @SENDISaundersRE and blogs where he shares his teaching journey and celebrates his triumphs, tribulations and experiences of life in education.

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