The PGCE is a very challenging course and many people drop out before completing the programme. Schools can be difficult places to work and balancing workload alongside any other responsibilities is tricky for some. Teaching is a rewarding job, but it’s not easy!
This blog post will discuss 5 common mistakes people make on their PGCE courses and how to avoid them. You’ll learn about what you need to do in order to stay committed, keep up with your workload, maintain good mental health, and more!
Read on to learn how to make the most of your teacher training experience.
The Top 5 mistakes people make during their PGCE courses
Not asking for help from mentors and tutors
Teaching is a demanding profession and your training year is no different. You should be surrounded by expert teachers who will help steer your classroom decisions and model good practice but this doesn’t mean you won’t struggle. Many trainees don’t want to admit the level of stress they are feeling and consequently don’t ask for help, this mistake can lead to mental health issues and poor performance.
You’ll be familiar with the safety notice in aircraft and the message about securing your oxygen mask before helping others. It’s incredibly difficult to be an excellent teacher unless you are safe and secure. Asking for help is an important trait that should see you having a longer, more manageable career.
When i’ve supported trainees as a Mentor I make it clear that I expect there to be a moment during the PGCE year when they hit a wall and need help. I set the tone that I know it’s a really difficult training experience and asking for more support is almost a given.
Not managing your workload
This is an easy one to make and it’s a common mistake. You’ll be juggling lectures with preparing lessons, marking, researching for resources, planning the curriculum you want to teach and more! It can seem like no matter how hard you try there will always be another task that needs doing. This is an unfortunate feature of the profession that doesn’t ever leave. Consequently, having a solid approach to workload management is vital.
It’s easy for a trainee teacher to get overwhelmed with what seems like an endless amount of marking, lesson planning and administration tasks. You should regularly look at all you are taking on to make sure it is manageable. Be open with your Mentor about what tasks are on your agenda and always ask for their approach to managing workload.
This includes planning your workload for the week and deciding what time you work best to accomplish these tasks effectively. I really recommend getting into a routine so that everything is planned out in advance, this will help create a more manageable life outside of teaching too!
Personally, I would input my timetable in to a calendar such as Outlook or Google and then plot my recurring tasks in the time I had allocated outside of lessons. This would mean that each week I could make sure I was ticking off the bigger jobs during my working day. For me this might mean allocating 60 minutes per year group over a 2-week cycle to assess work, a free lesson on a Friday morning might become my regular time to print resources for the next week. You will know what tasks you need to complete so your own timetable will feel quite different.
At holidays I allocate days that I will work and make sure I don’t on the others. This means I can enjoy downtime without wondering when I will get round to that bit of planning or assessment – I’ve already picked when I am going to achieve it.
Many teachers do the same at weekends; sticking to a specific routine of Friday night off, Saturday off, Sunday morning planning, Sunday afternoon off. As a trainee you have the added challenge of balancing assignments so don’t forget to plan for them too!
Not having enough recovery time
We all know how difficult it can be to find time for anything outside of our day jobs. This is amplified when you are working a demanding professional job like teaching and have any other commitments too.
The key here is finding the right balance between work, sleep, leisure activities and family life. There are also different ways that people relax or de-stress themselves after a long day in the classroom.
Some of my trainees find that they need to be active after a long day at work so might go for a run or do some household chores. Others may have hobbies that always help them relax and de-stress, like crafting or reading. If you don’t know what works for you yet then take time to explore different things. There isn’t a one size approach here so don’t panic if Yoga doesn’t float your boat!
It’s important to find a work-life balance that suits your personality and goals. You don’t want to be someone who is always on the verge of burnout or has nothing left in their tank when they retire. What does work for you might not work for others too so do what makes sense for you!
Recovery time is usually the first thing that gets dropped when workload is mismanaged but if you skip recovery you get trapped in a stress cycle and actually become less efficient. Taking 30 minutes out of your day to jog, play video games or read might feel wasteful when you are pressured but you’ll return to the task re-energised.
Also, don’t listen to teachers that brag about the number of hours they work or the fact they never see their children. These people are idiots whose coping mechanism is to try and normalise burnout.
Maintaining good relationships
It’s easy to get into the ‘teacher bubble’ when you are a trainee and forget that there is an entire world outside of your teaching occupation. This can lead to poor relationships with other people, especially if they know little about what you do as a PGCE student. It’s hard to ‘get’ the reality of teaching unless you’ve ever done it, so don’t expect much empathy, sympathy or understanding from anyone.
I really recommend being more proactive in making social connections. You can do this by trying to find a time in your week where you devote an hour or two to socialising with friends and family, make the effort! Your support network is going to be vital during your training year and beyond.
Being on good terms with colleagues is also important. If there are any difficult people in your workplace then it’s worth making an effort to maintain those relationships as well so that you have support. Don’t get bogged down in the weird hierarchy that exists in some schools and just be pleasant to everyone. Take the time to get to know the people that support the school activities too; the site staff, cleaner and reception team will probably be some of your most valuable allies throughout the year.
If there are other people in your school who are trainees, then make time to network. They’ll be having the same experiences as you, so it’s good to have someone around who understands what you’re going through. I still talk to people I was placed with 15 years ago.
Saying yes to too many things
This is something that many people struggle with because they want to show how committed they are to their trainee year. However, it’s really important not to over-commit yourself or take on too much when you’re a PGCE student. It can quickly become difficult to prioritise your time for work if you are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of tasks on your plate. That’s why it’s important to say no now and then, especially when you are working in a demanding profession like teaching.
You will face something new almost everyday during your PGCE year. Learning how to handle unusual and challenging situations will be at the top of your priority list. Imagine your teacher training is like balancing 30 plates and walking 100 meters. People are going to offer you another plate from time to time and you might comfortably balance a few more; but if you say yes to everyone’s request then the plates will either become too heavy or topple and crash to floor. Don’t be afraid to say no!
Teaching can be the best job in the world
Teaching can be the best job in the world because it challenges you, fuels your love of life, and gives you an opportunity to make a difference.
Teaching is a job that thrives on being open minded and able to help other people find their place in our society. It’s also one of those jobs where you’ll always be learning new things about yourself as well as what’s going on around us. So keep the above mistakes in mind and enjoy the process!