Category: PGCE


A few weeks ago I was in Cardiff visiting one of my closest friends. We met in college eleven years ago and, despite her moving to Cardiff in 2009, we’ve remained bestest buds. When we she first moved down we used to write to each other a lot. To a stranger, untrained in our ridiculous comedy, the letters would read like some sort of cry for help, but to us they were hilarious. We used to send each other all sorts of stupid stuff, writing letters as characters and sometimes creating over the top, ridiculous stories to entertain each other. On my recent visit, we were talking about these letters and how it had been a few years since we sent our last. I’d taken down a particularly long and bizarre ‘book’ that she had written for one of my birthdays and it had provoked plenty of hilarity.

‘Where did we get our ideas from? I couldn’t think of anything like this now….’, she sighed flicking through the pages of Christmas carols she had adapted with rude and absurd new meanings.

It’s a worrying thought that has also crossed my mind. Up until a few years ago I was constantly writing.  Whether it was short stories, bits of screenplay, notes of ideas, or bonkers letters to friends. There was a point where I was constantly typing in ideas into my phone or scribbling on the back of my hand. I often used to leave my evening job with my pockets stuffed full of till roll which I had covered with ideas during the laboriously dull shifts. I was bursting with ideas.

The last time I really sat down to write (and complete!) anything was in February, when I wrote a full script for the Performing Arts concert in school. Before that, I hadn’t written anything since the September following my PGCE, when I went a bit mad with freedom and channelled all my pent up creative energy into a short story. That was about two years ago now. Before that, I hadn’t written anything worth talking about for a long time.

So, when discussing this sudden halt in creativity, our first morbid thought was ‘It must come with age’. Now that we have reached the sickeningly disgusting age of 27, and hover on the brink of *gulp* 30, it seemed obvious that that creative vein from our late teens had just sort of slowed. But age can’t be to blame, really can it? People don’t just stop being creative once they reach their late twenties! It doesn’t happen!

So, what is it? We both have quite demanding jobs and, as I’ve said lots of times before, I do sometimes feel this horrible sense of creative restriction since I started my PGCE (3 years ago this week!). I don’t perform anymore and I don’t really have the time to write, which has resulted in me feeling quite frustrated that I’m not able to express myself like I used to. My friend’s job is similar – she works long hours and by the time she comes home all she wants to do is switch off.  On the rare weekend, where I’ll feel so frustrated that I’ll force myself to just sit and write, what comes out is re-tellings or twists of real life events. Things that have happened to me or my friends. My writing now is more grounded to real-life – totally different to Reset, which I started writing in 2009, that I created a whole new world for.

Maybe it’s not ‘work’ so much, just ‘life’. We’ve got all these horrid responsibilities now that we didn’t have as teenagers and it seems that life is just clogging up our heads. In the last year or so I’m finding myself getting increasingly forgetful. Whether it’s names or memories or highly important jobs I need to do – I always had a very good memory but I’m noticing a steady increase in my ‘scatty moments’. A few weeks ago I totally forgot the word for ‘flannel’, so how can I expect my mind to focus on creating a story?

Perhaps creativity is like a muscle. My life has seen big changes in the last couple of years and it’s meant that I’ve had to give up performing and not had much time to write. Maybe the problem is that I’ve neglected to stretch that muscle that was so strong just a few years ago, which makes it tricky for me to carry out any kind of lengthy writing session now. When I think about it, my ‘creative peak’ was at a time when I was writing daily and that time itself has come off the back of my time in education. At GCSE level, story writing was part of the exam so I had plenty of opportunity to practise (‘write a short story about friendship’ *shudders*). At A level I wasn’t so much writing but devising stories and improvs as part of a Drama and Theatre Studies course, which also involved writing analytical essays about how I would creatively stage productions. Then, finally, at degree level I chose a Creative Writing module which resulted in Reset being written. It’s important to remember that during that time in university I was constantly required to read all kinds of literature, so perhaps immersing myself in other people’s writing is another way to inspire my creativity.

It’s a sad fact, one that at times is difficult to accept, but my life now requires me to focus on things other than writing and performing. Once my ideas might have blossomed and flourished but now, my exhausted brain just tends to let them fester for a bit and then crumble away. But, determined to end on a positive, I’m going to make a promise to myself: to try to find the time to be creative. Whether it’s late-night writing, surrounding myself with inspiration novels, or spending time with fellow theatricals. That’s my promise….and I’m making it just as I’m going back to school!

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So, it was Sunday and I was in the cemetery. Not how I spend every Sunday but I ended up talking to a lovely lady. During conversation, she asked where I worked and when I told her she replied with ‘A teacher? Oh I couldn’t do your job. You all work so hard, hats off to you.’

It’s at that point that I realised this was the first time a stranger had reacted like this to my career choice. I usually get some sarcastic quip about holidays (honestly, come on, give me something original) or ‘your lot are always complaining, aren’t you?’. It felt lovely to be complimented. Then, as I was recovering from the shock of the incident, the same thing happened again tonight at the gym. This time it was another lovely lady who ‘couldn’t do [my] job. It must be very tough.’ (And…she was a nurse, so I reciprocated the sentiment!). So, twice in one week I’d had very rare positive comments about my career. I had to write about it.

Truth is, us teachers have a bad rep. Even my own mother thinks my job is easy. On passing my PGCE she said ‘And now you’re a part-timer. Finish at 3pm and for most of the year you’re on holiday.’ Great. Thanks, mum. I’ve got other family members who refuse to believe that I don’t walk into work at 9am and put my feet up at home by 3.15pm. I’ve joined a profession that is rapidly losing its respect. (Disclaimer: Thankfully I do have family members who know exactly what my job entails. I’m one of three teachers in my family.)

But why? We’re working harder than ever to provide an education for the next generation but for some reason what we do is seen as easy. A job anyone can do. Not only are we putting every effort into educating and caring for children (which is why we all went into the job in the first place) but we’re having to deal with deadlines, paperwork, red-tape and ever-changing schemes and systems. So, forgive me if I’m a bit insulted when people insinuate I don’t deserve my holidays.

Whilst I was training, the main point the trainees brought back to the lecture hall was how firm a grip parents have over classroom management. The craziest of actions are carried out all through fear of offending a parent. I’ve heard plenty of complaints of well-experienced teachers being forced to apologise to a parent for moves that were only undertaken with the pupils’ best interests in mind. I’ve heard many a rant about parents swearing and threatening teachers for ridiculous reasons. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced any of that this year and my bunch of parents have been very kind and supportive, but I know I wouldn’t have heard horror stories like these if I’d have entered the profession twenty years ago.

Then you’ve got the children. I thank the teaching Gods every day that I don’t really have to tackle this problem at Primary level as our behaviour strategies are always very effective, but hearing from colleagues in secondary schools is enough to keep me tucked safely in the foundation phase. It can be very hard for teachers to gain respect from their teenage pupils.

The fact is people just don’t regard teachers with the same respect they used to do. So what is it? What is causing people to think a teachers life is an easy one? I don’t have the answer, but as a profession we need support, from everyone, to ensure our work is the best it can be, because nothing is more important than educating the future generation.

And next time you meet a teacher, please don’t mention the holidays.

 

In my classroom, the word ‘No’ is used a lot. Never in an unkind way, but regularly throughout the day will I find myself saying ‘No I can’t do that for you.’ Alright, when a child is making an awful mess of gluing work into their books or tidying the role play in the way I don’t like, it’s bloody hard not to interject, But then I use the ‘no’ on myself to remind me that they need to learn.

In year one, it’s very easy to take over. It’s easy to do everything for the children. They do need more support than the juniors, obviously, but it’s so important to find the right balance between helping and hindering. It might sound cruel, but they need to learn to do things for themselves.

It’s a sad fact that the world we live in is not fair and not kind. Whilst I aim to make the time in my classroom a happy one, I don’t hide from the children the fact that things don’t always go the way we want them. I think some people might be guilty of over-protecting children from that fact.

For example, a friend of mine works in a school and is in charge of the football team. When choosing a squad for a match, he was faced with a backlash of complaints from parents of the children who didn’t make it. This made his job impossible. How was he going to please everyone? There more children wanting to play than there were spaces on the team. He couldn’t please everyone, so he chose the players who would work best in the team. Parents complained that their child hadn’t made it and took their anger out the teacher, who was only really doing his job. It’s sad that not everyone could get on the team, but it’s an unavoidable fact. Here is what should have happened – the opportunity should have been taken to explain to that unlucky child that although they didn’t make the team this time, there would always be other times, and if they continued to try hard, they’d get their chance.

When I was younger, I was part of a theatre group and there were occasions when I didn’t get the role I wanted. But I got over it. I told myself that next time might be different and I got on with it. I always ended up enjoying the part I was given. I needed to be told ‘No’ to learn and develop a stronger resistance to disappointment. My parents didn’t know I was disappointed and certainly didn’t march down to the theatre to have it out with the director…..and I’m bloody glad they didn’t!

When applying for post-grad courses at university I was rejected twice and had to spend a further two years in a part-time job that I despised. At the time it was the end of the world for me but as time ticked by I stopped seeing it as a failure and more of a learning curve. I worked harder on future applications, clocked up a lot of voluntary experience and did my research. I’ve achieved that goal now, and it might have taken me a bit longer than I planned, but I believe I’m better off for the setbacks. I appreciate my position more because I know just how hard it was to get here! I could have thrown a tantrum and given up. But I didn’t.

The children in my class know that the world is not perfect but they’re still very happy children. I think one of the kindest things you can do for a child is armour them with steely determination and resilience to disappointment. Not through cruelty, but by allowing them to grow, be independent and foster a realists view of the world.

 Since I started volunteering/working/training in schools I’ve made lots of friends who work in education. Many times, the topic of ‘professionalism’ at work has come up in the staffroom or over a coffee.

Now, it’s a well-known fact that teachers are community figures who should act with dignity and respect at all times. It’s a little known fact that teachers are actually human as well.

Teachers have an expectation of behaviour from students, but the teachers are also required to conform to high expectations when it comes to professionalism. Their behaviour and attitude is constantly being noted and judged by children, colleagues, parents and the public. But why? Teachers are human beings too – they smoke, drink, swear, stay up late, go on dates, laugh with friends, lie in bed on weekends, eat chocolate and lie just like everyone else!

During training, professionalism is strongly emphasised, and rightly so. Teachers are role models for children, therefore their attitude and behaviour should always be impeccable. However, there are some areas which I think call for flexibility.

I know one teacher who – between jobs – dyed their hair green. Now, if you knew this person, you would understand their choice of colour. It totally suited them. They looked great. And it absolutely reflected their personality. However, when this person returned to work they were told they would have to go back to their natural colour as green hair just wasn’t professional and in keeping with that important teacher image. Now, I understand there are lines that must not be crossed (tattoos of naked figures and facial piercings you could hang your washing on will always be a no-no) but surely an adult should be allowed to dye their hair any colour they want. In this case, this teacher’s hair colour sent the message to children that she was comfortable in expressing herself and surely that is the message we want children to grow up with – that it is OK to be yourself.

If you’re a teacher, you’re always in the spotlight. Whether you’re keeping your opinions to yourself on Facebook or covering the wine bottles in your Tesco trolley with fruit and veg – the perfect teaching persona must never slip. Even as I write this I’m worried that airing my personal opinions could come back and bite me on my professional behind! As teachers we, sometimes subconsciously, go to great lengths to keep up appearances. It’s no wonder children think we’re another species. But is this doing more damage than good?

I’m not just talking about hair colour or clothing. Why shouldn’t we share our lives with pupils? I know lots of teachers who will start the day with a story about their son or daughter. The children love this and are always gripped to hear what has been going on in Mr/Mrs X’s house over the weekend. It builds that important bond – Why shouldn’t we encourage that? One teacher I have observed spoke often about his girlfriend and used anecdotes featuring her to help model work. It was brilliant and the bond between class and teacher was incredible. If we have partners, why shouldn’t we discuss them? It models healthy relationships to children and shows us as normal approachable people who they can share their problems with. I’ve seen lots of encouragement online for gay teachers to come out to their class. Although I can understand how daunting this could be I think this is a positive step towards removing negative pre-conceptions children may have, such as same-sex partnerships not being ’normal’ (whatever that is!). If a child comes to us with an issue relating to gender or sexuality, we are encouraged to be supportive, so our class should be encouraged to be supportive of our identities too. The more this is modelled to children, the more accepting the next generation will be and the more they will realise that it is OK to love whoever they want.

I am a firm believer in sharing some aspects of my home life with children as it builds that important connection and trust, and the children start to see you as a real person. When these children grow up we want them to be socially functional adults who can think for themselves, accept who they are and not be afraid to show it. Surely, the best way to get this message across is to model it.

Very rarely do you come across a book that stays with you long after you have read the final page. I read this book in January and I know I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time yet.

I picked up This Book is Gay after noticing a buzz about it online and wanting to prepare myself for any questions on identity future students might have. I came to the simple conclusion:

This book is an absolute must-read for anyone working with young people.

James Dawson answers all the questions you might be afraid to ask with a warm, comfortable attitude. There is no room for embarrassment or coyness where this book is involved. No dancing around topics with tenuous analogies and awkwardly false scenarios – just straight to the point, no nonsense facts whilst maintaining a comfortable and relaxed tone. And that is exactly how it should be. At some points, reading this book took me back to late-night chats I’d had with friends when we were teens – reading this book is just like talking to a good friend. This Books is Gay addresses every topic under the LGBT umbrella (and what a wonderful brolly that would be!)

Now, this book might not be suitable for those of us working in Primary education, however, for those working in Secondary schools I cannot recommend this book enough. As teachers, it is our duty to provide support, care and guidance for our pupils whenever and however they need it. In today’s times, where sex, sexuality and gender are talked about more openly than ever, it is important that us teachers arm ourselves for any discussions students might need. When I was in Secondary school, I certainly don’t remember any support for students discovering their identity – just a lot of emphasis on heterosexuality and cisgender. In modern times, we need to be there for our students who are finding out who they are – to remind them that however they identify, that’s OK! – and This Book is Gay is an exceptional tool for support.

This book is not just for gay students – in fact it can be of value to anyone regardless of how they identify. Dawson blends factual info and personal stories from contributors around the world with his wonderful quick wit and humour. A former PSHCE teacher, I have a feeling his former students were very lucky to have him on their side. As a writer and a teacher he is an inspiration to those pursuing either career and, as an NQT, I have added him to my growing list of role models.

In short, buy this book!! Dawson has earned that space on your shelf. This Book is Gay not only provides teachers with a handy go-to for support in answering any tricky, unanticipated questions but is also a vital tool for helping students find comfort in their own skin and recognise that it is OK to just be themselves.

Back to reality: Life Post-PGCE

So, on the 26th June 2015 I was reborn.

No biggy.

My soul was cleansed and I rose from my slumber, gazing on the world with fresh new vision. Everything was beautiful.

I took my disneyfied new body for a walk along the beach. The sun kissed my skin and a ladybird fluttered cheerfully onto my hand, beaming back at me as a trio of bluebirds sang ‘Good morning.’

…….Right, yes….OK….I’m exaggerating a teeny tiny bit. Just a little bit.

Basically, on the 26th June, I graduated. My PGCE year was over and I was officially a Primary Teacher. The dream had been achieved and the curtain had closed on an incredible year.

Incredible for many reasons.

Incredible because I had achieved something I had wanted for years. Incredible because I had learned so much and developed as a person thanks to some brilliant experiences and opportunities. Incredible because I had met some wonderfully supportive and inspirational people. And incredible because it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Ever. Ever ever.

Yes, it was totally worth it and, yes, I absolutely enjoyed it, but there is no denying it was tough. Very tough. I am adamant that over the past ten months I ate enough chocolate to feed a small village and I aged fifteen years. To anyone contemplating a PGCE I would, of course, urge you to do it if your heart really lies in education (and if it doesn’t….well you’ll soon find out) but be prepared.

This time last year I was gearing up for six weeks of freedom before I kissed goodbye to….well….to everything! (My social life, my sleeping pattern…) The advice I was given was:

‘This summer, read any books you want to read. Get up to date with any TV programmes. See your family and friends….because you won’t have time for any of that from September.’

Hahaha. Mega lolz. What a joke! We all laughed.

But he was deadly serious. And absolutely correct.

On the 26th June I genuinely felt like I had been re-released into the world. Suddenly, I was free. I could read. Go for walks. Eat at a reasonable time. See my friends. Say ‘Yes’ to a social event without thinking about the work I needed to complete first. Spend mornings in bed watching ‘Orange is the New Black’. Read whole chapters of books in one sitting. I was granted a magical gift that I had sacrificed for ten months – Time.

Don’t think I’m exaggerating. I fell into the trap of thinking my friends and colleagues were doing just that as they warned me to enjoy my summer holidays but they were so so so so right. When I worked as I TA, I often wondered why colleagues who had taken the PGCE route into education were spoken about like they had been on some kind of Bear Grylls forest-trekking, shark-wrestling, friend-eating survival expedition before entering the classroom. A PGCE student is a survivor.

Whilst I sat in the graduation room, two emotions bubbled inside me. Firstly, I felt like I had undergone some sort of trauma. From battling deadlines, to the endless stream of paperwork and late nights and early mornings and long drives and dreaded lesson observations – you know you’re busy when you swallow grapes whole at lunch time and find yourself crying when you’re reminded of the friends you haven’t seen in six months whilst driving along the dual carriageway. So, yeh, trauma.

Secondly (and most importantly), I felt proud. Pride like I had never felt before. The kind of pride I imagine Alan Grant felt as he left Isla Nublar at the end of Jurassic Park….Yes, that’s right. That is exactly the parallel I am going to make – I felt like I’d just survived 10 months on an island of rampaging, meat-hungry dinosaurs. By the end you’ll be pretty exhausted and maybe even a little bit emotionally scarred, but you will be proud that you survived and grateful for the opportunity. Just like Dr Grant, you will have plenty of stories to tell and you’ll live to enjoy an exciting future.

Finally, here are my four top tips for the PGCE-ers of the future.

  • Make friends. I know plenty of people who have survived to the end due to the support of their fellow students. My bunch certainly helped each other (after many a stressed-out text message).
  • Make time to see your family and friends. Yes, enjoy their company as much as you can over the summer, but you will need downtime during the course. Make sure you plan lots of fun things to help you relax.
  • Enjoy it. It may be hard but you only get to do it once so make the most of the experience, stay positive and be the best you can be.
  • Remember, an extremely rewarding career waits for you on the other side.