A friend that I worked with during my years at university messaged me recently on Facebook to say that they were starting their PGCE year and whether I could share some words of advice. So, I decided that I would sit down at write a post about it. Here we go…
1. Check your social media.
The kids these days are pretty up to scratch with technology and chances are they, if nobody else, will search you on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever else you use. You really don’t want them to find your pictures from university nights out or a rage induced tweet indirectly written about your ex.
Go into your privacy settings and make sure they are on the highest possible setting.
2. Join a teaching union.
There are plenty of teaching unions available to join. Most of them will be at your first week of university trying to get you to join. You can join as many as you like so do it! Not just for the free pens but for the legal protection it offers you, if nothing else.
3. Be organised.
You will be given a multitude of handouts from uni, staff handbooks from your placement as well as a million and one pieces of paperwork to complete. Invest in a solid ring binder from the get go.
4. It’s a marathon. Pace yourself.
It’s going to be a long year. It will go quickly but don’t burn yourself out in the first few months! Use your evenings, weekends and half-terms to look after yourself and recharge.
5. Don’t be scared to ask for help.
Chances are people would rather you ask ten times rather than get it wrong ten times. Any good colleague, mentor or lecturer would understand that you are learning and that you need support on your way.
6. Don’t be scared to cry.
You’re going to cry at least once, if not more. I cried when I had bad lessons. I cried when I had good lessons. I cried when I got my job. I cried when I was awarded ‘outstanding’. I cried when it was over. Maybe that’s just me…but don’t be scared to let it out. Don’t bottle it up because otherwise you’ll cry in front of a student when they tell you their grandad just died…definitely didn’t happen to me!
7. Observe. Observe. Observe.
It is one of the true pleasures of training and one thing that you probably won’t be able to do once you have a full-time timetable. You can learn so much from colleagues across the school – don’t just stay within your subject area. I learnt some fantastic behaviour management techniques from Drama and lots of strategies for differentiated questioning in subjects where the pupils weren’t streamed.
Remember to follow basic manners when observing: show up on time; say thank you; ask whether they’d like you to speak to the pupils or not; don’t sit there slurping tea; don’t judge them.
8. It’s never personal.
If a pupil turns around and tells you to ‘f*** off’ or decides they don’t want to learn about proper nouns, it’s probably not you. It might be you but it won’t be the you that your friends know down the pub on a Friday night.
9. You will be judged by everyone.
Sorry. I know it is probably one of those things that you don’t want to hear but it’s true. You will be judged by the receptionist, the reprographics lady, the pupils, your department, the guy in the staff room who sits in the same seat every day etc. You get the idea. Make sure you make a positive first impression. Read up on their staff dress code and dress appropriately – it’s a good first step.
10. Remember that other members of staff have work to do.
That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t ask for help but it is to say that you shouldn’t sit in the staff room scrolling through the celeb pages of the Daily Mail or having a very loud conversation with your pal about how ‘mental’ the weekend was in that dreary club at 3am…
11. Say no.
No is a word. No is a word that you can use. Within reason, remember that you can say no to requests to cover classes, go on school trips or do someone’s photocopying for the term. There shouldn’t be too many instances where this is applicable but in the interest of your own sanity and well-being…remember that you can say no.
12. Don’t ever tell someone how to do their job.
Want a fast track to being ostracised? Tell an experienced teacher where you think they’re going wrong!
Just because you had a lecture on behaviour management doesn’t mean you can walk into someone else’s class and tell them how to deal with ‘so-and-so’. There is a difference between offering up some stuff you’ve had from university and telling someone how to do their job. Tread the line very carefully.
13. Get to know the staff.
The cleaners, dinner ladies, site staff and receptionists are your friends. Make them your allies. They’ll know everything. If you have a question, chances are they will be able to answer it!
14. Get involved in the school.
You may well arrive at your first placement and think ‘I’m only here for x amount of weeks, I’m just gonna be here from 8-4 and go.’ well think again. Extra-curricular clubs (after-school or during lunchtimes usually) are a fantastic way to get to know the pupils in your classes and the staff who run them. They also give you a real flavour for what a school is like.
15. Pay your subs.
If there is a tea and coffee kitty in your school or department, make sure you pay up. Nobody wants to be ‘that guy’.
16. You are learning.
You should not under any circumstances be asked to go onto an 80% or even 90% timetable as you start in September. You should be building your way up steadily to an 80% timetable (which is what you’ll be on as an NQT).
Use your year of training to brush up on your subject knowledge, pedagogical theory and current debates in education. It will be invaluable!
17. Bring your personality in.
This is a possibly controversial one. I hated the ‘don’t smile until Christmas’ mentality – I think pupils need to have something to connect with so give them something! Let them get to know you. This doesn’t mean they need to know what your favourite pubs are so be selective in the information you share.
18. Get to know your school.
You’ll need to know who is who. You don’t want to make a badly timed joke to the deputy head or start talking about so-and-so when his auntie works in the Geography department.
Get to know the community that your school serves – it will give you an invaluable insight into the lives your students lead.
19. Be kind to yourself.
I gave myself ‘Self-Care Sunday’ every weekend. This meant turning off my phone…running a bath…putting a Lush bath bomb in and something on iPlayer before switching off for a few hours. It’s important that you do these things to keep everything in perspective.
You’ll probably get ill in the half-terms until you’ve built up some sort of iron-fenced immunity so top yourself up with vitamins, eat well and keep hydrated! Hand sanitiser is also incredibly handy (punny, I know).
20. Join Twitter!
There are so many fantastic little pockets of EduTwitter. There are colleagues who have been teaching for years, members of SLT (Senior Leadership Team), NQTs (Newly Qualified Teachers), RQTs (Recently Qualified Teachers) and policy makers. The level of support is fabulous and most are very generous with sharing resources.
I would advise you create a professional Twitter account should any scallywags find your #LoveIsland tweets.
21. Enjoy it!
You are joining an incredible profession where no two days are the same. It will be a rollercoaster. It will be hard but we do it because it is hard. We do it because it is worth it. Hold onto those moments because they provide some light in the darker moments.