PGCE Placement – a guest blog

Jen Day (who is to be found here) sent her PGCE students this message at the midweek for their first placement in School Based Training. Without saying much more than I love it, it is reproduced here without comment:

Dear PGCEs,

It’s Wednesday and, as I did last week, I thought I’d send you a few musings and well wishes. Today is 21/10/2015. For those of you who don’t know, this is the day that Marty McFly went ‘Back to the Future’ in the popular 80’s sci-fi film. As a result, I thought I’d take you back in time and tell you a story.

I would like to share with you my own first week on SBT1. I, like you, trained to teach at Oxford Brookes. I lived in the older Harcourt Hill halls (J block, my name is still graffiti’d under the stairs!)

I didn’t have a car, so for my first placement I got a lift with the lovely lady that I was paired with for placement. Let us call her Ethel for the purposes of this email. To me, Ethel seemed like a being from another planet. We had no common ground at all, or so it seemed.

Each morning Ethel would be waiting to pick me up in her car at 6.45am. On the first morning I overslept because I had been up late the night before panicking. This was not a good start. Ethel patiently sat outside peeping the horn of her ancient Volvo until I emerged from my student hovel, looking frazzled and dazed. Ethel liked to listen to Radio 4. She didn’t take kindly when I offered up my mixed tape of Spice Girls and Take That tunes (I did say we were going back in time!). The 45 minute journey seemed to take forever. I am embarrassed to say that I took a nap to avoid any small talk.

The first day went reasonably well. We met the staff, the children, the parents. There were so many new names that I felt like I had forgotten all of them, including my own. I was taught how to use the photocopier, where the art cupboard was and what time break started. I instantly forgot all of that too.

Ethel, on the other hand, forgot nothing. It transpired that she had worked as a Teaching Assistant before. She befriended the staff with ease, she knew tricks on the photocopier that even the school secretary didn’t know, and she took lots of notes in a little official looking notebook to help her remember things. On meeting the headteacher, I glanced at Ethel and thought that he may as well offer her a job on the spot.

By Wednesday my confidence was in tatters. I still couldn’t remember more than three of the children’s names (the good, the bad and the ugly.) I had forgotten to bring my teaching file in. I’d been observing the class teacher and thinking that I’d never be able to control the class like she did, or inspire them to do their best work. I’d been pouring over real lesson plans for the very first time, petrified by their length and detail.

The teacher called us over at the end of the day. “Tomorrow I think that you should both teach part of a lesson.” Ethel beamed. This was the opportunity she had been waiting for. “Ethel can lead a 15 minute maths warm up game, and Jen can lead 15 minutes at the start of literacy. We’re doing multiplication and fairy tales. Good luck!”

On the way home Ethel managed to come up with what seemed like 500 outstanding potential maths activities. “It’ll just be so hard to pick one” she trilled. I had nothing. Not a single idea. I got to my room, I phoned my Mum, I had a little cry. One of the other girls I lived with walked past my door and asked what was wrong. I told her. “Get over yourself, it’s only 15 minutes!”, came her comforting response, “Just do some hot seating. A little drama or something.”

And so I did. Hot seating with Red Riding Hood and the Big, Bad Wolf. I found some props out of the Halloween outfits belonging to my flatmates. I practiced my Big, Bad Wolf voice in the mirror. I wrote a hugely detailed lesson plan. On reflection it was way more detailed than you really need for 15 minutes, but I wanted to do it right.

The next day my lesson starter went down well. The children behaved. They listened. They laughed. I was elated. I could do it! What’s more, I really enjoyed those moments talking to the children and finding out what they knew. This teaching lark was quite addictive.

In the car on the way home I was absolutely thrilled. I couldn’t wait to teach a whole literacy lesson the following week. The teacher and I were to plan it together the next day based on some of her plans from the previous year.

Ethel parked the Volvo up by my halls and I was taking off my seat belt when suddenly she burst into tears.

“I don’t think I can do this!” she sobbed.

I was aghast. But Ethel, you’re amazing at this already and it’s only day four.

“The children didn’t laugh in my maths activity like they did in yours.”

But, Ethel, in your lesson they actually learnt something new! I’m not sure they learnt anything in mine, for all that they enjoyed it.

“The children like you better because you’re younger than me and you understand what they’re into.”

But, Ethel, I am absolutely terrified of the parents and the other teachers. It doesn’t really matter that I know what music the kids are into.

“You never have to take notes like I do, you just seem to remember everything!”

But, Ethel, I haven’t remembered a thing! I just keep asking questions of the three kids whose name I know. Half of the time I’m acting confident because I’m scared that someone will spot that I’m not good enough.

“When we met the headteacher I’m certain that he was thinking that he’d give you a job in the future.”

But, Ethel, I was thinking exactly the same about you.

We had a hug. We resolved that we were in this experience together. We acknowledged our different strengths. We promised to support one another in our weaknesses.

It turned out that me and Ethel did have things in common all along. We were both anxious about passing the placement. We both wanted the teacher to be impressed and for the children to like us. We both wanted to get a job at the end of the course.

We both loved teaching, we just had different styles. And that was ok.
So let’s go ‘Back to the Future’…

Ethel is a Head Teacher now, and she’s amazing.

You’re going to be amazing too.

Your experiences won’t be exactly the same as mine, it is likely they will be very different. But please remember this. Comparing yourself to what you think another person is like by watching them, comparing your day to a snapshot of someone else’s day on Facebook or Twitter, comparing yourself to someone with different life experiences will only make you glum. There is only one you. As Oscar Wilde said ‘be yourself, everyone else is taken.’

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