“ University: University of Nottingham / Subject of Studies: Biology „
About 2 and a half years ago (eep!) I started the process of applying for my PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education). For one reason and another, my first few choices didn't come through. My sister advised me to pick the University of Nottingham as she had had a really good experience there - albeit nine years previously on a totally different course, but hey ho! I became quite a firm fan when they gave me a place on their PGCE course for Secondary Science (Biology).
There are two main postgraduate routes for potential teachers; a PGCE and a GTP (which is now Schools Direct I believe). A GTP is on the job training; where the trainee starts at a school and pretty much picks up their whole timetable early on, with a few lectures (and a pay cheque). A PGCE is a combination of training (usually in two schools), as well as university sessions and lectures (and university fees as well as a bursary depending on the course). I opted for a PGCE for 2 reasons; 1. I hadn't really heard of the GTP course and 2. I wanted to get as much experience as possible, and be taught how to teach as I haven't had much experience previously - within teaching or work in general.
Now different PGCEs work different ways - both between universities and between topics. The basic premise is the same though; theory of teaching in university, and the practice is mainly in the two placement schools (although, again, some practice is given in university). My course at Nottingham started out with about 3 and a half weeks of lectures and university sessions; we were in university from 9-5 Monday til Friday. We would go over the different types of learning, the different theories behind learning, people's thoughts and opinions on how children learn, as well as how to be professional in school. I found my course had a strong link to Psychology - mainly the psychology of learning. This linked with the Psychology units I had taken in university, so this bored me a little, but it did cause some interesting discussions.
Between mid-October and the beginning of December we were put on our first placement. Students are randomly assigned to a school depending on location, and mode of transport. If you declared you had a car, you were expected to provide lifts for fellow people at the school. Now, being someone who doesn't drive, even I found this rude, as the university arranged placements and expected people to provide lifts - sometimes to nearby schools rather than the same school. People tend to be quite willing to provide lifts for petrol money, but I feel it's very rude to presume.
The placement itself was very interesting; it was the first time you got more than a glimpse of how a school (or more importantly, a teacher) works; planning, marking, teaching, dealing with pupils and staff meetings. We were expected to complete a folder of evidence to show we had found out about certain things, such as the school behaviour policy, shadowing a pupil for a day, how Teaching Assistants work in the classroom etc. It was a very clever way to ensure we found out about the school and how schools generally work. We also had to teach between 10 and 20 lessons whilst there, including a series of 6. This was designed to ensure that we still had enough time to observe the school and other teachers, as well as learning how to plan a series of connecting lessons. I found this beneficial, but did end up teaching about 20 lessons as I enjoyed it so much - and I had time to spare, even with all the tasks and observations I had to do.
A couple of weeks before and after Christmas, we were back in university. Here we could reflect on what we had done, as well as prepare for our main teaching placement. It was here that we were taught how to write a lesson plan (a must for observations and lessons during the PGCE, as well as visits from the dreaded OFSTED); this session really annoyed me, as we had to write the plan as a group. This is something you would never do, except perhaps asking for ideas from others. After a lot of bickering over the lesson, the objectives, the timings, the activities - I think you get the idea - we got a plan together. We were asked to submit the plan and would be given feedback. This was not the case, and unfortunately, this wasn't the only time. A lot of sessions had discussions and activities aimed at finding out what people thought a key element of teaching is, or how best to behaviour manage, or how to work with pupils who struggle with English etc. At the end of a long day, you would expect a round-up from the experienced lecturers, with some helpful information. We were disappointed; the session would end with us just as confused as we had started, and feeling a bit hopeless about working in a school - if there were no real methods or even tips for things such as behaviour management or lesson planning, we were going to have no hope in a school!
The second placement went from January until May, with two main observations and about three days of university. Over the placement you were expected to build up your lessons to the full amount you could do (I think it was 80% of a normal timetable - so about 18 or so lessons over two weeks in my case). It was at your mentor's discretion when you went to full timetable, as well as the classes you got. Mentors were supposed to guide you through the process, observe you, advise you and have weekly meetings with you. They were also the one who would pass or fail you - so they were a pretty big deal. My mentor was incredible, and I put a lot of who I am as a teacher down to her, and some of the other teachers I worked with there. She was very supportive and took a lot of time to advise me and help me through my placement. I know you would expect this of a mentor, but some didn't really bother with their mentees and just left them to it. Lisa made me earn my full timetable, and pushed you to do better - which I didn't need much of as I'm very critical of myself - without pushing you too far. I was very lucky to have the placement I did, and feel I learnt most of what I know and practice now from Lisa and the other teachers there.
After a long and tiring placement, (which wasn't a piece of cake, no matter how wonderful my mentor and fellow teachers were), back off to university we did trot. Yet more sessions were carried out to reflect on our placement, and what we had learnt for the year. But this was going over a lot of old ground, and got quite tedious quite quickly. But we did have one more placement to do; we went back to our first placement to carry out a research project. This was aimed at preparing us for the research involved in a Master's in Education, and not really about the teaching. The project we chose was interesting, looking at how a pupil's diet and lifestyle can affect their work; but 5 weeks of sitting in an office took its toll. We weren't expected to teach there, and a lot of schools just left the researchers to themselves and weren't very bothered about the outcome (a presentation and essay about the findings).
As we had essentially all but passed at the end of the second placement, this research project and the following three weeks of lectures seemed very pointless and just time fillers. A lot of emphasis was placed on taking the Masters course, rather than moving forward into our teaching career. During the course we had to complete 4 essays (including our research report) about aspects of teaching, and research into education. These were fed back on, and were worth Masters credits. They were set to again get you thinking about misconceptions of science learning, and the theory behind teaching, but to be honest they felt a bit like a blur during the stress of the course.
The downside of the course was the university experience. As I was on a science course, I expected sessions about the practical aspects of science. These would be very beneficial, as you can't be expected to remember all practicals available, and don't always have chance to practice them. We only had one morning session, and again, we didn't get any feedback on how to improve our technique. I have since found out the universities such as Nottingham Trent and the University of Cambridge both run practical sessions more than once to allow students to try out and learn a variety of practicals they will end up teaching. It is a gaping hole in the science course at Nottingham, and really lets it down. The lack of feedback after sessions also lets the course down, but as the lecturers are keen to point out, it is a 'holistic' course and you aren't supposed to expect all the answers. As I've come to learn this year, there are right and wrong ways to do things, but it does depend on each class you teach. But a few pointers would have been nice, rather than leaving us all to deliberate and guess!
The things I loved about my course were two main things; 1. The camaraderie between people within subject and without. Everyone sympathised with the sweat and tears that went into so many lessons, and there were many hours spent together helping each other cut out card sorts (I recommend investment in a guillotine). Without the support of my housemates or coursemates, I don't think I'd've stayed as sane as I did. This is why a PGCE trumps a GTP in my opinion, as it gives you chance to get together and talk to people going through the same thing on a fairly regular basis. 2. The main teaching placement. The length of it was fantastic and really allowed me to get into the flow of teaching. Even though it wore me out and at times I felt I wouldn't see the end, I got a very good experience out of it, and had a lot of time to learn a lot of things - far more things than I learnt on all the university days put together.
And now, as I finish my first year of teaching, I feel it was a good time to look back on the course. Even though I am moaning about the lack of feedback from university sessions, I learnt a lot on my placements and look back fondly on my course. I have many happy memories and friendships from my PGCE. It is the best option for those who haven't done much teaching - or for those who perhaps are a little rusty and could do with easing themselves into teaching rather than diving headfirst. I would recommend the course at Nottingham - just don't go in expecting all the answers you are looking for until you reach placements! Good luck to all you budding teachers out there!