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PGCE school placement

Career | Published 21 December, 2009 | By: Interview by Jennifer Beckles

School experience is a crucial part of all teacher training courses and two students say how it was for them.

Kathryn Nott, PCGE student, University of Exeter

What was your first week like?
I’d just moved to a new town, my life was still in boxes and I wasn’t as prepared as I should have, or wanted to be, which undermined my confidence. It was very daunting but everyone at school was incredibly friendly. Everyone made me feel really welcome from the senior management team to the support staff, so it was easy to ask any questions. I felt like I’d never understand all the documentation and procedures, but after three weeks it felt like I’d been there forever!

Is there anything you wish you’d known before your first placement?
I wish I’d known exactly how many things you’re required to do, know and remember at once. You’re just bombarded by thousands of tiny things to do, such as learn names, get seating plans, so my life became ruled by post-it notes (and still is!). I wish someone had warned me about that before.

What is the most valuable thing you’ve learnt?
To listen to what everyone has to say, even if it’s not what you want to hear. Ask everyone for their opinion on things - “Could I have handled that better?” “What would you have done differently?” “Where should I go from here?”

Never ever be afraid to admit that you screwed up - to yourself, your college and even the students. Realise where and why you went wrong, apologise and correct it. Don’t dwell on your mistakes because it’s not possible to be perfect.

What tips do you have for others going on placement?

  • Attitude makes all the difference : If you make it clear that you’re happy in the classroom, the students are more likely to respond well
  • Remember to bring your personality into the classroom - it’s great getting to know the students and enjoy spending time with them, yet you can still remain professional
  • Make time for yourself: teacher training can eat away at your life, and a supportive network is vital. Other trainees are great but it helps to have someone outside teaching to talk to
  • Finally, my philosophy is “it’ll get done, because it has to,” so don’t worry.


Laura Bellinger, PGCE student at Cambridge University

What was your first week like?
I found it pretty overwhelming at first in both my schools because there was so much to learn and new people to get used to. Luckily, colleagues were really welcoming and it helps having other trainees around as everyone looks out for each other.

Is there anything you wish you’d known before your first placement?
That no matter how out of depth you feel at first, its amazing how quickly you settle into a school - you get used to the routines, get to know the staff and students, and feel like part of the team remarkably quickly. I didn’t want to leave my first placement by the end, but I would never have believed that in September.

Also, I thought everyone would expect me to be amazing from the start, and even though I wasn’t everyone was so encouraging and reassuring. I soon realized that everyone remembers what it’s like to be a trainee!

What is the most valuable thing you’ve learnt?
How important it is to have supportive colleagues with whom you can discuss things and bounce ideas off. Also, that however scary they can seem at times, most pupils are excited about learning new things and they can surprise you with their passion sometimes!

What tips do you have for others going on placement?

  • The advice my dad gave me before starting the course was ‘dig deep’ and he was definitely right. Its extremely hard work with long hours, and you need commitment and perseverance.
  • Use the other trainees on your course to share stories of ‘triumphs and disasters’ (as our tutor calls them). It’s often really easy to think you’re the only one struggling with something and its so helpful to find out how other people have dealt with similar issues.

Need more advice? Visit Trainee teachers and NQTs

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Comment (9)

  • OK but what about those of us who have had less than fortunate experiences? Mature students are often treated as a threat, rather than an opportunity

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    Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
    16 December, 2008


  • I am mature student of 44 and I would still agree with Kathryn, although I only had 2 other students on my placement and didn't see much of them, so it could feel a bit lonely. However most teachers were helpful and friendly. I would like to say all, but that wouldn't be true, as we are only human and are bound to find there are people in the staff room not on your wavelength. My first placement was a really positive, if exhausting experience. But teaching is the hardest I have ever worked - late nights planning and no life outside until the holidays. Finding it hard to find a balance, but know that the end is in sight! Love the performance in front of a class and the buzz whe a lesson goes really well. Unbeatable!

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    12 January, 2009


  • Im an even more mature student (will keep the age confidential :)) and also found that some teachers did feel threatened by me, I dont know why!! Perhaps I was older and wiser than most of them. I did find myself out of my depth having gone from a first placement school just coming out of special measures to a selective grammar school!!! They let me have a hard time and hardly helped. I was ticked off for every little thing. However, I observed so many positive things that I shall take with me to my third placement after Easter. Who says teaching isnt worth all of this??

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    3 April, 2009


  • I have found and still find teaching a humble yet exciting experience. I find that planning and delivering lessons a real buzz and that every lesson experience is key to the teaching experience. Teaching is most certainly worth the effort.

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    4 September, 2009


  • If I am listed as cause for concern that doesn't necessary mean the worst right ? I can still turn it around. Its for my classroom management really. I have to be a lot more strict - at times- and sometimes struggle with this but I am sure I with the right training, guidance and self belief, I can do it.

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    9 February, 2010


  • It is heartening to see mature students sharing their experiences. I am 49 and found the first placement really difficult, no support lots of criticism in the department I was attached to. The thing that kept me going was the actual teaching and the kids - I really want to teach so I came away with that positive feeling to carry me forward. Now I just have to come up with a title for my research project by tomorrow!!!

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    24 February, 2010


  • Yet another "even more" Mature Student. I really identify with the lack of time for a life, but somehow, gradually it seems that lesson planning gets quicker.

    My last placement was really worthwhile. The kids were challenging, the staff were extremely supportive without exception, and I no longer have any fears over classroom management.

    Looking forward to starting my next placement on Monday at a school where it looks like I can do a bit of teaching as well as crowd control.

    Picking up on the mature student as a threat comment, I think its important NOT to appear too "know it all". I may have more life experience, and in a former life have operated at a much more senior management level than my new colleagues, but that was then and this is now. I'm learning to be a teacher, I'm swimming in a different pond and the rules are different.

    Ask for advice often, receive it humbly and act upon it and my experience is that people will go out of their way to help.

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    28 February, 2010


  • my first placement will start in october and i will only be 26 by then, but i look much younger. i am going to be teaching secondary school kids... and even though i have done much more in 26 years than most people in their 40s, i still look like a teenager. i am really worried students will want to be "friends" with me, rather than have a pupil-teacher relationship... can anyone tell me their -reassuring- experience?!

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    26 July, 2010


  • I am in exactly the same situation. I'm only 26 and most of the time I get taken for 19-22. I've been practising how I portray myself as confident in a bunch of unusual circumstances and I've generally found that the more confident and secure I show myself as being the older I'm thought to be. In the end (depending on the learners you will be dealing with), most of them will think of you as 'old' purely because you are no longer a child.
    I honestly couldn't tell you the age of my teachers at high school, but I remember thinking of them as ancient even those who can only have been mid 20's to 30. Have the confidence and set boundaries with your learners and they will respect you as a teacher.

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    13 September, 2010


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