5 tips for PGCE mentors on lockdown

In what would be their final term, student teachers should not be abandoned, says this PGCE mentor

Elisa Amesbury

Hands holding plant pot

I've recently become the proud owner of some seedling kits after being given them in a supermarket promotion. While primarily aimed at children, these kits are pretty exciting for anyone who, like me, enjoys a project.

I tend to them diligently: watering when necessary, collecting up the escaped flecks of soil and, most importantly, leaving them to do their own thing.

For my trouble, I now have five tiny beetroot plants and three-minute forget-me-nots.

These saplings remind me of one of the best things about being a PGCE mentor: watching a trainee teacher grow, little by little, until suddenly you have a fully qualified teacher.

However, this year's trainee teachers have had their final "blossoming" term interrupted by school closures.

For anyone on their initial training year, the current situation must be a rather dispiriting anti-climax. 

But as mentors, and as a school community, we can help our trainee teachers to navigate these unprecedented times. Here's how.

1. Reflect and praise

Take a moment to reflect on the progress the trainee has made since their first days in school. In challenging times, it is too easy to focus on the negatives and lose our sense of self-efficacy and achievement.

Student teachers will have made huge steps forward since the start of their training and it may give them a boost to remind them of this.

2. Set targets

Although academic deadlines will continue, without school placements PGCE students may find themselves with a little extra time to play with.

It may be appropriate for mentors to help students to set informal personal development targets. These targets should ideally be designed to boost confidence and efficiency for trainees once they are back in the classroom.

You might suggest enjoyable ways of enhancing subject knowledge or perhaps encourage students to research and evaluate some of the wonderful teaching resources that are continually being shared online.

3. Share your strategies

Current circumstances mean that we are all having to find our own ways of dealing with unexpected challenges.

Whether your strategies focus on boosting wellbeing, managing time and targets effectively, or simply box-set recommendations for downtime, be sure to share your top tips and encourage trainees to establish their own ways of coping.

4. Keep communicating

We are all getting the hang of adapting our teaching for remote working, so why not do the same for mentoring? Technology means that it should not be difficult to continue to "meet" with your trainee.

Sticking to a regular weekly meeting will be beneficial to trainees, helping them to reflect, avoid procrastination, and stay connected to school life.

5. Remind them of a truth

For anyone working towards QTS, the current situation must be frustrating and unnerving.

But this too shall pass.

And when it does, we will need a new generation of teachers who feel ready and excited to start their careers. 

Elisa Amesbury is an English teacher and PGCE mentor at St Bernadette Secondary School in Bristol

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