A TES Magazine Series - Teaching around the clock

1st August 2008 at 01:00
In the second of our five-part series on becoming a teacher, Jon Berry looks at how to get through your PGCE year

Time - and time-management - is one of the most important factors in navigating your way through your year successfully, and the more ground you can clear before you start, the better. As I tell my PGCE students, you will never again have time to be bored in your working life.

Beginners' notes

Before you even start on the course, you should address subject knowledge and, more specifically, any gaps.

You'll find that great emphasis is placed on this and, although you'll be given help and guidance, as graduates it is up to you to address how you go about tackling any gaps you may have.

Look at pre-course tasks and reading that you have been set, and complete these systematically and thoroughly. Successful teaching is about being ahead of the game, so if you arrive with this work completed you'll have started off on the right foot. If you identify further gaps as you go about these tasks, then take the initiative and sort these out for yourself.

Work out how long it takes you to read and make notes on articles or chapters from books on your reading list. Be realistic, so that when you come to actually do the assignment, you can plan accordingly.

Don't try to read too much at one sitting but get into the habit of keeping brief notes, jottings and observations. Try from the start to visualise how theoretical standpoints might look in real classrooms, and how this may throw light on what you have observed.

Look at the tests and exams your pupils will be taking - you can get these from the relevant websites. Can you complete these comfortably and, if not, what are you going to do about it?

The paperwork

An old adage in school is that it's always good practice to make friends with the secretary and the caretaker - so don't get off on the wrong foot with your admin staff by not being up to speed.

Make sure you've organised all the documentation that you'll need for registration procedures and that they are to hand. If you are told to bring originals, don't bring photocopies; if you need a list of the last five bedsits you occupied, just provide it. It might sound patronising, but the last thing you need as you start on the real business is to be spending time and energy chasing these things up.

Read the information and procedures for bursaries and any other financial assistance you find you are eligible for.

Be prepared

One of the things that practically everyone will have warned you about is those long evenings spent preparing lessons. There is no getting away from the fact that preparation is time consuming when you start as a PGCE student. It does get easier as time goes on, and good preparation early in your career is money in the bank - but it can devour your time in this important year.

Ensure that you create space for this - in the literal and metaphorical sense. Think about where you'll house the books, folders and materials that will now be part of your daily routine. Where will you preview the DVD clips you want to show? Will you be able to get on the family computer to write your assignments? Can you tolerate noise and activity when you're trying to concentrate or do you need peace?

Think about where you're going to find the time to suit your changing commitments. Are you planning to arrive at school before the rush? Will you stay late to pre-empt lugging books home? Or do your obligations mean you'll have to wait until later in the evening to settle down to school work? Be realistic and think about where you're going to fit it all in.

You, the teacher

One of the vagaries of becoming a teacher is that everyone has been to school and so everyone has a view on how you should do your job. At the end of August we will be subjected to the annual bunfight about exam results, so read the papers and form a view (some of your other pre-course reading may help you here, too) because you're sure to meet someone who will want to quiz you on it.

Conversely, you may want to start rehearsing a few manoeuvres and phrases to extricate yourself from bores in pubs and parties who will be only too willing to tell you about every last fault in the education system and how you, personally, are to blame.

Make sure you use this time to maintain your leisure activities, keep your exercise regime going and make some social arrangements for the future. Teaching can take over your life if you let it - so be certain that you plan parts of your life that have nothing to do with it whatsoever.

The don'ts

Don't frighten yourself to death before you start. The rather intimidating teenagers outside your local Spar are much nicer than they look (honest) and you will be able to form relationships with them and their like - even though it will take time.

Don't start boring your friends and family just yet; learn to ration school and education stories for those times when you desperately need a sympathetic ear.

And a final don't. A few weeks ago I said goodbye to this year's PGCE students and, without exception, they all expressed wonder at where the year had gone.

So, as hard as some of those dark days may be, don't wish your time away - it'll pass soon enough

Jon Berry is a senior lecturer in the school of education at the University of Hertfordshire.

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