The one-year PGCE qualification is designed to give would-be FEteachers the skills for their new career. Emma Lee-Potter found it too much
With the arrival of autumn, thousands of students up and down the country will embark on postgraduate teaching courses.
Since September 2001, all new further education teachers have been required to hold a recognised teaching qualification. The one-year full-time PGCE in post-compulsory education is a popular route into the profession, offered by a wide variety of institutions, from Carlisle College to Plymouth university.
In the coming weeks trainees will quickly find themselves immersed in micro-teaching sessions, lesson observations and teaching theory. A couple of months later, under the watchful eye of experienced mentors, they will start their teaching practice at further education colleges.
But what happens to students once they gain their prized PGCEs? Are they snapped up instantly by colleges? Or do they have to battle for months to land their first job?
I enrolled on a PGCE in post-compulsory education last year, but didn't even make it as far as graduation. Within weeks of starting my teaching practice, I knew I'd made a terrible mistake. My tutors were dynamic, inspiring and supportive and I gained valuable insight into life in the classroom, but teaching simply wasn't for me.
What infuriated me beyond measure was the emphasis on self-evaluation and reflective practice. Every lesson plan had to be accompanied by written rationales for the teaching methods we had chosen, while tutor and student feedback on every lesson we taught had to be repeatedly scrutinised and analysed.
I couldn't bear having to record my thoughts and feelings about "teaching experiences" in a private "reflective diary" or "learning log". I was all for learning from experience and striving to improve, but in a profession already swamped by paperwork, it seemed crazy to create yet more.
I kept going for nearly five months, but in January, after a day of collaborative teaching followed by a session analysing videos of how our group interacted, I threw in the towel. But what about my 40 fellow trainees? They were an impressive lot, ranging from recent graduates in their 20s to lawyers and health workers in their 30s and 40s. Besides existing on the Government's pound;6,000 training bursary and a student loan, they had to survive 135 hours of lectures, a minimum of 120 hours teaching practice and a hefty academic workload. So did they stay the course and commit themselves to teaching in the post-16 sector?
Well yes, apart from a handful - one of whom decided he would rather train as a secondary school teacher, another who left to do a PhD, and me - they did. Some have sailed straight into full-time posts, a few moved abroad to teach and others have taken part-time contracts.
Up until two years ago Linsey Taylor had never considered teaching. A trained accountant, she had worked part-time as a parish council clerk after her three children were born. But in 2001 she began teaching two evening classes in accounting and found it so rewarding that having gained her City amp; Guilds 7307 teaching certificate she decided to study for a PGCE at Oxford Brookes university.
"The course was very demanding," says Linsey, 36. "But I was hooked on teaching and knew that it was what I wanted to do. A lot of people on the course had never taught before and I found that astounding.
"I wouldn't have taken the risk if I hadn't been sure I loved teaching.
Being with students from different disciplines was fascinating. It stopped us from becoming insular and it was very helpful to see how other teachers tackled their lessons."
Halfway through the year Linsey decided to look for a full-time job. When she spotted an advertisement for a new section manager post at Uxbridge college, where she was doing her teaching placement, she thought it might be out of her league. But, encouraged by her course leader, she applied for it and got it.
"I was the first student on the course to get a job, which was fantastic.
Now I have a sense of being in exactly the right place. From what I've seen, new teachers with PGCEs in post-compulsory education are a college employer's dream."
Fellow graduate Debbie Smith agrees that studying for her PGCE was definitely worth all the hard work. A former software development manager, she decided to switch career and teach ICT, computing and business studies in the post-16 sector.
"Doing the PGCE was a huge challenge and I'm very pleased I did it," says Debbie, 45. "I went through a sticky patch early on thinking I was going to give up, but I'm so glad I persevered. The most useful parts of the course were learning how to make our lessons interesting, how to vary the pace and create stimulating activities for students."
Debbie is now working part-time as a human resources project officer at a Berkshire FE college and hopes to build up her teaching hours during the coming year.
As for me, I have no regrets. I learned a lot during my few months as a trainee teacher and fully appreciate that teaching isn't for wimps. Having observed my fellow students teach, I'm confident that most will make fine lecturers. But thankfully, I won't be one of them.