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PGCE workload doesn't have to crush you. David Ogle offers advice on how to lighten the load.

The workload on PGCEcourses has a near-mythical status for trainee teachers. Certainly, you'll work intensively and it's more like a job than a course, but academically it is not hard to pass.

During your first teaching practice, you'll get a good feel for how you relate to children. If you relate well, and apply yourself, everything else will fall into place and you'll pass. But if you just can't click, you are bound to struggle, no matter how hard you work on your academic assignments.

About half the course is school-based, with much of that time spent actually teaching, as opposed to observing other teachers, about which you can be quite flexible. Before my course, one of the most important tips I picked up was "good enough is good enough". In essence, this means you shouldn't work until the wee small hours making every resource and lesson plan absolutely perfect. If you do, the chances are you'll arrive at school the next day knackered and demoralised, only to find that the head has called a special assembly and your lesson plans are shot to ribbons.

A lot of time will be spent writing individual lesson plans, as well as notes about your own performance and how the children did in picking up your learning objectives. In the early weeks, you'll find this step-by-step planning invaluable. But once you feel confident enough to work from weekly plans - as most "real" teachers do - individual lesson plans become a real pain. You are going to be bombarded with pointless paperwork throughout your teaching career, so get used to it. Remember that you don't do any exams and your university will only observe you teaching a handful of times, so they've got to get you to do something to show you're thinking about what you're doing, rather than just winging it (although winging it is actually a useful skill for teachers on some occasions).

To cut down on paperwork, do your planning on computer and save all your files, especially weekly plans. At some point in your career, you are bound to return to that unit with that year group. Having the week planned on computer will be a great timesaver. Most schools use similar weekly planning grids, so wherever you work it's likely that your original plans will need only a small amount of adaptation. Similarly, when writing lesson plans there is often much repetition, so copying and pasting can be a great timesaver.

Several websites offer free weekly plans, which you can either adapt or follow to the letter (see list). Some contain resources such as printable worksheets. Your future school will have schemes of work that will cover the middle attainers, but finding extension activities for high attainers, or a differently angled piece of work for struggling children, can be hard. Finding rainy-day activities or things to do in the "fun" days of term can also be tricky. If the class teacher you are assigned to has any of these, be sure to photocopy them.

It is essential you maintain a good relationship with this teacher in particular. Don't assume that you'll be working with a well-seasoned, relaxed and enthusiastic professional. Your teacher may have been "volunteered" by the headteacher for the job of taking a student. In any case, class teachers will have their own stresses, so learn to manage upwards and to be as helpful as you can.

If you have a crisis - and it's almost certain that you will - you'll need your teacher to be there for you. Certainly, if you get through the course without thinking that you can't cope, you'll be the odd one out. You should try to keep in contact with friends during teaching practice - you'll need the support. And make friends with the school secretary, the teaching assistants and the cleaners, because there will be times when you need them.

Think about job interviews during your first teaching practice, and keep examples of interesting work from a range of abilities. Take photos of the children working in the class, and of displays. Use these to put together a portfolio, which should also include a range of teaching plans.

You'll be bombarded with huge reading lists, so be selective and don't expect to get through all these books. If you're going to read anything before the course, look at class management. Everyone is terrified about keeping the class under control when they start. Positive praise works much better than pointless screaming. Try to adopt your affiliated teacher's methods - providing they work, of course.

Finally, don't fret about college work. Mature students may find it tricky to get back into the academic writing style, but put in some reading and you'll be fine. Your performance in class is what really matters. Just do your best, and learn to adapt and survive.

How to prevent PGCE hell

* Do your planning on computer - and save it for future years.

* It's your responsibility to build a good relationship with your affiliated teacher, and other school staff. You're the one who'll suffer if things go wrong.

* On teaching practices, take the opportunity to copy resources from anyone who'll let you at them.

* Collect material for your portfolio - a great asset in interviews.

* Don't be daunted by reading lists - be selective about books.

* It's more of a job than a course, and remember you only pass or fail, no firsts or 2:1s. Good enough is good enough.

Useful internet sites: www.hamilton-trust. org.uk; www.primaryresources.co.uk; www.qualityteachingresources.co.uk; www.timetoteach.co.uk; www.educate.org.uk;tre.ngfl.gov.uk. David Ogle is a newly qualified teacher at a primary school in Islington

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