So here are my top 10 PGCE survival tips. Use them, abuse them or just read them, you never know, some might actually work.
1. Don’t buy the books that are required for your course. i spent £140 on books and never needed them. I think I read through the relevant chapters on a placement book, but the rest were never required. You’ll have a library so take advantage of that or look through Ebay for second hand ones.
2. Save what you can beforehand. Only a few PGCE students come straight from uni most of us are older and have come from another career. The minute you apply for the course, open up a separate bank account and just put what you can in. This will help you cover living expenses through that awful period of June to the end of September when you don’t get paid!
3. Make friends on your course- they will get you through. Before I started my whole class were brought together and told we would become best friends. I looked around and thought ‘never, these people are so not me.’ We were lucky, (to be honest I’ve not heard any other PGCE students say this) we became absolute best friends. I couldn’t have got through the year without my class who are really friends for life. We set up a private fb group where we asked for advice, lesson plan ideas etc. Remember that these people are the only ones who know exactly what you are going through.
4. Use your placements as job interviews. Don’t get too comfortable, remember that the head teachers (and other staff) are observing you to see if you could work in the school. Jobs are always becoming available, my placement started off with no jobs but had three posts by the time I was leaving. Getting a job at a placement school saves the hassle of interviews and has the added bonus of you knowing the children and the ethos of the school.
5. Get organised from day one. Buy a huge file to organise all your papers. On my course the would constantly ask for things that had been done months ago or I would need notes on a Science lesson I did the year before. It also helps you feel less stressed if you have everything in order..
6. Socalise- say yes to things! I was told beforehand that I wouldn’t be able to go out as I would be so busy. I went out more in my PGCE year than I have done in the past five years combined. You need that release, that time to just think about something else and have something to look forward to. I also found that having a night out made me work harder as I knew I had to get all my planning done before I went out.
7. On placement set up the next day’s work at the end of the day. I made sure that I had all the worksheets ready and stuck in the books the night before as I found it helped me sleep better knowing that I could relax a little when I arrived in school the next morning. Plus, you may not have a TA- or worse still, have a TA that is useless.
8. Have a cut off point for working. I made sure I never stayed later than 4pm on a Friday and that I never took school work home. I would stay until 5pm, but I refused to take work home. I wanted to be able to get home and just relax. knowing i had work to mark would have played heavily on my mind.
9. Which brings me to marking. Don’t let it pile up. Try and mark as the children are still doing the work, use half your dinner time. Do anything to get it done and keep on top of it.
10. Arrange your own placements. I arranged my first placement without fuss. I didn’t have any contacts for my second placement and my university struggled to find quite a large number of student’s placements. It was a terribly stressful time. I missed a week from my second placement and when I began ringing around my old schools or local school, they all said the same thing, ‘we would have taken you on if you had said, we’ve got a student already.’ Your university will say they have no problems finding placements as they don’t want to look bad or panic you. We were even told not to find out own placement, then two days before we were due to start they hit us with the news. Find your own so that you have a plan if things go wrong.
I could have wrote another 10 tips, but these are my biggies. But above all enjoy yourself. I must be a little insane- but I have just had among the best 10months of my life. I really, really enjoyed my PGCE year and I hope my NQT year is going to be as enjoyable too.