I do not know how to begin this post. I do not want to make it seem like I am writing for sympathy or praise. The lesser part of me wants to write an in depth explanation on why this particular success in my life means more than any yet (and maybe more than those in the future), but the rest of me wants to make peace with the reasons as to why that is. Maybe because I am exhausted with talking about it (I complained a lot, and quite rightly so).
However, it feels incorrect to bid farewell to this journey without revealing what I learnt on it. It is always the hardest experiences which teach us the most. The least I could do is share what I had the honour of learning in hope that someone who makes the conscious decision to begin the same or a similar journey, will have it made somewhat easier for them due to my discoveries.
Learning is what truly evolves us. This is a small collection of my findings whilst completing my PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education at Level 7 – UK):
1. Get in touch with your intentions. Make absolute sure that teaching is the career you want to pursue in the future – whether that be in the United Kingdom or abroad. Ask yourself why this is. Do you want to transform somebody’s life or is it because of the holidays/pay? If it is the latter, look into something else as teaching will not leave you feeling fulfilled.
2. Recognise which age group you want to teach and perform a self analysis. Does your personality type mesh well with that specific age group? Are you able to envision yourself performing with confidence whilst being around that age group?
3. Understand that you cannot get away with writing your assignments in the manner you did at undergraduate level. You will not be able to complete a 3,000 word paper in a few days because writing at postgraduate level requires a minimum of at least 2 weeks for you to write a highly effective essay.
4. If you do not like the educational institute your university allocates you for your placement because you feel it does not complete your requirements, make sure you speak up. I was not happy with my initial placement as I truly felt, for many reasons, it was going to ruin my entire experience of teaching and that was the last thing I wanted as this is the career I have my heart set on. I was blessed enough to have my mentor and personal tutor wholly agree with my point of view and reasoning. Remember you are paying 9k. Make sure you get your money’s worth.
5. Gather the details of all the institutes you would not mind carrying your placement out at and email them to the member(s) of staff at your university who allocates the placements to avoid getting placed somewhere you would not want to. I understand in the teaching world, you may be placed anywhere, teaching anything but you have to understand and remember that that is far into the journey – after you are an experienced teacher and are brimming with confidence. This particular point is only the start of your teaching journey. It needs to be perfect for you.
6. Fill in all your rationales/lesson plan templates with all the necessary details (they will be the same – name, subject, institute name etc.) beforehand so you are not wasting time doing so on the actual days of teaching/observations.
7. Collect as many different references as you can regarding the teaching standards as you go. Keep a separate document for these so you can simply copy and paste them into your rationales when relevant. This will be somewhat like a journal, but academic (woo!).
8. Write all deadlines, observations, meetings etc. down in your daily diary. Use highlighters and sticky notes, for sure. After you have completed the postgraduate degree, you will look back at all of this and feel overwhelmed with a sense of accomplishment.
9. Understand that it is okay for your learners to not warm to you at first. We are all a little apprehensive when someone unfamiliar comes along. This will gradually fade in time and you will leave with your learners telling you that you are their favourite teacher and it will make your heart feel so full. Believe me. (:
10. Communication is always key, whether in academia or not. With your learners, mentor(s) and teachers, always make sure both parties understand what is being said and why. Ask questions and answer them. You will feel content if you recognise that there is a mutual level of understanding.
11. Research if you discover something you do not entirely understand. This should be done in everyday life too. Gain more knowledge and a further level of understanding. You will be able to implement it into your essays and the lessons you deliver, thus receiving a higher grade.
12. Organise your files into two separate folders – one for your learning (university) and the other for your teaching (placement).
13. It will be demotivating if you receive a low grade in your essay(s)/observations. Do not let this discourage you. Instead, use it as fuel to do better next time. Keep fighting. Do not let little failures like this suck the energy out of you. Understand and remind yourself that this all a huge learning curve. Nobody has been perfect at it. Keep chiseling away at it until you get the desired result.
14. Always keep a bottle of water with you when teaching. Nerves can dry your throat out.
15. Do not compare where you are on your teaching journey to where your classmates may be. Remember, they are teaching an entirely different subject, in a whole other institute. Everybody is on their own journey.
16. Before each observation or lesson that you will teach, please always remember to spend a few minutes by yourself somewhere quiet. Use this moment to ground yourself and chant uplifting, motivational affirmations (if you find these help). Regulate your breathing.
17. Make sure you are consistently communicating with individuals who believe in your dreams and your vision. They will be a source of motivation and encouragement for you when you feel like you want to quit. Avoid and ignore dream snatchers and individuals who do anything but encourage you to keep on going.
18. Never ever talk down at your learners (or anyone, lol). Talk to them.
19. When you feel overwhelmed (which you undoubtedly will when doing a PGCE), visit your intentions. Remind yourself why you made the conscious decision to spend a year of your life doing this.
20. This is the most cliche one but honestly, speaking from experience, do not give up – no matter how many times your entire being is screaming at you to. You will thank yourself and truly realise how important it was for you to keep going when, some time later, you see yourself transforming somebody else’s life.
Teaching is not a Monday to Friday, 9-5 job. Teaching will have you sitting at your computer at 3 am struggling to put together a lesson plan for your learners that they will enjoy. It is sitting at your desk on Friday when the last school bus has left, marking papers and trying to decipher the scrawled writing in front of you. It is being a mother or father because no doubt your learners will confide in you about issues they may be having. It is being their friend when they are too anxious to hang out with their classmates. It is being a confidante. It involves making discoveries and imparting the knowledge.
Teaching is about being able to get through to someone who refuses to believe in themselves. It is about being persistent in allowing a learner to recognise their courage. It is giving motivational speeches and delivering praises everyday. It is learning to be firm yet soft. Distant yet close. Teaching involves all the emotions you can possibly think of and an insane amount of strength and patience.
My personal experience with the PGCE was a mixture of emotions. I spent most of it crying. I would cry with frustration, happiness, anger or relief. I discovered a lot about myself on this journey and a lot about the people in my life too. It has been the biggest life lesson yet, in so many aspects. For that I shall be eternally grateful.
“If it was easy, everyone would do it.” This was a phrase I heard numerous times whilst on this journey. It rings true and can be applied to many walks of life, not only teaching.
Always listen to the call of spirit. Work to make a difference in somebody’s life. That is part of your purpose here on Mother Earth.
Thank you for reading. I hope you found this post insightful.