Final Feelings – The PGCE Experience

In a few days I hand in my teaching file which means the end of this blog and one step closer to the end of the PGCE.

To say it has been difficult would be an understatement however I feel thankful that I scaled down my work to part-time and that in comparison to some fellow PGCE students my teaching commitments were perhaps the minimum required. If I hadn’t been working weekends I do feel that I would have felt able and willing to take on more teaching and despite having two days off a week which was filled with college work I feel that perhaps should have anyway to gather the experience as overall I feel that is what I have lacked.

Despite teaching for over 100 hours those hours have been a combination of loan and co-teaching, they ended up being largely the same level 3 year one BTEC students and I feel that what has let me down was the range of students I was given to teach and the lack of it. Looking now at finding work I feel very unprepared for the real-life situation which is teaching from KS2 up to A-Level, I wonder if I have gained enough experience and feel quite apprehensive going into the National Curriculum and A-Levels.

Although this PGCE was centred on preparing you for a career in Life-Long Learning I would have loved the opportunity to work in a Secondary School’s sixth form rather than just the college as that too would have brought new challenges and experiences. I would have also liked to get my hands on more practical lessons (despite my background in theory) as most of my teaching was workshop – simply due to the way the BTEC was taught and the positioning of my classes. I feel that perhaps the Creative department had too many students (there were three of us and a photography student) and despite us all having different specialisms two of us, Myself and another, overlapped and due to the staffing there wasn’t really the classes to go around to allow is to have a diverse teaching experience.

 

Despite this I know I learnt things, and that although feeling unprepared know and understand I will still have much to learn as I aim for QTLS and once I am within my NQT year.

The course itself was slightly chaotic which didn’t help the overall sense of coping with the workload. As the tutor changed, and the deadline change as feedback was not received it was sometimes hard to get on and do the work, it sometimes felt that writing the essays (ahem. Professionalism essay) got in the way of teaching. But I feel that itself shows the ‘teacher’ in me, that I started wanting to do the best by my students and felt that as the PGCE course went on my priorities shifted to making sure my students did not stuffer – that their lesson plans were done, that their work was marked over my own work for the course.

The blog itself has been helpful – I haven’t gone back and read any of it over but by ranting and typing out my thoughts in a non-academic manner; blogging has helped take the strain off certain thoughts, days and feelings. I would recommend it to future PGCE students and might carry it on through my QTLS and NQT years to help cope with that stress too.

 

Overall I am glad I did a PGCE, that I still want to be a teacher. I am disappointed I did not gain a broader experience pool and am positively terrified of what is to come next.

It’s been a hard road and despite the panic to get this final work done (due largely to having an amazing two-week holiday) it is almost over and I am stronger for it.

Would I still do it if given a second chance? Yes.

Would I still do Life-long learning? Perhaps not.

Marking Revisited

Just a quick post to revisit my experience marking students work. Just before I have to do a new batch of marking I asked the tutor who was double marking my marks how she felt I faired.

She responded by basically telling me that for most of my marking I was spot on, that I was fair and valid in my marks. With a couple of students she said I was slightly harsh so there were some changes she made but she said she could tell where I was gaining the marking experience and understanding what work garnered the Pass, Merit and Distinction. So even though it took me roughly 2 hours per students (marking 2 Units) I know it was worth taking that time and even going back between the students work at times to compare.

I asked about the feedback which I had struggled with as we were told we were not allowed to write too much but had to give it verbally as we cannot ‘tell’ the students what to do. This linked back to the notes I had written and she did respond that it can be tricky as we need to explain the evidence (or lack of it) without as I said ‘telling’ them exactly what needs to be done to Pass or improve which was what I struggled with. Giving feedback verbally I had no issues with and we were allowed to give students more extensive lists and notes on their work, we just couldn’t on the official marking sheet.

Overall I was glad that the teacher felt my marking was valid and was glad to see that most of the students when it came to re-marking had improved their grade.

Stress, Stress and more Stress!

With only two weeks left before I jet off on a two-week holiday which is shortly followed by a two-week Easter Break the stress is well and truly building.

Due to the holiday, I’ve had to get a lot of work done before I go and I have found that having to write an essay, start a research project, still create lesson plans which of three have been observations and work at the weekends has pushed me to breaking point. What hasn’t been helpful is the delays in getting feedback back from my observations, I’ve become quite quick at reflecting and would not typically worry but I am behind on writing two reflections now due to the lack of feedback and when I have another one this coming Monday that will place me with three 1000 word reflections to do, and a 1000 word summary reflection before the 25th March just so I don’t have to worry about it when I return as I have a conference paper to write too!

Oh and I need to start looking for a job really…

Its stressful and apart from working late into the night I don’t really know what else to do. I’ve been trying to still have ‘me’ time just so I don’t burn out, so far that seems to help, making sure I stop work roughly between 9-10 pm (depending on what time I need to be up the next day) and reading a chapter of Harry Potter (I’m odd to Orlando and wanted to get them read again) but then I feel bad for not doing work… it’s a complete catch 22 situation.

However if I burn out I’m no use to myself so slow and steady is the way to go… its almost over.

Observations

As of today I have two observations left to complete my required 9 observations as part of my PGCE, this week I had two including a joint observation which resulted in my first grade 3 mark. I’ve been consistently a grade 2 (with a single grade 1) throughout this process and getting this grade 3 when I thought things were getting better was quite a hit to my confidence.

I know that we are not supposed to see observations as ‘progress’ but rather a snippet into our teaching practices but it can’t be helped but to want to improve and getting a 3 so close to the end is pretty devastating.

I know that the class I had are difficult and I know that the observer is a harsh but fair observer but it was still hard to get that ‘requires improvement’ grade. Deep down I know that I do have areas that do require improvement (especially with this class) and I know not to take it to heart that I got that rating because things in that class could have been better and to have been given a ‘good’ I might not necessarily have learnt but it was still hard to hear that grade 3… and I am still upset about it.

I have been trying with that group quite a lot and I have seen improvement but the observer doesn’t see that and I think that is something I do not like about the observation process. The observer only sees that one hour from that one class and does not see that improvements that have been made, they don’t know what a nightmare of a class they could have been and that the fact you can get them to sit and pay attention at all is an improvement – sure there is still improvements to be made if you compare them to any other class but for this class this is their ‘good’.

I know requires improvement isn’t supposed to be a negative outcome, it is all about improving but with the stress I am currently feeling it was hard not to see it as a “you’re s**t” and that the effort I have been putting in to get this class under control isn’t reflected in the observation at all was also really hard to swallow. Obviously, I need to look at the positives, take those ‘requires improvements’ and improve and I guess in a way prove to that observer that I can do it because deep down I know I can myself!

Half Term, Again!

So half term has come and almost gone again! And that leaves just one more batch of 6 weeks until the course is over (well kind of, the last deadline is just after the Easter break with a conference in May, but then it’s over).

Unfortunately for myself my deadline is pushed forward due to a holiday (booked before I accepted a place on the PGCE) which falls on the two weeks before the Easter holiday. This means I have the most stressful four weeks I can imagine coming up. One big part of this stress is having to squeeze in four observations within those four weeks. I’ve managed this by having two in one day which isn’t perfect as I feel it isn’t really showing much teaching progress having the observations so close together. I am glad to have two in the one day however, as the day they are on is the first day back after half term which always brings its own problems regarding classroom management (A.K.A. these days are great tests of experience and sources of reflection). These observations also bring with them the paperwork and 1000 word reflections each which take up time and rely on others getting feedback to you which if they are busy delays your own work.

The observations however are the least of my worries (apart from the physical doing the lessons) as I also have to write a 3500 word essay on professionalism due the 13th March – something I should be working on now but I’ve decided to vent via blog first. The essay I understand is important but I feel time would be much better spent with more experience in the classroom, behaviour management and admin – elements which we have been learning more on the job rather than in session and I feel depending on your situation there could be serious gaps in knowledge once you get into a real job (I simply feel that there are things I don’t even know I need to know).

I know that this course has not run as smoothly as the college or any of us students wanted but coming to the end of it, I now feel that the varied classroom experience you get in a traditional PGCE is something that this course could do with adopting. I know from friends who have completed secondary and primary PGCE courses that you would typically have two or three placements in differing institutions but that with this PGCE being aimed at life-long learning the varied experience has obviously been deemed unnecessary.

With the last leg of this journey about to begin I know it is going to be tough getting everything done, but I will knuckle down and get it done – it will all be worth it in the end.

Starters & Break-Outs

Through my teaching experience so far I have struggled with getting a certain class settled and kept motivated through the two hours and other class talking. So far I have tried to implement starter activities with the quiet group but this ‘morning news’ starter which I started doing with them fizzled out due to a lack of engagement from the students and I have yet to start something new with them.

The lively group however can take a long time to settle in the class which so far  I have tried to take control of but feel that by getting them doing something as they walk in could help them focus since the class is the last of the day (on a Monday) and is after lunch. Keeping this class motivated is also difficult, they drift off task often towards the last 20 minutes of the lesson so thinking of Break-out tasks is a must to avoid wasting that time and to stop low level behaviour issues developing.

I also hope to use these activities to develop the students creative thinking as they have been very linear in their thinking which has not been helping them in their projects. This should also help the students see relevance in the activities as many have the attitude that if it is not clearly relevant to them or the course then they do not want to do it.

So far ideas considered have included:

  • Quick draw activities
  • Sketch journal
  • Puzzles to solve (best targeted towards maths and English)
  • Word association
  • Pictionary
  • Perfect Monster drawing game
  • Describe your partner in images
  • Paired drawing – describing something to a partner who has to then draw it.
  • Chindogu – useless inventions
  • Paperclip uses.
  • What’s in the box.
  • Animal jumble

Until I try some of these however I will not know how the students react to them so it will be a case of trial and error, like the morning news idea.

Curriculum class training

24/1/17

The session on Curriculum I found to be very insightful as I never imagined so much went into the designing of one, I always assumed they were set by the government and exam boards and that was that (apart from small changes made by the organisations that ran them but I always saw that as teaching methods and did not consider that a part of ‘curriculum’).

I thought it was useful to consider our own curriculum during the session but found it difficult to come up with a rationale behind Art and Design, it isn’t even on the National Curriculum and is not seen as a necessary subject for many people, especially the parents of many students. It is often regarded as a stepping stone to further education rather than employment which is often seen as a lengthy process and a waste of time as it is one of the hardest areas to get work in.

 

For the art and design curriculum it is important that changes are made to make it more relatable to the job market but that student get the chance to experience working too. I believe more focus needs to be on developing the creativity and skills of the students which can be transferred to the creative industry workplace.

 

31/01/17

This session continued with exploring curriculum and although I felt it is useful to know the finer workings of and influences and models of curriculum I felt that much of this information would only seem relevant to teaching if directly involved in creating a curriculum from the ground up. I wonder how much say a teacher, not in a head of department role, would have in the development of the curriculum they teach beyond the methods of teaching it?

 

07/02/17

This session underpinned a lot of the teaching from the previous lessons and covered how curriculum is assessed and the idea of ‘Quality’. It made sense why everything has to be assess and I see it all as how as teachers we need to reflect (self asses) to improve however I feel that with curriculum the changes are harder to judge. There are a lot of elements that need to be considered when developing a curriculum as highlighted from the guest lecture from Debra Gray. These outside influences develop a curriculum years in advance and the reviews (assessment) are only considered annually too so changes are slow.

Debra Gray’s Passion for curriculum development and making sure that GIFHE get it right was inspiring but I feel it only emphasised my thoughts earlier that the ‘front-line’ teachers have little say in the curriculum they teach however I have come to realise that they do have a say in its development and that this is where a teacher should concentrate their efforts on – teaching to the best of their ability with what they are given and adapt when those is QA and QE decide to change things.

Being a Professional (WIP)

Being a Professional in teaching is the need to have a suitable level of education and experience within your level of teaching (such as holding a qualification up to level 5 in-order-to teach up to level 3/4) to enable your knowledge to be sufficient to teach students the information they need to, in the end goal, make contributions to society. Being a professional includes the responsibility of continuing improving and developing your practice, practically and in theory. It is about sharing your knowledge with your industry and upholding the standards of your institution and the standards expected from ‘teachers’.

Being a professional is about setting a moral standard for your students to follow, be that in the way you act and dress to respecting the expression of views and beliefs of others. It is about being fair to all students and showing no bias, about being positive and encouraging and helping them (the student) be the best that they can be regardless of their background or natural ability.

Working to the Students needs?

Today was a day where the student and their needs seemed to be a difficult choice to make. The groups that I deal with both had a deadline for a project which was stressing them to considerable degrees; some claimed not to know that the deadline was today while others complained that it had been changed which was causing the stress. The topic of this Unit was visual studies, including perspective, architecture and colour theory – the perspective and architecture were two topics they all claimed to have disliked and all (apart from three students) had a considerable amount of work to do.

This created my first issue of the day as before my 9am class had even started I had students begging to do their visual studies work in the two hour session. In the end I made the students have the introduction to my class and then allowed them to do their visual studies work as I had scheduled roughly 95 minutes of the 120 minute lesson to book work anyway (though for a different Unit). I decided this because with the deadline at the end of the day I knew many students would not be able to focus but felt they still needed some of a class to their current Unit as my session was designed to help them think of ideas for this project which they are currently struggling with and I did not want them to continue the week with no ideas.

A massive problem for these groups seems to be doing the work on time and I partly feel this is because the students do not get enough timetabled time – they get 10 hours a week, currently split over three units (one unit is recommended to get 60 guided learning hours in total)  but also that they are not working effectively, they get tired and fed-up easily so do not use the time they do have to the best, often stating that they will do it at home which most of them are unable to do really. This causes a problem for me because I feel they should have more time in college to do the work but that at the same time the students are not getting the idea yet that it is their fault for not being productive in the time they do have which is very immature of them.

This mood of wanting to get on with visual studies continued on to the second period, still with my morning group but this time they were taking part in the college ‘Have a Go’ week which is different departments showing examples of what they do in the main reception . Today was the turn of the art and design group which happened to be my two groups. This meant that the time my AM group were typically in class they were taking part in mono-printing. For this group however this technique works to a unit they are currently working on and so despite them complaining they did all take part for the first hour… after that though they all switched off and did not want to be there. Stuck with just me I tried for the next half hour to get the group continuing to do designs and work but I could easily see that if they were doing this task in a classroom that we would have moved on and felt it was unfair on these students that they should spent two hours on this task while they should be doing work for their course.

In time they were allowed to go on their lunch break early (after checking with a more senior member of staff) however I felt let down by the college and tutors that I had no other choice but to attempt to encourage the students in the task even though they had done what was asked of them, as I couldn’t leave all of the materials in the reception area or leave the students as there was no one else!

Moving on to my second group and PM session, this group was also supposed to be doing Mono-printing but most had already done it for their project as this group have dedicated print classes so were set against doing it again with the impending deadline of their visual studies. This time however with more staff now available it was deemed that those students who had examples of mono-print in their books could be in the classroom with me continuing work which apart from some classroom behaviour issues which I felt I tackled better than I would have previously (trying to keep in mind recent observation feedback to be more assertive) they then got on with their work surprisingly well.

 

What bothered me the most about today was this insistence on this ‘Have a Go’ week; I saw little in how it helped the students (or even the college) and how out of all the students around why it had to be the students with a deadline that day.

Other outside influences caused the lack of staff in the morning which impeded being able to split the class but I also felt that two hours was far too long on and the length of time students were doing the mono-print activity should have been considered.  This made me feel that whoever had planned this all was not thinking of the students needs, the thing we are always thought to consider and that as a trainee I felt I had failed them in a way by not being able to help them when usually we could have.

I also felt in two minds however as, like I mentioned, these students have always struggled to get work done on time and that if they had got their work done then the mono-print activity should not have been a issue. I was also annoyed at how the students could not just sit and do the printing! Why was it such a big deal that they had to play around with drawing designs, printing them and printing them onto Bags, it was as if one drawing, one print was enough for them! They’re supposed to be art and design students! They’re supposed to play around with new techniques and methods but it was one go, don’t like it, not doing it again with them which really annoyed me as I am slowly getting more annoyed with the students ‘can’t do attitude’ when things are hard or do not go right the first time no matter how many times I tell them it will only get easier the more they do it and it doesn’t matter if it goes wrong just tell me why it went wrong!

 

Either way today felt like a lot of work… and I don’t know how I feel about it really.

Marking Part 2

So I’ve had some more marking experience (work still needs to be second marked so I can’t comment on that yet) but while marking this next group which included students I more regularly teach I began noticing a pattern with work which was missing or not quite up to the standard expected.

This then began to make me worry that I had missed something while teaching these students, that I perhaps have not be as rigorous with them as the work was not what I expected. I know that I have spoken to these students, and have a tracker to prove what work has been done and I know that these students were struggling with these elements which have let them down but  I am sure I have spoken to them about it so it really made me wonder if I have been teaching affectively.

Knowing that I have given students smart targets, post-it notes with work to do and suggestions for their work also makes me think ’you can obviously only help them so much, if they choose not to do the work then that is their choice’ but then I think why did they not do the work? Is there anything more I can be doing to help them?

I feel if I was in a secondary school there are probably more things you could do to keep them for not doing work (or am I being naive in thinking detentions for not doing enough work still exist in schools?) but then I feel would this simply work? Is all these students need is the extra time?

Obviously seeing the pattern in hindsight is good as mentioned in my last marking post it will allow me to see with the next unit (or if this unit was run next year) where issues might arise allowing me to plan ahead for these stumbling blocks the students seem to have.

 

Until the work is second marked and the feedback is given to the student it will be unclear on why the student did not achieve (or even if I was valid in my marking) so it is hard to tell what else can be done, it is just worrying to think that I could be my fault that the students have not achieved well when I think I’ve been trying to do my best.