Today I saw the new batch of PGCE students on their first day in our school. It’s always great to see the latest generation of teachers taking their first steps to join our great profession – especially now, when so much of the public narrative is around the challenges and problems we are facing. It gives me hope! It also reminds me of my first steps into teaching, and drove me back to my old PGCE files to recall my first lesson.
My secondary English PGCE course began with a compulsory two-week primary experience. I still think this is a brilliant idea; the more we can do to establish cross-phase thinking the better, and where better to start than right at the beginning?
I was sent to a primary school on the outskirts of Nottingham with Vicky, another secondary English student, and attached to a mixed Year 5/6 class. I had all sorts of tasks to do: observing a pupil, observing a task, investigating equal opportunities and so on, before I got started on some small group work. I remember helping the class teacher hand-crank the Banda machine to get my worksheets off to do some technical accuracy work with a group of six hand-picked students. Here’s my crib sheet…
And then, in the last days, time to take the whole class. I was going to get them to do some creative writing based on a piece of music. I cranked the Banda machine, I planned my lesson with the class teacher, I psyched myself up. Then, the class teacher stepped out. It was over to me.
I don’t remember much about the lesson, if I’m honest. What I do remember – what I’ll never forget – was the debrief with the teacher afterwards. “How do you think it went?” she asked, kindly. “It was okay…” I said, hesitantly. “And were you comfortable with the noise level?” she asked. A sure sign of a skilful teacher: giving me the opportunity to learn from failure and improve. Here’s what I wrote in my evaluation:
- Lesson 1: experienced teachers make it look “deceptively easy.” The children listen, attentively, and do as instructed without question. This does not happen without a lot of ground work!
- Lesson 2: don’t rush. Establish the ground rules. Explain the task carefully. Take your time!
- Lesson 3: model the behaviour you want to see. The way you are is reflected back at you in the behaviour of the children. If you’re unsettled and anxious, they will be too.
- Lesson 4: evaluate your practice. Go back and have another go, working on what didn’t go well the first time. It gets better.
My primary school experience journal ended with a series of reflection tasks. The final question was: “How do you now see yourself as a beginning teacher?” Here’s what I wrote:
Ahead of me now I see a lot of hard work; an almost infeasible amount. However, my work with LF has given me a set of goals, and another role model to emulate, and my enjoyment of the experience has proved that no matter how high the mountains of work, the reward of a child proud of his or her success or achievement makes it all worthwhile.
Although I looked ridiculous, I’m still quite proud of the 1996 version of me. He was right.