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Six months into my PGCE - some reflections

It's almost March. Let that sink in. Just before the half-term holiday I came to the realisation that I was exactly halfway through my initial teacher training. This was then followed by both an internal and external scream. After that my heart started hammering at the thought of scary interviews and paperwork and, finally, planning for the arrival of my very own class. You might say I'm jumping the gun a bit, but I think the nerves and the overthinking is pretty natural. I had this stupid moment during which I said to myself, 'but I don't think I'm ready just yet!' Well, duh, Rhiannon - you're only halfway. You're not going to be ready just yet.

Having said that, when I look back I realise how much I've learnt so far. I remember the night before my first day at school; I was sat in The Alchemist, downing cocktails and enjoying a few last, juicy moments of freedom. I had been shown around my main placement school, but nine months earlier. It was a bit hazy (the cocktails didn't help) and I was excited to meet my colleagues and, of course, the children. The first few days were spent setting up the displays and preparing the classroom for the arrival of 30 mischievous eight-year-olds. We had a weekend to relax before they descended upon the school, and then my whole life changed. Let's backtrack a little. What does this year actually look like for me and what's behind me wanting to take this route?

There are lots of different ways you can get into teaching. I decided to take the SCITT route. SCITT stands for 'school-centred initial teacher training', which is pretty self-explanatory; essentially, you are in school from day one, which means you learn on the job, but this is supplemented by lectures, specialist-led sessions and practical activities that make up a bundle of evidence (you need this to qualify.) The evidence, of course, proves what you have learnt throughout the year, and is a great representation of your newly-qualified, amazing self. The SCITT route differs from, say, the university-based PGCE in that it provides you with instant access to the classroom, and the amazing opportunity to apply what you are learning in your sessions once a week to your time at school during the rest of the week. Every SCITT is different, but another benefit is that they work with a bunch of schools in a particular area, so if you want to stay local, this is probably the better option. I only live about 20 minutes away from my main placement school, which is ideal when you need to arrive at 7:45! It's nice to know that the rest of my cohort are only a stroll away (even though I haven't met any of them in real-life because #Covid #lol)

So how have my first few months been? I say 'few months' when it's more like 'six months', which is half a WHOLE YEAR. We can't ignore the elephant in the room, which is the big, bad virus; I feel as if it would have been a lot more sociable had we not been in and out of lockdown. In the school: - we've had to stick to our class bubbles. This means every class in the school has a different start time, break time, lunch time and finish time. It also means we can't have any assemblies or after-school clubs. - several people have caught the virus, and several classes had to go into isolation at various points during the year (including us back in November.) - all our morning staff meetings are online. We were having socially-distanced insets, but these haven't happened for a while. - observing other teachers is a source of difficulty, and as trainees observations are pretty crucial. - children aren't supposed to share stationary, sit facing one another or sing / shout. Obviously this is all ridiculous and these things happen regardless.

It's also been pretty crap because I haven't been able to get to know my colleagues as well as I would have liked. We managed to fit in a single pub sesh, which was pretty good, but that was right at the start of the year, and since then we haven't been physically able to do any kind of fun stuff. So, yeah - it's been pretty wild. Not exactly the training year most people would envision! As for the PGCE itself, I'm really enjoying it but, as you can imagine, it's pretty intense. Being in school everyday is tiring, and even though you may not have the same responsibilities as the other teachers, you are expected to learn about these responsibilities. It means the cognitive overload can be a bit overwhelming, and this is also exhausting - qualified teachers of course don't experience this. But because everything is new and exciting and hard, you do feel like the life is being sucked out of you sometimes. For the first, I'd say, two months, I was adjusting to everything - the workplace, the children, the staff, the processes, the teaching styles, the was a lot. I've definitely settled into my main placement school and feel like a part of the team, but it won't be long before I embark on my other placements. Speaking of, I was meant to have another age-phase placement back in the autumn term, but the school didn't feel it was quite safe to let us trainees change classes. My other age-phase placement, therefore, is starting the week after next for four weeks, which is something to look forward to. My other school placement, I believe, is due to take place in the summer term.

I feel as if I've grown SO much since I started - I've had small, fleeting moments during which I've felt like a proper teacher, and this always makes me smile. The amount of teaching I'm doing has increased a lot since the beginning, and my colleague, who is an NQT, tells me that I'm doing more than she was at this stage of the year, which is good to know. I feel a lot more comfortable with being in front of the class - at the start of the year is was definitely a daunting prospect, but I think given my experience it wasn't too much of an ordeal. The hardest things for me, I think, are behaviour management and getting to grips with my organisational awareness. I've never worked in an English primary school before, so there are lots of things besides the actual teaching that you need to understand. Behaviour management is a challenge because I've never been in charge of 30 kids before - 30 incredibly diverse and complex human beings. It's so interesting and no 2 days are the same; I come away feeling tired, sometimes stressed, but a lot of the time very proud. So much happens during the course of one day that there is always something to reflect on and talk about at the dinner table. It's really nice knowing that this is something you're investing your time and energy into - you don't just switch off at the end of the working day, you are constantly thinking about what's going to happen with your munchkins. Obviously this can be a bit detrimental if you like to relax and forget about the pain of the workplace, but in my opinion, this is what it feels like to be really passionate about something. This is what I think 'life's work' must be like.

I remember saying to my Mum earlier in the year that I felt I wasn't stressed enough, which is a pretty weird thing to be worrying about. Getting stressed over not being stressed - who woulda thought? But that's me all over - needing to feel like I'm putting in enough effort, that I'm busy enough. I guess I heard a lot of stories about the PGCE year being incredibly intense and challenging; people talked about not having a life outside of school, and I was like, 'ermmm, that's not gonna be me!' I'm all for setting boundaries and practising self-care, as you guys probably know, but I didn't know if I needed to maybe make sacrifices to really get as much out of the year as possible. At this point, I've decided that I've got a pretty good balance going on, but I've also realised that YOU GET OUT WHAT YOU PUT IN. When you study at this level, it's all about you putting in the time and effort, because those lecturers and course leaders are not going to force you. I think, going forward, I'm going to make the most of this year in the sense that I can make mistakes and it'll be fine, I can try out different things and see what I enjoy. When better to do so? As a trainee you don't have the same level of responsibility as your colleagues. There's so much to learn, so much to grasp, and even though this can be overwhelming, it's so enriching. Sometimes I do have little moments of panic thinking about the admin I've got to sort out (it's always the bloody admin) but who cares about admin? It's just gotta be done - the teaching, however, is what you should get fired up about. All in all, I'd say it's going pretty well. I'm excited to see what the next 6 months have in store. Honestly, I can't believe how much has happened, especially with the pandemic raging, and knowing that there's so much more to come is really exciting.


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