PGCE: Goodbye Cambridge, hello NQT year!

So. I’ve done it. The PGCE is over. What did it entail, in brief?

  • Very late nights and very early mornings
  • Thousands and thousands of words of assignments.
  • Lesson plans
  • And evaluations
  • Paper in plastic wallets.
  • Fun
  • Stress

It was hard work and tiring, but it’s over!

The final title of my 1c research assignment was:

A critical investigation using a case study approach into the extent to which low-attaining Year 10 students’ learning about reading unseen texts is supported by the use of iPads.

The use of tech in the classroom is something that I am extremely interested in. More specifically, the effective use of technology in the classroom. There isn’t much point in using a fancy piece of tech if it doesn’t actually improve educational outcomes (IE higher grades) for students, or increase engagement: tech is usually expensive.

While my own research was rather inconclusive – my research methods were not particularly “robust” and the sample was incredibly small – it does fit with the broader literature.

Ipads can increase engagement, but they can also increase barriers to learning. Using tech requires both the student and the teacher to be proficient in how to use the tech/application itself. If they aren’t, then the tech will not be using effectively. New barriers, such as increased off-task behaviour (Angry Birds, anyone?) can be witnessed.

In a PGCE session, we presented our research to our peers. As my actual research was rather inconclusive, I took two of the apps I’d used and provided a slightly broader exploration of the effective use of tech in the classroom. Many of my peers were surprised to hear what I said – “Surely using an iPad or an app gets kids engaged?” – until I said that we’ve all sat and browsed the internet, or sent a text, during a lecture or seminar… why would we expect our students to be any different?

The PGCE is now over and summer is here. It’s time to retire the PGCE blog and convert it into an NQT blog… (with more frequent posting.)

Let the adventure begin!

Poetry

As I’ve previously stated, before starting my PGCE, I found poetry rather inaccessible. However, I’m pleased to say that being immersed in it has changed my thinking.

I’m actually enjoying reading it and am beginning to write my own!

This immersion has forced me to analyse poetry and, in order to teach it successfully, to delve into criticism and documentaries. While I had previously read some Duffy and Larkin (who hasn’t?) I didn’t really engage with the meaning behind the poems. But, watching various documentaries on Larkin, and pulling on my own experiences in Hull, I’ve begun to develop a fondness for the poet.

One A Level class that I’m working with are studying anthologies by Duffy and Larkin.

Venn diagram showing over analysis
Pretty sure all students have felt this at somepoint

In a book that I picked up during my undergraduate studies, Don’t Ask Me What I Mean: Poets in their own words, there are short essays by both Duffy and Larkin on the anthologies that the students are studying.

Duffy offers a little bit of insight into her Mean Time anthology, writing about why the poems are ordered as they are. She also writes about the meaning of one of her poems, and provides a humorous little anecdote about a man who thought the poem was about him.

Larkin’s contribution is, well, very Larkin. On The Whitsun Weddings, he merely comments:

…once I have said that the poems were written in or near Hull, Yorkshire, with a succession of Royal Sovereign 2B pencils during the years 1955 to 1963, there seems little to add.

Interesting.

It will be fun to see what the A Level students come up with when analysing the poems!

What does a Teaching Assistant do?

Although my job title isn’t “Teaching Assistant” – it’s the much cooler “Student Motivation Assistant”, much of my job is the same as a teaching assistant’s; I am slightly more specialised and teach small classes.

I usually get to work at about 8:10am – the bell for registration goes at 8:30am, and I use this twenty minutes to get a coffee and catch up with other staff; once a week we have a whole-staff briefing at 8:10am.

During registration I take out my mentees to talk about any issues they have, both at home and at school. Sometimes these issues can be minor, sometimes they are serious. The chat gives students a chance to clear their mind of any issues so that they can give full attention to their lessons.

Lessons start at 8:45am and stop for break at 10:25am for break; this is two 50 minute lessons. At my school we aren’t based solely in one department, so I might move from an English lesson to an Art lesson, or Geography lesson. We have been given some influence over our lessons, and attention has been given to our particular skills – I have an English degree and a broad humanities background so I spend more time in these lessons; I have not been in any Science lessons.

Break offers a chance to recharge with coffee and catch up with other teachers and chat about any issues that need addressing.

Then it’s two more lessons before a recharge at lunch. I have a duty once a week, which means I patrol a designated area at break and lunch to keep an eye on students. Other teachers and TAs run clubs during lunch.

Depending on the TA’s timetable, there could be up to three more 50 minute lessons after lunch, meaning a 3:40pm finish. Students in Year 10 upwards finish at 3:40pm, those in the years below finish at 2:50pm.

Once a week we have a team meeting after work, finishing at 3:40pm to discuss any SEN news and any concerns. This also provides a chance for our SENCO to award the TA of the Week certificate and chocolate.

Extra-curricular clubs are imperative to a good education, and TAs contribute to running these; I co-run the Debating Society, while others run a Minecraft club and others.

And to those who are thinking about becoming a TA to test the education water before applying for teacher training: Do it. It’s hard, but incredibly fulfilling.