Sunday, 3 August 2014

• How to survive your PGCE year // 10 tips and tricks •

Growing up is stressful. Being an adult is stressful. Life is stressful.

But life is also beautiful. And perhaps it's due to the opportunities I've had, or the support I've received, I'm fulfilling my dream of becoming a primary school teacher. That's not to say that my PGCE year was a walk in the park (by any stretch of the imagination) but now that I've come out the other side of it alive, I think I can provide a fair few tips and tricks for how to survive it. Please note that I completed my Primary PGCE, so I can't talk much about Secondary. And if you didn't know, PGCE means Post Graduate Certificate in Education :)

1. Know your stuff beforehand
Any issues in education, any curriculum changes, the structure of the school day, the OFSTED report of any schools that you may be training in; anything, really. I can't even tell you how much you will learn during your PGCE year, so it's best to start before the course and brush up on any education-related issues so you don't have to worry about that when you first start. It goes without saying that issues in education change all the time, so obviously you'll have to keep up to date with things throughout the year, but it's a great idea to have some baseline knowledge for when you start. Alongside this, download the BBC News app on your phone or iPad, and always check the 'Education' part of it - there's loads of current information on there. There are also websites such as the Guardian and TES that provide info, too.

2. Stock up on stationary
This may sound stupid, I know, but never, and I mean never, underestimate how many folders you will need and how many pens you will lose. Throughout the year, I used up 11 large folders and lost too many biro's to count. It's worth taking a trip to Staples and picking up some bits - here is a list that I would start off with: a diary with enough room to write which lessons you're teaching and extra-curricular for every day; 3 folders; 2 packets of plastic wallets; a pack of 12 subject dividers; a packet of 12 black biros; a packet of 12 green biros; a set of 3 highlighter pens; a pack of 3 pencils; a clear pencil case; a large stack of post it notes; a USB memory stick; a hole-puncher; and a stapler. This may sound like a lot, but I can pretty much assure you that you'll be back at Staples again at least once more during the year.

3. Never miss a day off school (unless you really really have to)
Children like consistency - heck, I think we all like consistency. So why rock the boat by having a day off? Obviously if you're really very ill, suffering from a bereavement or have a job interview, then it's a very different kettle of fish. What I'm trying to say here is that 'pulling a sicky' or 'needing a rest day' is just no excuse for missing a day of school. Children change so much, and something new happens every single day, so the next time you go in, you'll have missed out on it. Plus - the whole point of training is because you love being in the classroom and love teaching kids - so why wouldn't you want to go in? My lecturer told us a story of when she was so ill that she lost her voice and was so achey that she had to teach sitting down. She was silent throughout the whole lesson but just used her Interactive Whiteboard and notecards to teach the children. Her argument was why should the children suffer just because I was a little bit sniffly?! That always stuck with me, and I wholeheartedly agree.

4. Be the 'YES man'
Quite literally, say yes to everything. Realistically, you will be shattered, you will be crawling to bed at the first opportunity and you will be working weekends - but if someone asks you to help them write a few reports, or to assess a piece of work, then just say yes. This whole year is to benefit you and no-one else. You signed on to the course for you and no-one else. So if someone offers you the opportunity to learn something new or brush up on your skills, then go for it. It may add another half an hour or even an hour onto your day, you may be even more tired and not have an evening to yourself, but you have to remember that with the amount that there is to learn, you need to grab every opportunity that you can.

5. Grab your lunch breaks
I got into a really terrible habit at the start of the course of not eating my lunch and working through my breaks. I lost quite a bit of weight and was constantly tired (even more tired than I otherwise would have been) which was absolutely no good for my health, or good for my learning. I can't stress enough how important it is to have some time, even 5-10 minutes, to gobble down some salad or a sandwich. What I did was bring my lunch into the classroom - which is terribly unsociable, but it was the only way - and eat whilst I was marking or setting up my laptop. You feel productive because you've got stuff done, and it's good for you to eat your lunch. I need to also add that what you eat is so important, too. Chocolate bars may seem tempting for that quick burst of energy, but bananas are more effective. Pre-made, shop-bought salads may seem really appealing, but home-made salads are healthier and cheaper. As I mentioned above, you won't get as much sleep as you're used to, so you may as well add on another 10 minutes to your evening to prepare yourself lunch for the next day.

6. Show off your creativity
My lovely mentor in my second placement always encouraged me to be brave and try something different with the children. She was always urging me to plan lessons which I could teach outside, and to put the books away for the lesson, and just teach the children without making them write. At first, I was nervous and sceptical, thinking 'how on Earth am I going to assess them if they've not written in their books?!?' but honestly, children learn so much better when they're doing things as opposed to writing things. In terms of lesson ideas being creative, why not throw some Art in with the Maths? Why not give the children chalk on the playground and ask them to draw 3 ladybirds X 4 ladybirds? You'll be amazed at what sticks in children's brains, and it might just be these lessons that just synch the learning and consolidation from the previous lessons.

7. Get some exercise
I'm not an exerciser, no way - I'll blame it on the mild asthma, but I cannot run or even jog for that matter. What I can do, however, is walk. There are so many benefits to walking, but the main one I'm interested in is de-stressing. Walking relaxes me and I love just popping on a pair of trainers and wandering out the door, with no clue where I'm going or which direction I'm going to take. Throughout the whole year, I have always taken at least 3 evenings out of my week to go on walks, whether that be for 10 minutes or 30, alone or with someone else, and it has worked wonders. If I've had a bad day (and we all have them, in any job we do), it chills me out and takes my mind off of things - alternatively, it makes me think of things in a different, more positive light. (More often than not, though, I think of a great teaching idea when I'm walking, so I always bring my phone so I can make a note!). You may find that running, jogging, gymming or exercise classes work for you, but whichever you do, make sure you find time to fit them in. It is easy to forget about your health when you're trying so hard in a different aspect of your life, but if you're too stressed, that comes across in your teaching, and can stop you from working to your full potential.

8. Change up your radio station
Secrets out - I listen to Classic FM. At the weekends, I'm a Radio 1-er, but during the week, on those early morning drives, I'm a total Classic FM convert. Something about the classical music just relaxes me and prepares me for the day. When the music has no words, there's nothing to sing along to, so your mind can stay as blank as you'd like it to be (whilst paying attention on the road and being a safe driver, of course!). It sounds silly, I know, and my friends always get a little shock when they turn my radio on to find opera music playing, but if it helps me, then it helps me.

9. Keep your chocolate drawer well stocked
When I was a trainee, my chocolate drawer was at home in my bed side table, but as a teacher, I now have one in my classroom. I mentioned above that it's important to stay healthy and eat fruit, salads etc - but it's also important to keep your sanity by treating yourself every once in a while. A little bar of chocolate never hurt nobody, and it's something to look forward to when you're feeling a bit down. One of my leaving presents from my final placement was a box full of chocolate bars and I was told to never run out of chocolate bars, and if my mentor told me this, surely I have to comply...

10. Never lose sight of why you're on the course
Lastly, and most importantly, never lose sight of why you're on the course. As soon as your start to think to yourself 'I just don't want to be here', you need to recognise that things have to change, whether that be your attitude, your hobbies, your stress-management or the way you look at things. Whatever your reasons for signing up to the course, there are children in schools that deserve your enthusiasm, encouragement and skills. They are the reason you're on the course. Their love of learning and excitement for the school day is the reason you turn up. The 'light bulb moments' that are very real, and very rewarding, are why you spend your evenings and weekends planning and marking. So whenever you're feeling a bit down, or a bit rough, or a bit tired, just think to yourself 'no-one else in any other job has 30 children looking up at them, relying on them and wanting them to teach them something new. No-one else in any other job has 30 children with amazing ideas, eagerly wishing to spill them onto a page to impress you and make you proud. No-one else in any other job has 30 children that look up to you, make you laugh, are innocent and lovely, and are so eager to explore'. 

I really hope this post helped you. I've had quite a few questions on twitter about my experience with my PGCE and my experience now as a teacher, so I thought I'd write a quick post with 10 tips. I'm starting my NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) year in September and I could not be more excited. I'm working in my dream school with some great staff and lovely children, I feel very supported by the staff and my family and friends, and I can't wait to start teaching. The PGCE year is hard, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, and I honestly can't think of anything else I'd rather do in life - as cheesy as it sounds, I think teaching is the most amazing job and if you're seriously thinking of going for it, then just apply for a place on a PGCE. It was the toughest year of my life so far, I'll be honest and say I found a lot of it quite difficult, there were some rough patches but every single day, no matter how bad my day was, I felt so grateful and it felt so rewarding that I'd helped a child to learn that day. I can't even explain it - it's a great feeling.

If you have any questions, or would like some advice, please tweet me @danielascribbs
or email me on and I'd be so happy to help.
I'm no expert, but I've been there, done that, got the t-shirt
so if I can help you, I'll definitely try.
Daniela xo
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  1. Great post Daniela! I'm going to be starting the Primary PGCE next month :) It's also nice to see you haven't neglected your blog (as people keep telling me I won't be able to do both!) Helen xx (

    1. Good luck darling! You will be able to do both - just blog at the weekend and schedule posts! Have fun and enjoy it. Daniela xo

  2. What a lovely post - It's so nice to see that you're so passionate about what you do!

    Jemma @ Jemma In Words

    1. Thank you! I am so passionate - I'm so fortunate to be in a career I love. Daniela xo

  3. Thank you for this post! I'll be starting next month too and it's nice to read something positive and encouraging. xx

    1. You're very welcome, glad it helped! Good luck lovely. Daniela xo

  4. Great post! I have just finished my NQT year, and I PROMISE it is 100x easier than PGCE! Life in a primary school is obviously hectic, and I think the fact that PGCE is basically bootcamp and your body can now cope with anything does help, but honestly it isn't anywhere near as stressful once you have your own class. These are great tips for anyone starting a PGCE - I found myself nodding along so much - especially re: stationary! I remember being so excited when a box of 100 plastic wallets were delivered to my house! You get sucked into a bubble of teacher training that year, I am sure my friends and family must have been bored senseless of my constant school-talk, but it's worth it in the end! xx

    1. Ahh thank you so much for the lovely comment - that's so sweet of you! I'm loving NQT year and not finding it quite as stressful as training (but still very stressful!!) and I'm loving the fact that I have my own class. I think my family and friends are also bored senseless but luckily my boyfriend is currently teacher training so we're both very interested in each others days haha! Hope you're enjoying your second year :) Daniela xo

  5. Oh also - where are your scissors from?! xx

  6. Aha I love this!! My biggest tip ever is make sure you have someone to welcome you home with a big glass of wine on a Friday!! PGCE year is awesome, but definitely takes it out of you! Great post

    1. Haha yes! Great tip! I don't drink alcohol so my version of this would be a massive mug of tea - it definitely encourages you to chill and start the weekend! Thanks for reading :) Daniela xo

  7. Wow this post is fantastic, thank you :) I am applying for my pgce to begin in September. This post has made me very excited and slightly scared for what is to come! I have an interview next Friday :) Thanks for this post, it is really helpful. What year do you teach now? :) xxx