The Training Ground
The school placement - who does what for you...
Becoming a teacher is a social process – you can’t do it without other people. Managing your relationships with them is one of the keys to your success. Here’s a guide to what you can expect of others, and to what they will expect of you. Some universities will invariably have different names for these people - substitute the title given below for that used in your own institution where applicable.
The University Tutor
She or he is primarily an academic, and is expected to have some ongoing research interest, which may benefit you. They should also be well informed about current educational thinking, and have some credibility in the secondary classroom.
It's their job to deliver the subject content of the course, to mark your assignments, and to monitor your progress in your placement schools. They (or a colleague) will visit you in school to see you in action in the classroom. They will do their best to ensure that your school experience is as well structured as possible, and will work with your mentor to tailor your experience to your needs.
They will expect you to be reliable, proactive, and engaged in the course – teacher training isn't something that just happens to you. In return, you may ask them to be a guide, a sounding board, and a mediator of your experience, ready to intervene on your behalf when adjustments are necessary.
Remember, though, that they have ongoing relationships with schools, and that they will therefore take a long-term, balanced view if problems occur.
Mentors are, ideally and usually, sound classroom teachers who want to pass on their good practice to trainees. They aren't paid for this, but they should have time set aside both to observe your teaching and to meet you, formally, once a week, to discuss your progress and to set targets for the coming week.
Your mentor may quickly become the most important person in your learning life! Be positive, be proactive, but, above all, listen, and act on what you hear.
Mentors usually enjoy working with trainees. They usually value the relationship because it helps them question and re-evaluate their own practice.
The Professional Tutor
This teacher is in charge of all training within the school. They look after INSET, NQTs and, quite often, a variety of trainees from different institutions and on different courses – GTP and SCITT as well as PGCE.
They will organise a rolling programme of training that deals with the non-subject-specific areas – child protection, behaviour management, assessment for learning and so on. Balancing the demands of different training providers can mean compromises, but almost always they are conscientious in ensuring that you receive the training your University Tutor wants you to receive, though not necessarily in the order they'd like.
The Professional Tutor ('PT') should be able to help you with any difficulties that go beyond your immediate subject area, but always approach your mentor first.
The Pastoral Tutor
You will almost certainly be assigned to a Form Group, or Tutor Group, and the regular form teacher becomes your Pastoral Tutor. You have a lot to learn from them, in terms of understanding basic routines, like taking registers and communicating information to pupils, but, in the bigger picture, your will find that you also have in the Pastoral Tutor a rich source of experience about relating to pupils. The Form Tutor is in the front line in areas like 'Every Child Matters', and in making decisions about contacting outside agencies – Child Protection, Educational Social Workers and so on.
Get involved with what the form is doing – very often they support charities, like sponsoring a Third World child, or are active for ‘Children in Need’. You are potentially a very useful extra pair of hands.
Whatever you do, unless it’s a real life-or-death situation, don’t act on your own. If a pupil presents you with a problem, (as you’re a new face, this often happens, especially when they know you don’t know the background) there are two golden rules.
- As soon as you sense the direction the conversation is taking, especially if it is leading to a ‘disclosure’ (sensitive or confidential information being passed to a trusted adult) then you must immediately make it clear that you cannot maintain confidentiality, and that you are obliged to pass on any information. Your Child Protection training will have made that completely clear.
- Pass on the information to the form tutor or Head of Year or, if you can’t find anyone else, to your mentor, and let them handle it.
Classroom helpers and support staff
You’re going to have TAs (Teaching Assistants) or LSAs (Learning Support Assistants) in your classrooms. (The terms TA and LSA are almost interchangeable and generally loosely used.) Treat them as partners. Include them in your lesson plans, share the plans with them and, above all, listen to them. They know the pupils they work with very well indeed, and will have invaluable advice for you.
You will also come across other ancillary staff, in the Library, in the Reprographics / Audio-visual Centre, the IT department, at Reception and in the office. You may even have dedicated administrative support staff attached to your department. Again, treat them all as partners, and as experts in their fields. They know how things work, and respond very well indeed to courtesy and consideration.
Remember to make friends with whoever cleans your classroom, too. Their opinions can be very powerful.
The whole school
It should be clear by now that a school isn’t just about pupils and teachers, but that is a complete community, in which you are a guest. Guests, if they are to remain welcome, should behave themselves.
Some simple pointers
- Listen and learn. As a trainee, you’re tapping a wealth of expertise, so be respectful.
- Don’t judge without knowing the whole story.
- Never criticise one teacher in front of another, or in front of pupils. That’s plain unprofessional. If you have concerns, take them to your mentor.
- Never make negative comparisons between one school and another. If you’re seen to be in the habit of bad-mouthing other schools, what’s to stop you doing the same for your current school? You won’t be trusted.
- Be a good timekeeper.
- Learn to be a chameleon – work with the good practice that is effective in your school, whether or not you approve of it. It’s what pupils expect.
- Nip difficulties in the bud, while they’re still small. Talk first to your mentor, and only then to your University Tutor. (If the problem is with your mentor, try the Professional Tutor first)
Every teacher you meet is a potential mentor. Learn everything you can from them. Find out what happens in other subject areas, too.
Your fellow trainees
You’re all facing very similar challenges and problems, so share them, pool resources, develop approaches together. Keep in touch – e-mail and Facebook make this easy.
Partners and friends
The PGCE year is very busy, very demanding, and very stressful, and it can wreck relationships. Let your nearest and dearest know that your time will be much less your own (or theirs) than before the course began. Explain that sometimes you will have to work late to prepare for the next day, and that Sunday afternoon and evening are no longer the best times to go to the pub. Your fellow trainees and school colleagues will also become a new and very close social circle so don’t let partners feel excluded or become jealous.
Set aside at least one clear day at the weekend for yourself and for your partner. School isn’t everything.