Case study

Trainee secondary school teacher — O'Livia Gordon

O'Livia is studying the one-year PGDipED in Secondary Education Maths with QTS at the University of Birmingham

Why did you decide to pursue a postgraduate course?

I wanted to become a teacher and knew that I needed to gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). I wanted to study a postgraduate diploma to ensure that I had firm theoretical knowledge and not just practical experience. This course offers 120 credits compared to 60 credits with a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). I thought this would be useful if I wanted to pursue a Masters qualification in the future, as it means I can carry the credits forward.

What was the application process like?

I applied through UCAS and received a Zoom interview invitation (due to COVID restrictions at the time) via email.

Overall, it was a good experience - my interview felt more like a chat rather than an interrogation. My interviewer seemed genuinely interested in my views and reasoning for wanting to pursue teaching.

Why did you choose this postgraduate course and institution?

I chose to study at the University of Birmingham as it has an exceptional reputation and is a Russell Group university.

How are you funding your postgraduate study?

Through a tuition loan from Student Finance.

What is the course teaching you that your first degree did not?

During this course I've had the opportunity to work in small groups with my classmates, which has been beneficial. Sharing ideas and learning through groupwork has given me a different perspective on topics.

Tell us a bit about the course.

The main aims are to equip you with the tools needed to educate students safely and effectively in your subject area.

The first four weeks of the course were spent on campus where we had the opportunity to learn some basic principles of teaching, such as policy and safeguarding. For most of the week, we spent time in subject specific groups where we covered classroom management and methods of teaching content in engaging and fun ways. We also had smaller seminars for PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) education and professional practice where we would get to mix with other trainee teachers from different subject areas.

We also got practical experience, which involved a group of maths trainees going to a local school together to teach students. This was a useful insight into what teaching in a secondary school would be like, which I found enjoyable and not as scary as I'd expected it to be.

Most of your time will be spent in schools teaching as part of your placements. This is where you get the chance to gain hands-on experience. It's great that we're prepared with theoretical knowledge and what to expect from our tutors at university, but being in a classroom is where we get to put all that we've learned into practice.

You're not just thrown into the classroom - you're eased in with support from your tutors and subject mentors on placement. You'll spend time observing the classes you'll be teaching before having to teach them independently. This is a great opportunity to build positive relationships with your students as you support them from the sidelines. Your timetable will start off fairly light and will increase as and when you feel comfortable. It's also great to know that if you're having any issues at school or need more support, your university tutors are just an email away.

How is the course being assessed?

We have four written assignments to complete, which are useful as they're relevant to our teaching practice. We also have regular meetings with our subject mentors at our placement schools where they give us advice on how to improve. At the end of the placement, we complete a form with our mentors who will decide whether we've met all the teaching standards.

How is postgraduate life different to that of an undergraduate?

On my course, all the students really want to be there and we're all working towards the same goal - becoming a teacher. You're also a lot more independent - you need to manage your time effectively to balance your teaching placement and complete your assignments.

What do you wish you'd known before embarking on postgraduate study?

Some days can be challenging, and it can feel like there's a lot of work to do, but if you're organised and manage your time effectively, it's not too overwhelming. I dedicate time to completing assignments and planning lessons, which ensures that I'm free most weekends to catch up with my friends. I wish I had started this course sooner as it's been a great experience. I've learned so much and met some amazing people.

What tips would you give to others looking to get into teaching?

  • Try and gain some experience of working with children beforehand. If you don't have the opportunity to gain experience working in a school, there are plenty of documentaries online to give you an insight into what a secondary classroom can be like.
  • Listen to the advice of experienced teachers on your placement, as they are there to help you.
  • Make sure you're organised. Having your planning and paperwork sorted relieves stress and frees up time for other things.
  • Expect the unexpected. Working with children can be unpredictable, so make sure you always have a plan B.
  • Have breaks during the holidays. Allow yourself consecutive days of non-working breaks and then dedicate time to assignments and planning.

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