A New Start

In twelve days I start my placement at a sixth form college for my PGCE and I’m really excited. I’m excited for a fresh start which involves learning a new set of skills and applying them in a practical context. I’m excited to be applying the years of study and research which I have just completed, even if it is in a way which I didn’t plan to apply it. And I’m actually excited to be leaving academia, at least for now. 

Furthermore, I feel like now that I am going back into formal education as a student, where I have to go to classes and hand in essays at deadlines, I’m ready to be the swot I always wanted to be. At school I worried about working too hard because I would get picked on and when I was an undergraduate I wanted to make new friends and have fun. But now that I have my friends and my partner and I don’t care what my fellow students think of my geekiness I am going to work so hard this year and get everything I can out of this PGCE. I’ve even volunteered to be a student rep, something my younger self would never have done but I feel now is something I’d be very good at. 

Between now and then, I have a week’s holiday by the sea in order to relax and enjoy myself before the hard work begins in earnest. 


Moving into teaching

Now that the PhD viva is over and I have done my corrections, my thoughts turn to the year ahead in which I will be training to be a teacher. The day after passing my viva I found out that I had been accepted on the PGCE course I had applied for and that a placement had already been arranged for me at the college where I did my shadowing back in June. 

The interview for the PGCE took place 2 days before my viva, adding to the pressure I was under that week! It involved a brief introductory talk with the other interviewees, a 5 minute micro teach to the panel and other interviewees, the interview itself, and a numeracy and literacy test. The micro teach went very well and I received really positive feedback on it during the interview. 

Fo anyone who has to do this in the future, I thought it would be helpful if I briefly described my lesson. Because my audience were all specialists in different subjects (due to the course being in post-16 education) I tried to pick a subject matter they might know a little about. I chose the concept of toleration, which is on the A-level politics syllabus and is something I feel confident teaching. I gave each person a handout with two provocative images which raise questions about the idea of toleration and how far it should be extended in society (one of Muslim women wearing the veil and protesting, the other of the EDL protesting against the veil and the building of a London mosque). I briefly described the concept, and how it connected to liberal ideology. I then asked a couple of questions to get the audience warmed up. I then asked them to look at the images and asked them questions to make them think about what the image represented and how it might make us question toleration or want to improve laws regarding toleration. Finally I linked back to the syllabus and explained how to discuss the concept in relation to an exam question. My aim was to get the ‘students’ to do most of the talking which I mostly succeeded at.

The interview and tests went well and I was told in the interview that the college where I did my shadowing had asked for me to do my placement there if I wanted to, which was really great news. 

I now feel excited about starting the course and especially about starting my placement. I’ve met some of my classmates and teachers at a course welcome day last week and I’ve also met with the vice-principal for teaching and learning at the college where my placement will be. Both were positive experiences and now I just want to get started! I suppose I should really be enjoying the downtime between now and September before all hell breaks loose and I have no free time any more but I just don’t like being at a loose end!

Is it too soon to think that things finally appear to be going my way?

Today I had a meeting with my boss in which he offered me some extra paid work over the coming year, assisting him with administration on another, smaller research project he is working on. Currently I am a part-time project manager for a 3-year research project which ends late 2015. However, as the PGCE I have applied for begins this September, I had decided I would probably have to give up my current job because the course is full time. 

So, in the meeting, I was upfront with my boss and told him about my plans, my struggle to find work in academia and my lack of enthusiasm for moving around the country chasing temporary lectureships. I expected him to say, ‘Oh, that’s a shame…’ and move on. But instead he suggested that if I thought I could handle it, I’d be more than welcome to continue my job during my PGCE and just fit it in whenever I could. Even though it would require working some evenings and weekends, it would only be for a year and it would solve all of my financial concerns, which the thought of giving up work and studying full time had created.

Not only that, but our discussion then turned to my interest in the philosophy of education, my passion for teaching and my desire to keep my foot in the door of academia. My boss suggested that in the future, the department hoped to create a post along those lines. Currently, the department runs a volunteer programme whereby students in the department teach philosophy to underprivileged kids in the city, which my boss is heavily involved in. His aim is to make that programme an official part of the syllabus and suggested that I might be ideal for such a role. 

What I realised from our meeting is that I would be silly to cut ties with academia completely and that my boss clearly wants to help me out. While much of our discussion was hypothetical, I still felt an increased sense of optimism about the future and that even though I don’t know exactly what I’ll end up doing in my career, that doesn’t really matter and is half the fun! Most people end up getting into things by chance, by seizing opportunities when they present themselves, by knowing the right people and by stumbling upon their skills and passions. 


One more thing. After the placement I did at the 6th form college, the teacher I was shadowing was so impressed by my knowledge and how I communicated with his students that he has offered me the opportunity to come back and teach part of the Philosophy syllabus next academic year, if I can fit it around my teacher training. So it looks like it’s going to be a very busy year and I couldn’t be happier.