Welcome to the fifth part of our eight-part series on the Postgraduate Certificate in Education, or PGCE. So far in this series, we have talked about favouring financial aid over part-time work, keeping a positive and receptive attitude to the academic side, PGCE assignments and why it’s important to stay as organised as possible.

By this point, PGCE candidates and prospective candidates should feel surer about how to manage the academic side of things. From this part, we will spend a bit more time thinking about aspects that particularly impact your school placement and work experience.

For many, this aspect remains the most critical element of the PGCE, and the one that carries the most long-term implications if successful. We don’t dispute the obvious importance of practical experience, but we would remind all candidates of our advice in part two regarding taking the academic side of things seriously.

What is our first piece of advice about your school placement? Put simply, it’s to get yourself as involved in school life as humanly possible without burning out. Below we’ll explain this idea in more detail:

What do we mean when we say "get involved"?

This is a fair question. You will already be very busy with your planning and execution of lessons, as well as class observations and any other duties the school might require of you. Our advice is to always try your best to go the extra mile for your school and do more. What can this mean?

· Volunteering for extra duties

· Spend time talking with and getting to know your colleagues

· Learn as much as possible about your community and school history

· Take part in extracurricular activities

The purpose of this advice is to help you make the PGCE year as valuable as possible. It is a time to lay foundations, make important connections and also make your first impression in your new career sector. The way your colleagues and school leaders feel about you at the end of your time there can have a great impact on how fast your career develops once you become an NQT.

1. Volunteering for extra duties

Obviously, there are limitations as to what level of responsibility you can take on within the school, given that you are not a fully-fledged or even fully qualified member of the team just yet. That doesn’t mean you can’t pitch in and help out where needed. You may think some of the work is rather menial, but it’s not the specific work that’s valuable, but rather the message to the school that you’re a team player, willing to help and make a contribution to the community.

So, if the school needs helpers to set up for an activity, or even just a hand reorganising a classroom display or a storage cupboard, these are great chances to lend a hand and prove yourself a good colleague.

2. Spend time getting to know your colleagues

During any school day, there will be ample opportunities at break and lunch times for you to sit down and chat with your fellow teachers. Grab these chances with both hands and take a genuine interest, but avoid “shop talk.” Teaching is stressful, so having a chance to talk about something other than students, assessments and the Local Education Authority might be a good thing!

If and when colleagues organise social events or get-togethers, be positive and make an effort to attend. A break is always nice, and meeting outside of the school campus is the best way to see teachers as their real selves.

3. Learn as much as possible about your school community

Reading up on your school’s history can provide you with amazing insights into its current condition and any problems it might be facing. Challenges might stem from switching to Academy status, or from key personnel changes over the years. Unless you take the time to understand where the school has been, you’ll have no clue in your mind as to where it is going in its current form.

You may often find that among your colleagues there are some veterans who have been with the school a long time. They could offer some further angles that help you form a complete picture of your new school.

4. Take part in extracurricular activities

Once again, as a teacher in training, you may not be allowed to lead your own activities, but that shouldn’t stop you from helping out. Other teachers will run extracurriculars and you could volunteer to assist them. That kind of volunteering goes a long way to helping you gel with colleagues, discover common interests and once again show yourself as an active team player.

Besides that, extracurricular activities are a great way to observe your students in different settings, thus offering you another window into their real personality and character. That could be important for your assignments or for improving your teaching methods for that group of students.

Don’t Miss Part 6!

In the next part of the PGCE series, we’ll be discussing the issue of getting help. Completing the PGCE course is no easy feat, and you’re bound to need help and support. Learn more in our next article.