In the eighth and final piece in our series on the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), we will be talking about work-life balance and why it matters. So far in this series we have covered both academic and non-academic aspects of surviving and thriving in your PGCE year. This has included subjects like the benefits of financial aid over part-time working, reasons to take the academics of the PGCE more seriously, how to better organise yourself and more.

In parts four and five of the series we gave advice about staying busy in the PGCE by finishing assignments efficiently and early, and getting as involved as you can in school life. The message of this final part may seem to conflict with that message, but let us assure you that it doesn’t.

The importance of time off during your PGCE

Between all of your academic lectures, assignments and school placement, you are going to experience fatigue and stress. This is an inescapable fact. It’s one of the reasons we advised against having a separate part-time job on top of your course load. Finding time for rest and recreation is, therefore, an important task for you as a PGCE candidate.

Having time off is more than just giving yourself a lie-in, or a night out with friends. It’s about making time for yourself that is entirely separate from your PGCE life. If you manage your assignments well, ask for help from your mentor or colleagues when you need it, and stay organised with your planning and other work, then you should be able to give yourself at least one full day per week that is entirely your own.

What should you do with your full day off

Here, we would like to stress the idea of having a full day off if you can, because there is a world of difference between a day off and a morning off after which you need to do PGCE academic or other work. In the latter case, you spend your morning just worrying about the rest time ending and the work time resuming.

Carving out an entire day leaves you flexibility and options. Here are some ideas of how you can better use your PGCE day off.

1. Keep your social life alive

Unless you live with other teachers in training, then it can be lonely for you outside of work. Spending time with friends will help to keep your sane after many lonely days at home each night working on your assignments, lesson plans, marking and other work. It doesn’t matter if you do something outdoorsy like go rock climbing, or just invite some people over for pizza and a Netflix marathon. It’s the human contact that is important.

To really enjoy your day off, it’s ideal if you can be with friends who won’t talk shop with you. Be warned that surrounding yourself exclusively with fellow teachers may well result in shop talk.

2. Read

This one sounds obvious, but reading is truly fuel for the soul. When we advise reading on your day off, by the way, we are not suggesting you re-read your PGCE academic materials. You’d be much better off reading something you genuinely enjoy. Teaching is a unique profession in that its practitioners get professional benefit from engaging in a hobby like reading. It expands horizons, and also provides teachers with the ability to say that they practice what they preach when dealing with students.

3. Take up a hobby

Another great constructive distraction that can even help enhance your professional life is taking up an interesting hobby. Some people think hobbies are just more work, and can even be expensive depending on what it is. We think, however, that hobbies bring valuable structure to free time, and even furnish you with something you can teach others. Perhaps it could become an after-school club in a school you work in after qualifying.

More importantly than that is the fact that hobbies provide us with an escape. They are an opportunity to explore ourselves and our passions, and can add entire new dimensions to our lives.

Don’t let the PGCE pressure get to you

Finally, it’s essential that you never lose sight of your real goal in taking the PGCE --- to join the teaching profession. This certification is the first step in what will hopefully become a long, fruitful and fulfilling career as an educator. You can’t expect to get everything right in this first year, nor should you try to do so.

Remember that while you are working hard to join the ranks of one of the noblest professions in the world, you are still only human. You have limitations, and a need for balance and harmony in your life.

Follow our advice, and we are confident that you will both survive and thrive in your PGCE year. Good luck to all of the aspiring educators out there who are on their way to positively influencing the lives of so many lucky young people.