DON'T EXPECT TO PERFECT ANYTHING
We finished the sixth part of this eight-part series on the PGCE with a paragraph titled “You can’t expect perfection in a single year.” It’s common to want to enter the teaching world and swiftly revolutionise a classroom and faculty with your incredible new ideas, youthful energy and unstoppable passion for education. The fact remains, however, that you cannot expect to get anything even close to perfect during your PGCE year.
It is well known in education circles that NQTs are prone to error. That being the case, how well do you think teachers still on their PGCE fare? We’re not saying that you are destined to be a disaster during your training year. We are just trying to remind you that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that you should probably be prepared to get things a bit wrong when you’re still learning.
Perfectionism is a common trait in aspiring educators. Teachers are often bordering on pathological when it comes to order, symmetry and balance. When you consider the relative rate of chaos that emerges in classrooms, it seems odd that such personalities are the ones that pursue careers in teaching.
One of the reasons PGCE candidates build up ideas of attainable perfection in their mind is that they are somewhat absorbed by the educational theory they have been studying. Some will take that knowledge and think it will apply universally to every school and every classroom. All we can say is that they are in line for something of a rude awakening.
It's not that theory or book knowledge is incorrect. It’s just that it is often formulated by looking at the big picture, rather than at every single classroom situation. You need to know it so that you can try out these ideas and your own with your students. Our advice in this article is saying that you should be prepared for it to fail at least to some degree.
There are many strategies you can use to avoid those negative feelings that can come as a result of imperfection. We’ll list some ideas below:
1. See all mistakes as learning opportunities
Simply saying “learn from your mistakes” seems a bit cliché, but there’s still so much truth and value in this assertion. Part of being able to learn from mistakes is you starting to see errors and failures as learning opportunities. This takes a great deal of reflection on your work, where you think about what you got right, but more importantly focus on what you got wrong and how you can avoid these things in future.
2. Remember where you are on your journey
It’s really important that you remind yourself each day of exactly where you are in your long career path in education. Many careers in teaching span some 40 or more years. The PGCE is literally the very beginning of your professional career. How many other professions can you think of in which practitioners are masters of the art at the very outset of their journey? All things take time to learn and to master. Teaching is no exception.
3. Ask for help from your mentor and department colleagues
If you can garner some really valuable feedback from a mistake, then you can regard that mistake as having been worth it. Your colleagues have all been in your position before, and so are uniquely positioned to give you the empathy and understanding you need. Furthermore, they can offer critical advice on what you may have done wrong, and how you can improve. This kind of feedback is like gold dust. We talked more about this idea in the sixth part of the series.
4. Breathe deep, and try not to dwell
One of the worst things you can do when things go wrong is endlessly replay the errors you made over and over in your mind. This is the kind of action that will distract you from your PGCE assignments and other work, and even prevent you from sleeping well at night. No mistake is worth torturing yourself over and over. Do your best to put errors out of your mind and move on.
In addition, don’t conflate “reflection” with “dwelling” in this case. Reflection is a positive learning experience in which you extract useful insight that you can use for the future. Dwelling and replaying simply occupy and distract your mind from things that it should be focused on.
Don’t let the PGCE get you down
You’re going to make mistakes both during and after your PGCE, so you just need to be ready for that. The most important thing is being able to regard errors as learning opportunities that help you develop professionally.
Don’t miss the eighth and final part of our series where we’ll be discussing maintaining a healthy work-life balance during that crucial PGCE year.