Sunday, 9 March 2014

A year on, do I think School Direct was the right choice for me?

This week I have realised that it is only through talking to someone else, or more often than not in my case through writing, about your experiences that you really start to think things through.  Earlier in the week I found myself talking to someone that had some decisions to make about their route into teaching.  After listening to the decision he had to make and what he was thinking about it I told him everything about the course so far, warts and all.  We're told constantly that we have to be 'reflective practitioners' and the 40 minutes I spent talking to him about it certainly ticked that box.  A few days later and I realise it is something worth getting down in writing.

This time last year I'd applied, been selected for interview, taught my lesson and been offered a School Direct place for 2013-14.  I'd not yet graduated, I was still living up in Lancaster finishing off my degree and working part time for the Students' Union.  I'd applied for a million and one other jobs in other sectors from the Civil Service to British Airways, from Tesco to TUI.  It seems a million years ago from today...

I'm not ashamed to admit that I wasn't 110% convinced that teaching was going to be for me.  It was certainly something I'd considered on many occasions, and I was always pretty sure that teaching was something I could do well in and would enjoy, but for some reason I had never fully committed to the idea.  I  knew that I didn't want to do a university based PGCE, which, as far as I knew at the time, left me with Teach First (who had already turned me down) and School Direct.  I applied for School Direct on the basis that it was worth a try and I didn't have anything to lose other than the time it took to write the application.

Prior to my application I'd not had a huge amount of recent experience in school, I'd worked with 11-18 year olds on a Widening Participation programme in my first year, but the last time I'd spent an extended amount of time in a classroom was when I'd been there as a student myself.  This was actually one of the reasons I didn't apply for a university based PGCE, I was positive that they wouldn't accept me, the requirements always sounded pretty rigid.  I didn't have the free time to get this experience until later in the year, spending a week in a Boys Grammar school whilst I was still at university and another back at my old secondary school.

I came onto the course in August 2013 with the attitude that I would complete the year, no matter what, probably do my NQT year and then re-evaluate if teaching was for me.  The government bursary certainly made this a more appealing and possible idea than it would've been if I was in another subject area.  As I write this in March 2014 I realise that this 'no matter what' attitude was never realistic.  The first term was make or break.  I'm certain that someone who did not enjoy teaching and wasn't at least slightly good at it wouldn't make it through that term.  By the end of the first half term I'd already made up my mind that I'd made the right decision.  If you didn't truly see a future in teaching you wouldn't put yourself through this course, it's as simple as that.  Especially when the nature of School Direct is that the school dictates a lot of the programme and has a lot of flexibility in how your time is spent.  This has meant that their expectations of me have taken quite a jump since I left for my second placement.  It's a challenge to say the least, but one that I'm rising to and being supported with.

It's at this point that I realise how much better for me it has been to do School Direct as opposed to the 'traditional' PGCE.  I have to say though,this is a very personal choice and certainly wouldn't be for everyone.  For all the flaws that people can point out about School Direct I am certain of one thing - so far it has been fantastic preparation for my NQT year.  In fact, to roughly quote an NQT at my current school in a text to me recently: 'With all this going on you'll be able to cope with anything in your NQT year!'.  Some people might describe it is a baptism of fire, or being thrown in at the deep end.  Undeniably this year has been tough so far and isn't showing any signs of letting up until my final assessment is over sometime in June.  Balancing the PGCE assignments with the increasing teaching timetable is certainly the hardest part, something we have in common with those on Teach First at this time of year (although I acknowledge they have been on a higher timetable since day one).  There have definitely been days/weeks where I've been very jealous of PGCE students that are in and out of schools and have more time to focus on their essays, even if it's only a little more (I'm not sure of the numbers here).

There are still many question marks out there that hang over the future of Initial Teacher Education and teaching qualifications in general.  It is only now, a year on, that I really appreciate the variety out there.  All of these courses have their benefits for different people and I don't believe that any of them are turning out a different quality of teacher to the next.  It's a highly individual choice and you only get out of it what you put in.  Personally, I wouldn't have chosen a QTS only route as the academic side of things was important to me and still is as I am considering continuing my studies to Masters level at some point in the future.  One persons idea of their ideal route into teaching will vary wildly from the next and it takes a different type of person  to get through Teach First to that of a university  based PGCE.  I think School Direct, or a SCITT programme with PGCE award, falls somewhere roughly in-between the two.

Writing this blog this afternoon has been my 'break' from planning and assignment writing.  A social life hasn't been something I've had this year that's for sure!  I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in June and cannot wait until September, as long as I get my summer first!

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