After getting through THAT maths test, the X Factor style interview day at my chosen university (where we were tested, observed, presented and finally interviewed) I was pretty chuffed with gaining my place on a Primary PGCE course. I knew the year was going to be intense, but I felt ready for the challenge.
I had a great tutor, in her first year in academia after leaving a successful teaching career, so I was lucky to have a really supportive and enthusiastic educator in my corner. In fact, most of the faculty were pretty inspiring and clearly had strong opinions on certain elements of modern teaching. Yes, I felt challenged (I’m an introvert and meeting so many new people was hard) but was confident I was doing what I was meant to at that point in my life. Going out into my first placement, however, was a whole other ballgame.
I’m not saying I wasn’t happy to work in a SEND school, but as a first placement, I simply didn’t know what to expect.
In all honesty, I felt completely out of my comfort zone and way out of my depth. I was placed in a special educational needs school, which was not what most of my peers were doing and more importantly, we hadn’t had any specific training to prepare. I’m not saying I wasn’t happy to work in a SEND school, but as a first placement, I simply didn’t know what to expect. I was placed in a wonderful class with Year 1 pupils but following the EYSF. It was a small class of pupils with Autism spectrum disorder, and it’s true to say I remember their personalities with incredible clarity and fondness. I learnt a great deal in my term there and still refer back to skills and educational tools discovered teaching there to this day.
However, I found the staff far more difficult to work with and alongside. My teacher mentor was incredulous that I had not been taught any specific SEND teaching skills or knowledge before beginning my first placement. This is perhaps a fair criticism of my chosen PGCE course, however, I had nowhere to go with this. She was constantly hostile with me throughout my placement which lead to a massive feeling of doubt, worry and anxiety on my part. I felt sick with worry on many days there and even called in sick but lied to my partner about not going in, fearing I would be judged for failing to succeed in this new career I had worked so hard to embrace.
Talking with my fellow trainees, I realised everyone found the first placement incredibly challenging.
Returning to uni for the second part of our training was a huge relief. Talking with my fellow trainees, I realised everyone found the first placement incredibly challenging. I was far from alone with the struggles with placement mentors, but it was also heartening to hear of friends who had had positive and incredibly supportive experiences. When I found my second school placement (this time through a friend) I had a much more supportive experience from the beginning and felt far more confident in my teaching and communication skills with other members of staff.
I would never say I regret having that first placement, as it taught me so much and it was such an amazing and rewarding experience teaching there. But it showed me how important mental wellbeing is in any teaching or work environment.