Teaching my first PGCE lesson | Expectations vs reality

Teaching my first lesson as a PGCE student was daunting. It will be for you, too – I don’t think there’s any avoiding that. However, if you’ve been following my previous Day in the Life posts, you’ll know that my first placement ensured that my transition into teaching was very smooth. As a result, the expectations I had of what teaching would be like were very different to the reality of the situation.

Here’s what to expect when planning, and delivering, your first lesson as PGCE students.

Planning my first PGCE lesson

The University of Birmingham, where I was lucky enough to begin my journey into teaching, offered extensive training on how to put together a lesson. Before placements began, we spent a lot of time working with a lesson plan template, which we later filled in for every lesson. These templates included student data, such as who were deemed EAL or PP, which pupils had SEND, target grades and reading ages.

Entering this data was time-consuming but very necessary, as it gave us a firm understanding of the people we’d be teaching and how to differentiate for their needs.

Don’t worry though; it gets easier. Once you’ve entered that data once, you can copy-and-paste it across to every new lesson that’s being planned. What’s left to create are lesson activities.

We had to account for exactly what was happening at every step of the lesson, detailing what the pupil would do and what we would be doing – as well as the movements of any teaching assistants or other staff members in the room at the time.

For example, my lesson plan might begin five minutes before the lesson, where I’d enter the room and distribute books or resources while the students were on break. Five minutes later, the kids came in, sat down, answered the register and completed a starter in silence, which I’d labelled clearly on the board. My activity at this point would be to ask for silence (pro tip: constantly and continuously reaffirm your expectations until they become second nature), direct their attention to the board and take a register. Then I’d wander the room and distribute extra resources.

It’s a lot, but worry not; this won’t be your life forever. As your confidence and proficiency as teachers increase, your lesson plans will become far less detailed – since you’ll know what you’re doing! (duh!) Making your plans super detailed at this early stage is an important way to start your training journey with good knowledge of every class you take.

Teaching my first PGCE lesson

It’s a common occurrence to feel nervous before any lesson, and especially before your first. I was nervous about timings, behaviour, and my subject knowledge but – and this may shock you – everything went swimmingly. I had to manage behaviour a few times, but this was as simple as following the PBM (Positive Behaviour Management), working my way up the ladder of consequences. Students very quickly behaved a lot more appropriately.

One piece of advice that resonated me, in particular, about behaviour, was courtesy of the mentor at my first placement, and something that you should bear in mind. Remember: there is a very stark pupil-teacher imbalance of power. They have been reminded, all their lives, that their teacher is in charge. If they refuse to listen to you, they should expect to be disciplined. Follow the PBM, remind them of the consequences of poor behaviour, and if you have to issue detentions, so be it.

On that note, don’t be afraid to give out detentions. I started out with a bad habit of letting kids off too many times, which produced more challenging behaviour. Once I’d heeded my mentor’s advice – followed the PBM, issued a detention and had a restorative conversation with the pupils, their behaviour improved dramatically.

You’ll read more about why and how I issued my first detention in the next Day in the Life post, coming out next month.

Keep an eye out for this thumbnail next month.

Expectations vs reality

Going into this, I expected to be challenged by difficult behaviour, to not have enough knowledge and lack any interesting activities. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In reality, students will always assume that you’re expert on any topic. You will need to stay clued-up on your content, for sure, but as long as you can teach and answer their questions, no cracks will ever show.

Behaviour wasn’t too much of an issue (of course this is different for every class you teach) as long as I stuck to the PBM. Consistency is key when dealing with challenging behaviour!!

As for engaging activities, students will be more willing to take part enthusiastically if you’re also enthusiastic. When I enter the classroom, even if Josh is having a bad day, Mr. Hamilton certainly isn’t. Mr. Hamilton finds his subject so enjoyable that he could practically scream from pure joy. Find your teacher hat and wear it with confidence.

And remember: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Yes, your lessons should be original (don’t go stealing off the shared drive unless you’re given express permission by your placement provider), but it never hurts to have a browse of TES, a website where teachers can upload and download others’ resources. If you do use websites like these, be sure to adapt them for your specific classes, as the resources you download will be generic by their very nature. Just don’t feel the need to always break the wheel, or you’ll wear yourself out.

Now that you know how to plan and teach your very first PGCE lesson, there’s only one thing left to do. Close this page, deliver your lessons, and change the world.

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