Initial Teacher Education during a pandemic

The School of Education catches up with Beth McEwan, PGCE student, and trainee History teacher to ask her why she chose to undertake her PGCE (Initial Teacher Education) at the School of Education, University of Bristol, and the challenges of studying during a pandemic.

 Tell us about yourself and why you chose to become a history teacher.

I’m Beth and I recently graduated from Cardiff University, where I did my History degree. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was about 15 or 16, but I originally wanted to be a primary school teacher. After doing work experience in a primary school, and as I gradually fell more and more in love with History, I realised I would prefer to be a History teacher.

I also feel that the transferable skills gained through studying History are vital. Having the ability to look critically at the evidence and arguments surrounding you, and to frame your own interpretations based on evidence, is becoming increasingly important. If I can contribute to providing these skills to future students, and to help them achieve their ambitions, I’ll find my career deeply rewarding.

Why did you choose to study PGCE at Bristol?

The University of Bristol was one of the universities that I applied to for my undergraduate degree, so I knew from my past research that it was a university with an excellent reputation. I wanted to complete my undergraduate degree and PGCE at Russell Group universities, as I felt that this would make me stand out as a graduate.

From further research, it became apparent that Bristol Uni also had an excellent reputation for its teacher training. When I attended the interview, I got a really good impression from the tutors I met and I felt confident that I could put my training in their hands. On top of this, I knew Bristol as a city relatively well and could imagine myself living there.

You’ve started your PGCE during a pandemic – what were your initial concerns?

I was concerned that the schools would close again and that I would miss out on vital experience. I was also concerned that, with social distancing in the classroom, I wouldn’t be able to practice a lot of the teaching strategies I had been introduced to.

To combat this, the university has extended Placement 1 to account for potential temporary school closures or absence due to self-isolation. They have also made changes to what is expected of us in order to meet the course requirements, making things more flexible in light of the pandemic.

How was your pre-placement training at the School of Education?

I felt very lucky that I was able to have face-to-face teaching from mid-September, as I had heard that other Unis were not starting until much later, or were doing mainly online teaching. Being able to have face-to-face teaching meant that we could have teaching strategies demonstrated to us. This meant that we understand them better and are now able to use them more effectively in our own teaching practice. It also meant that we could get to know our classmates and tutors much better.

We had to wear masks and visors, and follow other safety guidelines, but these were all worth it to be able to have face-to-face teaching in a way that still felt safe.

I felt very prepared for my placement and I really enjoyed learning about the curriculum and the science of learning.

Tell us about your first placement experience (what year group did you teach, what topics did you teach, how did the school cope with COVID restrictions?)

I am currently in the middle of my first placement and I’m really enjoying it so far! I feel well supported by my university tutor, professional tutor and associate tutor, as well as the rest of the staff at school. I am involved in teaching Year 7, 8, 9, 10 and 12, with a range of interesting topics from the Battle of Hastings to the Holocaust and the Cold War. I am particularly enjoying teaching my Year 10 class about the Cold War, including the Cuban Missile Crisis and Czechoslovakia Crisis.

Every school seems to be dealing with COVID differently, but I feel content with how my school is dealing with it. We have a one-way system for moving around the school which is mainly outside to avoid crowding in the corridors, the year group bubbles are separated very efficiently, seating plans are updated so that we know who has had close contact with who, masks are now worn in indoor communal areas and corridors, classrooms and hands are sanitised regularly and staff are encouraged to social distance, with the aid of tape-markings on the floor. When the school is notified about a positive test, the school immediately uses the seating plans and discussions with the individual themselves to decipher who they have recently been in close contact with, and these students are sent home to self-isolate with impressive efficiency and calm.

Have you had to adapt your teaching style to comply with COVID rules (e.g social distancing/face coverings/ online teaching?)

I haven’t yet had to do any online teaching because luckily I have not needed to self-isolate yet. In my school, face coverings are optional during lessons so I don’t tend to wear one while I am teaching. I do have to be mindful that I am trying to keep my distance from the pupils, but it is difficult to give individual help without being amongst the students. I try to keep the amount of time I spend standing within a metre from my students to a minimum, while still providing them with the support they need. I also need to account for time spent cleaning down desks and lining up to sanitise hands in my lesson planning.

What advice would you give to people thinking about doing a PGCE?

I would advise them to make sure they have done their research to ensure that they have chosen the route which is best for them, and if they choose to do university-led teacher training, then make sure the university is right for them. Feeling comfortable with the PGCE tutors is a major part of enjoying the course, and I think that’s a big reason for my enjoyment of the course so far.

I would also say that they shouldn’t expect it to be easy, because it definitely isn’t, but if they want to be a teacher then it’s 100% worth it.

More information:

To find out more about the School of Education’s Initial Teacher Education (Teacher Training) visit our website: Initial Teacher Education at University of Bristol