FE teaching - my journey so far.
Updated: Aug 6
Restarting my learning journey:
I have always been quite a spur of the moment person and despite having danced around the possibility of teaching, lecturing or coaching, in addition to brand strategy work, I had not done a huge amount of research into developing specific skills or qualifications in this areas.
So when I found myself inquiring about the PCGE in LifeLong Learning at Shipley College, in partnership with Huddersfield University, late August 2020, and then deciding to just go for it last September it was really liberating. I had not given myself enough time to talk my self out of it.... and I was on a new learning journey.
Returning to formal learning after a 20 year break, has not been as mentally or physically difficult as I had anticipated, maybe my life in marketing and brand agencies and consulting... juggling multiple stakeholders and numerous deadlines has set me in good stead after all. And I have to say I have really been enjoying it!
The last study I did was in 2000 when I gained a postgraduate level 7 IDM diploma in Digital and Direct Marketing and this had directly followed a BA Hons degree in Marketing and Human Resources. I have done work training, and courses for special interest areas since 2000, but nothing on this level or something that could start a new career trajectory.
Prior to starting the course I had felt worried that I would not be able to study, run my business, volunteer in college and be a mum at the same time with any success.
However I find myself feeling rather proud of myself, having successfully juggled my commitments without dropping any…. well at least not many balls….. and I am very happy that I took the step to do some new learning after years in the corporate sector.
Navigating new areas of understanding:
There have been a number of areas of thinking and theories, for example Maslow’s hierarchy, Bloom's taxonomy of learning and Bruner's Spiral learning theory that closely link many of the models, processes and skills I use in my current job as a brand strategist. In fact many of the theories of teaching and learning have links to the theories I use to understand consumer psychology, consumer behaviour and cultural psychology and I find these areas fascinating. In the course I have learned a good deal about behaviourism, cognitive and constructivism and how psychology and behaviours affect learning and the structure of lessons and curriculums.
There have been so many new areas to understand - including; types of qualifications, teaching frameworks, assessment criteria, new IT systems ( my nemesis...), differentiation of learning, questioning techniques, online and blended learning, and the many types of roles that are available in FE and the different types of teachers and learners. I feel that I have scratched the surface on learning and I am endeavouring to keep up with reading, which is really interesting to me.
Getting down to the nitty gritty:
Alongside starting the PGCE course, I started teaching as a volunteer in Shipley College in the subject specialism of business and marketing, specifically I have gained experience 1 day a week teaching Btec Level 2 and 3 Students and supporting Digital Marketing Apprentices. This has been a huge learning curve, understanding young learners, finding their level of ability and working at a level that makes success achievable, but also allows for stretch and challenge at the right level. From feedback in observations specifically I have tried to develop my questioning tactics and develop an awareness of the importance of resilience in learners and their ability to have a growth mindset with approaching classwork.
I have been challenged to create interventions to engage learners and to develop tactics for differentiation to ensure all learners are supported and motivated.
Writing lesson plans was much more in depth than I had anticipated, and the focus on embedding Maths and English into areas of subject specialism was also a surprise and a challenge as some lessons did not initially seem to lend themselves to embedding learning in these areas - however in time I have been able to find ways to incorporate these areas in lesson plans without going off topic.
Developing the right framework, setting levels of interaction, direction, and pitching the subject at the right level - appropriate for all learners, has been a challenge to get right, or try and get right…… I have found reflection key in this respect.
On top of all of this, is the difficulties that Covid has presented - that is to say that every lesson that I have taught has been an online lesson, this is not a normal teaching environment, the challenges of getting the whole class of 17 years olds to engage and to check for learning when you can not see visual cues from body language has presented challenges.
I have been incredibly lucky with a wonderful mentor in Dee Binns who has truly helped with my questions and supported me with helping me lead lessons and directed me to areas of development.
Highs and lows:
Some of the highs have been, creating the lessons themselves, I am really passionate about my areas of specialism, marketing and branding and I feel it is an areas that many more young people would look to work in if they understand the sector, creating really fun and engaging lesson and breaking down quite complicated areas, using models and theories I have been learning about has been very engaging and I have loved applying myself in this way, and really trying to put myself in the learners shoes; thinking about how I can make the lesson understandable, accessible to all, relevant to the assessment and exams the learners will be doing and useful to them now and in the future.
There are a number of areas that have stood out in terms of lightbulb moments:
- Getting positive feedback from learners and college staff is motivating
- Passion for a subject is catching - if you are passionate it rub off on your learners
- Seeing how the areas I have taught have been used in assessment, and getting immediate feedback when a student becomes engaged in class, or when they message you to share extension work they have done after a class or to get your feedback and input is just great.
- Getting clarity that a concept has been understood and feeling that I have made a really useful contribution.
- The importance of frameworks to help structure learning and starting with more accessible areas before introducing challenging concepts.
- The use of questioning to really improve engagement rather that be directive
- The importance of differentiating the lesson to meet the needs of different learners but also the importance of delivering stretch to allow learners to feel challenged
- PGCE Peer group- On a more positive note, I seem to have been really lucky with the group of peers I am studying with, we have created quite a close and supportive network and everyone is happy to help each other.
- It's a great feeling to feel that you are positively affecting a person's life and that is really why I wanted to become an adult education lecturer.
There has also been a number of areas that have stood out as unexpected:
- Behaviour management - in the lessons - getting learners to be engaged and interested is more of a challenge that I anticipated. Promoting engagement from all and participation is a constant challenge, I am looking forward to seeing how this changes when we get back to face to face classes.
- Gaps in the curriculum - Some areas of the BTEC curriculum I have found outdated, from an industry perspective. It's requirement for the course to teach some areas in prescribed ways but some of the content felt out of date when considering my industry work. This feels like we are doing a disservice to young people as we are not preparing them as best we can for work.
I am still not sure where my PCGE will take me in terms of a role in the sector, I have enjoyed my teaching experiences to date and would love to work in FE or HE in my area of subject specialism in some respect. I hold an open mind as I enter my second year of study and hope that as I build my specialist focus to enable me to find clarity as to what's next. If anyone is reading this and considering going back to education or learning in a new area, I say go for it, it can only help enhance you as a person and you never know what surprising things you will learn that can help with your existing career, and wellbeing.