PGDE Secondary Education - EnglishCathy Wood, UK

Tell us a bit about your background…
I come from Linlithgow, and moved to Glasgow 11 years ago to do my undergraduate degree in English Literature, at Glasgow University. I managed a café/restaurant for a good few years after graduating, then decided to train to be a secondary English teacher.

What inspired you to be a teacher?
I wanted to do something purposeful and challenging. I had been doing some voluntary work with kids in my local area and really enjoyed seeing them engaged and having fun. It was really good fun and brought a sense of accomplishment getting to help them develop knowledge and skills, building relationships with them and seeing them grow. I chose to apply for teaching so I could make a full-time job out of that, and do so in a subject I really enjoy. Teaching feels to me like a real opportunity to make a difference to the lives of young people, and to be challenged every day.

Did you have a favourite teacher when you were younger?
I had a brilliant English teacher when I was in Secondary school, Mrs West. She taught with such enthusiasm and good humour, and brought meaning and relevance to the texts we studied, always forcing us to dig deeper and ask the difficult questions. She had contagious passion for the texts she taught, and for keeping us all on our toes. She was not afraid to be herself in the classroom and made pupils feel valued as individuals too. If I can inspire and encourage pupils half as well as her I’ll be doing well.

Why did you choose to study PGDE at the University of Strathclyde?
I chose to study at Strathclyde because it is right in the heart of the city, and, because of the values and ethos that I garnered from the establishment and the PGDE English department especially; it felt dynamic and forward-thinking, offering a good balance of theory and practice. The Strathclyde interview tested the skills that I think you really need to have as a teacher – communication skills, confidence, insight, and patience. It made sense to me that they challenged you to demonstrate these skills from the offset, and gave me the impression that the course here would build on those skills.

Tell us about your experience on placement.
I have had such a brilliant time at both my placement schools. You have a lot to juggle – building relationships with pupils and staff, adapting to the specific environment, being well-planned and prepared for lessons, all the while being present, alert and reflective. There’s no time to switch off!

My experiences on placement have really increased my confidence. Being in such a challenging and unpredictable environment can feel overwhelming at times, but when you recognise that you are coping ok, and see yourself learning and progressing, you realise you just have to keep the heid and find ways to work smart.

I definitely learned to try and not be too hard on myself. Not every lesson will be good, and not every decision you make you would make again, but by reflecting on your practice as you go, you can at least keep moving in the right direction.

What would be your advice for people considering taking the PGDE course at Strathclyde?
Be prepared to work hard and be challenged, but also to have huge amounts of fun, and to see yourself starting down a really exciting path. Keep an open mind.

What have been your main challenges at university/in placement, and how have you overcome them?
I found the ups and downs in pace between placement and campus study quite difficult to adjust to. Placement requires a pretty rigorous schedule; you’re in school during the days, and will likely spend evenings and a good chunk of your weekend preparing lessons - it can be pretty exhausting. Campus study brings more academic challenge, but at a slower pace and in your own time. Adapting to the fluctuating changes in workload and environment and keeping motivation consistent throughout the year isn’t easy. I have found it useful to remember that looking after your mental and physical health is all part of your overall productivity levels. I think it’s important to try and retain some balance and not let life be consumed by the course.

What are your ambitions for the future?
To continue to grow in skills, knowledge and confidence. To be a good teacher and enjoy it.