2013 has come to an end. Thank f**k for that!
The fact that this year was numbered 13 was never going to bode well for anyone. Superstitious or not, the number 13 is never very appealing, and to have it looming over every single day this was not going to be good. But it’s finally over. I have no idea if 2014 is going to be better, but it already gets off to a better start being the number 14.
It seems 2013 was the year things went wrong. I went in to the year with bright ideas of changing careers and doing something completely different, that I actually had the right skills and qualifications for (after multiple rejections at job interviews confirming the experience I’d got from my job was not sufficient enough for anything) – teaching. With Computer Science coming onto the National Curriculum from 2014, it seemed like the perfect time to train. Everyone was saying it would make getting a job really to start teaching Computer Science in September 2014, when more schools need to offer it.
Unfortunately the University were loose with their naming and description of the course. A PGCE in Secondary Computer Science feels more like a PGCE in Secondary ICT with Computer Science, as many of us found ourselves placed in schools that only teach ICT. Not what we thought we were signing up for. Coupled with the drastic increase in funding if we waited until 2014 (more than double the training grant, for the same classification of degree), it definitely seems 2013 was not the right year to train. If we had waited to start until 2014, we would have had more chance of being placed in schools that teach Computer Science, and better funded! But now I’m on the course, I either stick it out and finish, even though I no longer feel teaching is the right job for me, or leave and somehow find something else to do. But I was already not skilled or qualified enough for most of the jobs I wanted to do, so it’ll be near impossible to find anything.
I leave 2013 behind, glad to see the back of it, but not having a clue what the future holds. All the advice I get is I should stick with the course, that no matter how I feel about it, I should complete it. If I follow my gut feeling though, it’s that I should leave the course, and find something new. That I really don’t actually want to be a teacher, now I’ve had the opportunity to experience it. I’m definitely glad I’ve tried, not only did it get me out of a job that was making me miserable to the core, but it gave me the chance to find out what being a teacher is actually like. That is not something I could ever have found out from reading books or talking to people. It’s just that now I’ve found out what it is like, I am 99% certain it is not what I want to be doing with my life. Not now at least.
So I go into 2014 even less certain about what I want to do, and where I want my career to go than I did going into 2013. At least then I knew I wanted to get out of a job I was stuck in. I wrote last year that you should always follow your instincts, not advice from other people. Right now my instincts are mixed, but more on the side of leaving than staying. It is the advice of others that is pushing me to stay.
But it is also not knowing what I would do instead that stops me. I know I enjoy working with electronics, embedded systems and some programming. But I don’t really have enough skills in any of that to get a job doing it. I might get lucky and find a junior/entry level position, but I doubt it. I know I enjoy working with young people, within Scouting and things such as Young Rewired State, helping them learn to code. I have tried combining all of that by going in to teaching, which hasn’t worked. But I think it would be difficult to find a job working in just one of those areas, that I would enjoy.
I’ve got to hold out hope that something will work out. Whether I suddenly start enjoying teaching, and ‘see the light’ that it is the right thing for me to do, or I find some other opportunity – either I apply to a job and miraculously get it, or something else comes along. If I don’t, then it’s difficult to see the point in anything.
That is a very difficult question!
When I first went to write this post, I envisioned another long, drawn out, ramble. But then I found I didn’t have time to write one. So I started, but couldn’t get past the first line.
From my PGCE experience so far, I have very quickly found that teaching probably is not the right career for me. I found that as the term went on, and I was teaching more lessons (still only about 30% of what a regular teacher does), I was feeling less and less comfortable in the classroom. A lot of the feedback I was getting was saying things like I need to “show my personality more” or “relax in the classroom”, and that if I can “show enthusiasm for what I’m teaching, the pupils will want to be there”.
But I was never able to do any of that. Granted, I was always going to find showing enthusiasm difficult, because although I am on a Computer Science PGCE course, I am placed in a school that only offers ICT. So it’s difficult to be enthusiastic about teaching PowerPoint, or graphical Logo design, when these are not things I am particularly interested in. I was able to get a small bit of programming into the PowerPoint lessons, using Visual Basic for Applications, but it was only minor.
The rest of the time though, I was so concerned with teaching the material correctly, making sure pupils knew what they were doing and were not misbehaving, that I couldn’t begin to think about ‘relaxing’ or ‘showing my personality’. I felt that as the weeks went by, I was feeling less comfortable, not more. If I was in a lesson observing, and effectively being a Teaching Assistant, I was fine. I could relax, talk to the pupils about their work, and felt fine. But put me in front of a class as the Teacher, and I was on edge, worried, stressed, and could only focus on the teaching.
Any day when I had to teach a class, I was constantly on edge, and found for the first time in my life how stress can make you ill. I was feeling so nauseous I did not want to risk eating lunch for fear it would make me more ill and unable to teach the lesson. In talking to my mentor at the school about this, where he was saying I need to be doing something I am comfortable with, he happened to ask “What do I feel the most comfortable doing?”.
I found I couldn’t answer. I mean, of course I’m comfortable at home, be that playing video games or working on my computer. But that’s not something that earns money. In many ways I was comfortable at my previous job. I could go in, sit behind my desk and get on with things, quite easily, as there was no major challenge there. I never felt stressed to the point of feeling ill. But I was not comfortable there for other reasons – it felt like I was trapped, and certainly from experience trying to get another job, it seemed like the experience I was getting there served only to keep me there.
I know I’m comfortable, and enjoy, working with electronics and embedded systems. But this is more something I do as a hobby. I do not have enough experience to take this and get a job doing it. I enjoy programming, and writing software, but again, I do not have enough experience to get a job doing this. I enjoy my involvement with Scouting, running out of school activities for young people, but this is volunteer work and does not pay. After months of job hunting and rejections, I saw teaching as a viable option. It required a degree, which I had, and combined things that I enjoy, programming and working with young people.
But I seem to be finding that the whole is less than the sum of it’s parts. I have not felt comfortable doing it, and do not know if I will feel comfortable if I stick with it. The second school I will be placed at briefly in January does teach Computer Science. I may get on better there, as it will be in the right subject area. Even the mentor there agrees ICT and Computer Science are different subjects, and understands my frustrations with my first placement. But I still know I have to go back to the first school, and I’m not sure I can face that. Plus I don’t think a different subject will affect how I feel about teaching itself. I think a lot of how I feel comes from the general role and work as a teacher, and is not specific to the subject.
What I do going forward is something I still do not know.
I have held off so far on blogging about anything to do with my Computer Science PGCE, because I wanted to have time to settle in. I didn’t want to comment after the first week, or my first day in a placement school, without knowing how I really felt about it.
But then something happened this week that really got to me, which I will come to later.
I admit that when I was first considering the Computer Science PGCE, while working in a job I did not enjoy, the £20k Scholarship offered by the British Computer Society was what tempted me to apply. To do the course, I would be leaving a paid job, and so the possibility of the scholarship was enough to make me seriously consider the course. I applied for both the Computer Science PGCE and for the BCS Scholarship at the same time. I knew my chances of getting the Scholarship were slim, but it gave me the extra nudge I needed.
As predicted, I was not successful in obtaining the Scholarship, but I did get a place on the Computer Science PGCE course. Fortunately, I knew that PGCE students training to teach in certain subject areas with either a 2:1 or 1st Class degree were eligible for Training Bursaries from the Government. In subjects such as Maths or Languages, the Bursary for a 1st is £20k, but for Computer Science it is only £9k.
While significantly less, it is still useful to help cover costs over the year, and slightly counter the loss of income from leaving a full time job. I was also able to apply once again for Student Loans, to provide financial support through the year, and help with the costs of tuition fees. It would be a struggle, but I’d just about be able to manage.
Since starting the course however, I have had this growing feeling I should have waited a year.
While applying to the course and going for interviews, I visited a couple of secondary schools that were both teaching Computer Science. I was told at the end of the summer term where my placement school would be, and had the chance to visit before the summer holiday. They too were teaching computer science. But when I started the course I was informed I was no longer being placed at that school. I then found out that not all schools the university works with are teaching Computer Science. We spend a significant amount of time in placement schools, learning from existing teachers. For my first placement, the longer of the two, I found I had been placed in a state school that only teaches ICT (Information and Communication Technology).
The draft of the new National Curriculum for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, which will come into effect in September 2014, includes Computing, the core of which is Computer Science, to replace ICT. This will mean that all state schools, with the subjects they teach bound by the National Curriculum, will have to teach Computing from September 2014. This greatly increases the chances that the schools the university works, with when placing PGCE students, will teach Computing. There are still Academies, which are not bound by the National Curriculum, and are free to choose the subjects they teach. So there may still be schools that teach ICT. But in many cases, these Academies are the schools already teaching Computing or Computer Science.
This on it’s own, although disappointing, has not been enough for me to change my mind and leave the course. While I would prefer to be in a school where I am getting experience of Computer Science being taught, as this is the subject area I chose, I am still learning about how to teach in general and how to teach a computer based subject. A PGCE is as much about learning to teach, the pedagogy, the theory and the practices of teaching, as it is learning to teach a specific subject. But in other subjects, for example Science or P.E., those students would naturally expect to be placed their chosen subject area.
Back to this week, and something that compounded the nagging feeling I am 1 year to early.
This week, before even receiving the first payment of that £9k bursary, Schools Minister David Laws has announced some rather significant changes which make this year seem very much like the wrong time to be doing a Computer Science PGCE. Now, instead of students with a 1st receiving £9k and those with a 2:1 receiving £4k when doing a Computer Science PGCE, both will automatically receive £20k.
Without having to do anything else, if I was in this same position next year of having a place on the Computer Science PGCE course, I would automatically receive more than double the amount of bursary. I would not have had the added pressure of applying for any scholarship, or being told by the BCS that I am not good enough to receive their £20k of funding. Instead, on the grounds of my degree classification alone, I would be good enough for £20k of funding. The Scholarship available from the BCS has increased to £25k, but now the difference between the two is less significant. I could still have chosen to apply to the BCS Scholarship, although with the difference between the two reduced, there is less incentive or pressure to do this.
It would mean straight away I would not have applied for any Student Loan. As it stands now, with the Maintenance Loan too support my living expenses during the year, and the Tuition Fee Loan, I am adding an extra £12k to the Student Loans I already need to pay back from my Undergraduate Degree. The Bursary does not need to be paid back, and would have meant I could have paid my own Tuition Fee, and had a enough left for expenses across the year.
It is definitely not all about money. But it would have been nice to have not had to increase my student loan debt by £12k this year. It would also have been nice not to have been told you I was not a good enough candidate for £20k of funding this year, based on a tough interview process, only to find next year I would have automatically been good enough based on my existing degree alone. That feels like a bit of a kick in the teeth. The increased chance of being placed in a school teaching Computer Science would have been a plus too!
Now that I am already on the course, I am going to stick with it. It would be impossible to drop out now and reapply next year. That would look ridiculous, and I know there is no way that any university would offer me a place again if I gave up the one I had this year. But I will never be able to lose the feeling it would have been better to do it next year. Yes people often say ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’. But in this case, it actually is.
All I can do is hope there are many positions available in the job market for Computer Science teachers to start for September 2014, when many more schools will need to offer the subject under the National Curriculum. I already experienced bad timing earlier in my career, when I had to delay graduation due to personal circumstances. This meant postponing graduate job applications, so when I reapplied the following year many of the companies had reduced their intake due to the recession. The only job I was then offered I had to take due to financial pressure, despite the nagging feeling it would be a mistake and detrimental to my career.
It turns my subconscious was right back then. I really hope this time it isn’t.