Should I get a PGCE? | Q&A with Donna Stapleford

Full Name: Donna Stapleford

Where did you attend University and what course did you study? I studied Geography (BSc) at the University of Gloucestershire and completed my PGCE at the University of Exeter. 

When you graduated, what were your initial career plans for life after University? I always intended to pursue a career in education. I decided to study Geography as opposed to my other passions of physical education (Sports Science) and outdoor pursuits (Outdoor Education) as it was statistically more likely to yield a permanent job. Although i did seriously consider a career in the army during my third year as a member of Oxford University Officer Training Corp…

How was the experience of taking a PGCE and what did it entail? The PGCE programme was relentless. Definitely not for the faint hearted! The first three months were mostly spent at the University of Exeter (St Luke’s Campus) attending lectures and seminars. This provided a solid academic grounding for the months to come. The latter part of the year was spent in two different placement schools. I was incredibly lucky to attend two fantastic secondary schools with fantastic, supportive staff. This involved very long working hours to practice and perfect our craft. Each day came with a new challenge; lesson structure, student behaviour, team dynamics, how to aptly support SEND and PP students. As a teacher you are rigorously judged against the ‘teaching standards’ (i am pretty sure i had them printed and laminated as a bookmark at one point…) – this framework provides you with objectives for what good teaching looks like; although this can be very subjective. Out of the 14 graduates that began the PGCE programme at Exeter only 5 of us are still in teaching 5 years later. Having said that, i can not think of a more rewarding career!

Can you give us a bit of background to your career journey after finishing education? Having always intended to pursue a career in education, I went straight from secondary education to a degree to a PGCE. Pretty boring really! 

Can you tell us about what you do now and what a typical day in this role is like? I am now employed in a state secondary school as an ‘Adventure Learning Instructor’. This is a brand new role I took on in September 2019 having taught geography at KS3, GSCE and A level for three years whilst prior to that. It is a fascinating new role which I am in the process of developing but which includes running The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, The Ten Tors Challenge, year 7 residentials and a whole school enrichment week. 

Were there any hurdles that you had to overcome in the process of getting to where you are now, and if so how did you overcome them? TIME! Managing my time has been the most challenging element of my job. Ensuring that I have made time for my family, friends and just to act like a young (ish) 20 something year old has been so important. 

If you could go back and tell yourself one thing after your graduation knowing what you know now, what would you say? Travel. Loads. All the time. Everywhere. There is no job or relationship that does not benefit from a wealth of worldly experience that can only be gained from travel. 

Do you have any advice for recent graduates who want to go down a similar pathway after University? Do it! Do it! Teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs you can ever do. Those small wins that you get where you make a genuine difference to a students life are unforgettable! Be prepared to work hard. Do your research. Undertake work experience- know what you are getting yourself in for. Seek out professionals whether on social media or in person. Be prepared to put your heart and soul into it- nothing less will do! 

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