Blog post Part of series: Researching education and mental health: From ‘Where are we now?’ to ‘What next?’
The PGCE journey: Wellbeing and workload
The PGCE route into teaching has the lowest retention rate (Allen et al., 2016). Many students embarking on a PGCE are warned about the challenges of the course, as the following blog extract demonstrates:
Everyone was very honest; this will be the hardest thing I will ever do. This will be the most stressful thing I will ever do. This will be the most rewarding thing I ever do. But really, you have no understanding of what that really means until you are in the thick of it. (Briscoe, 2011)
As teacher educators working on PGCE programmes, we had given similar warnings to trainees ourselves, with good intentions of preparing them for a challenging year. We warned them because we know that postgraduate teacher trainees sit betwixt and between identities (Cook-Sather, 2006); they are not quite students anymore, but not quite teachers yet, either. We know the challenges this can bring; in terms of feeling part of a university and school community and balancing workloads of academic and placement activity (Schmidt et al., 2017). We know that although the PGCE is described as a one- year route into teaching, the programme is usually just 10 months; and that having a degree does not necessarily mean they will find academic writing at master’s level on education topics easy. We know that the workload can be intense, and their wellbeing can suffer. In short, we felt that we should warn them.
‘We know that the workload can be intense, and [teacher trainees’] wellbeing can suffer. In short, we felt that we should warn them.’
Teacher wellbeing and workload are all ongoing issues in England (DfE, 2016, 2018) and are recurrent and pertinent issues for Initial Teacher Education (ITE) trainees too. Reports by the Independent Teacher Review Groups (DfE, 2016) stated that all parts of the education system have a role to play in reducing unnecessary tasks for teachers, including ITE providers. Research on what may promote general teacher wellbeing is scarce (Birchinall, Spendlove, & Buck, 2019), and what research exists has tended to focus on individuals and their survival characteristics (Margolis, Hodge, & Alexandrou, 2014), which leads to questions about whether our role as teacher educators is to promote individual resilience in a profession where burnout and poor mental health are relatively common (Rumschlag, 2017).
Our research with primary PGCE trainees this year has given us cause to think carefully about the warnings we give. Our student co-researchers and participants generated photographs, timelines and reflections that described their workload and wellbeing high and low points as much more complex than our advice at the beginning of the course might suggest. Time is not just experienced by the clock for our trainees; cycles emerge because of the nature of their movements through university and school communities, changing relationships and their understanding and experience. When they reported wellbeing as ‘low’, often relationships were weak or new and it was existing support from peers, friends, family and mentors that they reported as helping them to get out of this ‘low period’.
We reflected as researchers on our experiences of teacher training and messages we had received during our own training about ‘getting used to it’ and submitting to unreasonable expectations because ‘that’s what qualified teachers do’. Highlighting these issues to colleagues and school partners through use of the powerful images that the students have created has helped us to reflect on the complexity of PGCE experience and the need to challenge expectations of overwork and poor wellbeing.
Allen, R., Burgess, S., & Mayo, J. (2018). The teacher labour market, teacher turnover and disadvantaged schools: New evidence for England. Education Economics, 26(1), 4–23.
Birchinall, L., Spendlove, D., & Buck, R. (2019). In the moment: Does mindfulness hold the key to improving the resilience and wellbeing of pre-service teachers? Teaching and Teacher Education, 86.
Briscoe, P. (2011, December 23). My PGCE journey: I’ve made it to the end of my first term. Guardian (Teacher’s blog). Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2011/dec/23/pgce-teaching-resources.
Cook-Sather, A. (2006). Newly betwixt and between: Revising liminality in the context of a teacher preparation program. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 37(2), 110–127.
Department for Education [DfE]. (2016). Teacher workload survey 2016. London. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/teacher-workload-survey-2016
Department for Education [DfE]. (2018). Workload reduction toolkit. London. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/guidance/school-workload-reduction-toolkit
Margolis, J., Hodge, A., & Alexandrou, A. (2014). The teacher educator’s role in promoting institutional versus individual teacher well-being. Journal of Education for Teaching, 40(4), 391–408.
Rumschlag, K. (2017). A quantitative analysis of emotional exhaustion, personal accomplishment, and depersonalization. International Management Review, 13(1), 22–36.
Schmidt, J., Klusmann, U., Lüdtke, O., Möller, J., & Kunter, M. (2017). What makes good and bad days for beginning teachers? A diary study on daily uplifts and hassles, Contemporary Educational Psychology, 48, 85–97.