A diary of a trainee teacher

Published 7 October 2021
By Mel O'Connor

Trainee teacher Mel O'Connor taking a PGDE teacher training course in maths.

Mel recently started a Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) teacher training course in maths with the Sheffield Teacher Training Alliance and the University of Sheffield. She kept a diary of her first days on the course.

Choosing teaching

I completed my undergraduate degree in Business in 2014. Since then, I have worked in the technology industry in a range of product and customer facing roles. I’d always loved being in the school environment and took advantage of various work experience and school-based roles during my time at university.

When lockdown hit in 2020, I began to reassess my career choices as I knew I had fallen into an industry that I wasn’t particularly engaged with. I knew I needed to move to a purposeful and rewarding environment, so I applied for the Mathematics PGDE programme ready to start in September 2021. I completed a subject knowledge enhancement course (SKE) in maths over the summer to refresh my subject knowledge. Suddenly it was time to leave my previous career behind and get started with my new life as a teacher!

The first few days

My course started on 1 September, and I spent the first 3 days with Sheffield Teacher Training Alliance. This was a fantastic opportunity to get to know the rest of the cohort, including students training to teach other subjects on the curriculum. Sheffield Teacher Training Alliance had organised various sessions over these 3 days which were linked to the Initial Teacher Training Core Content Framework(opens in new window).

For some sessions, outside speakers came in to deliver the lesson. I particularly enjoyed the sessions on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia, where our presenters gave us a real insight into what it feels like to have those conditions. The activities we took part in really opened my eyes to the challenges faced and provided me with practical advice on how to support a student with ADHD and/or dyslexia. At the end of the Friday session, those of us studying with the University of Sheffield said goodbye to those on our course training at a school (for a little while anyway!) and relaxed over the weekend ready for our first week at university!


We started at the University of Sheffield in our subject groups. We spent the day getting to know each other, and important information about the course was dispersed between a few mathematics activities. I got up to speed with using the online learning environment and had the opportunity to check all enrolment activities had been completed. We were allocated small groups (three people) to prepare for a school visit on Thursday. We needed to plan a 15-minute mathematical game to deliver to Year 7 students. I loved that we were able to get stuck into planning from the first day. This was also a great opportunity to get to know my peers.


I attended a whole-cohort (all subjects) introductory lecture, which included an informative speech from a local headteacher on what to expect from joining the profession – they promised we are entering the best job in the world! During the afternoon I was allocated my group for Educational and Professional Studies (EPS) – a module where we discuss and debate wider issues in education in small cross-curricular groups. I was happy to be able to work with students training to be teachers in other subjects, as I believe this will enhance my own learning as we will all have different experiences and perspectives.

Conference room with tables and a projector for a Sheffield Teacher Training Alliance PGDE course.


In the morning, I again joined the maths subject group and learnt about the history of the mathematics curriculum in the UK, learning how this has developed over the years. This was insightful for my understanding of how the curriculum has changed before, during and after my own time at school. In the afternoon, I worked with my group to complete final preparations for the school visit on Thursday.


The morning included another whole-cohort lecture, where I was introduced to the assignments that I’ll be completing throughout the programme. In the afternoon the maths group travelled to a local secondary school to conduct our micro-teaching activity. We worked with a year 7 class in small groups, delivering our activity to three groups during the hour. This was a fantastic opportunity to get into a school during the first week and enjoy the school environment. We had created maths games for the children to participate in, which led to an engaged and fun atmosphere throughout the afternoon. In the evening I watched two documentaries focused on childhood poverty and a lecture on equality and fairness, in preparation for the next day’s work.


I attended the first EPS group discussion and debate. This took place remotely within our small, cross-curricular groups. We discussed the content we had watched the night before, making observations on how it may influence our future teaching practice. In the afternoon I returned to the university to attend another subject session, where I completed a reflection on the school visit and prepared for my primary school placement taking place the following week.

Final thoughts

The first week and a half was jam-packed with new information and a variety of activities. It can be a challenge to keep up with the volume of information initially, but I stayed organised by downloading all the materials to my laptop and taking notes electronically. There is a heavy workload and lots of independent work in the evenings, however I felt energised and engaged throughout the week, confirming I had made the right career choice! I am excited to visit my local primary school next week and observe how maths is taught in the younger year groups, before returning to university and preparing for my first placement in a secondary school which starts in a few weeks’ time.

If you’re interested in enriching the lives of young people, find out more about how you can become a teacher. If you have a passion for maths, find out more about becoming a maths teacher.

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