Becoming Ms. Marvel: How Completing the PGCE-M Is Like a Superhero Origin Story

Jen Aggleton completed her PGCE-M in children's literature this year, and wonderfully agreed to write about the experience. She is a brilliant scholar, a lover of Russian literature, and a big fan of her deaf cat.

Recently, I gave a presentation for the Children’s Literature at Cambridge Open Day about my experience of completing the PGCE-M, which is the one-year part-time MEd course I did in addition to my PGCE (post-graduate certificate in education). People seemed to like it, so I’ve adapted it into blog format for those who weren’t able to attend on the day. 

When I was thinking back on my experience of doing the course, it struck me that in many ways, doing the PGCE-M was a lot like a superhero origin story. Not just any superhero though. I mean, no-one killed my parents and I wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider. My experience was a lot like my favourite superhero, the new Ms. Marvel.

Ms. Marvel, volume 1: No Normal
For those of you who don’t know, this year Marvel launched a new Ms. Marvel comic, after the previous Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers, was promoted to Captain Marvel. The new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, is rather different.  For a start, she’s Muslim. She’s not white. She’s not tall, and is entirely lacking in long, flowing blonde locks. She loves superheroes, and even writes her own superhero fanfic, but when she unexpectedly develops superpowers and becomes Ms. Marvel, she doesn’t believe that she is the right kind of person to do the job.

That was exactly how I felt at the beginning of the PGCE-M. I really loved children’s literature and wanted to do the course, but I was not your typical children’s literature student. I don’t have a background in English, for one thing. I haven’t analysed a book since I did my English A-level, at the turn of the century (this century, not the 1900s. I’m not that old).The only experience I had of doing research in schools was the short project I did for my PGCE. I worried that I wouldn’t be up to the task.

However, like Kamala, I soon found out that although I didn’t have the typical skills set, I had other things on my side. From doing my PGCE I had a background in child development, and an understanding of constructions of childhood during different periods of history. I had a knowledge of literacy and first-hand experience of reading with children. Plus, I had a class of 31 children that I could talk to about books, asking them their views and opinions.Different strengths, yes, but still useful.

So as Kamala decided to accept her destiny as Ms. Marvel, I chose to take on the MEd. And we both found ourselves pulled in two directions. In one notable episode, Kamala is busy battling a creature made out of garbage when she gets an irate phone call asking why she isn’t at her cousin’s wedding. So she sprints back to her superhero lair—the highly glamourous Circle K—for a quick costume change, before dashing out again to go to the wedding. And no, she doesn’t have time for a shower. Boy, did that seem familiar. Being a full-time class teacher and doing the course certainly put a strain on my time management skills, and there were some days when I was late, or had forgotten something, or hadn’t done the reading because I had been up until midnight working on data. Mostly I was tired. Many days, I felt like this:

This is my cat Mogget, the greatest kitty that ever was or ever will be.
Although the workload was huge, coming into the faculty on a Wednesday afternoon and taking time away from school was fantastic. It was a breathing point in the week, where I was able to challenge myself in a totally different way to the challenges of school.The seminars were interesting and inspiring, and sometimes we got to play with pop-up books like this one:

(It's The Wizard of Oz! That wheel spins! And there are green glasses you can wear too!)

Also, studying children’s literature in an academic way improved my teaching of the subject. My questioning in guided reading got better. I thought more carefully about the ways I chose books to bring into the classroom. My class made better progress. And of course, I was not facing this on my own.

As a superhero, Kamala Khan has amazing powers. She is a shape-shifter, and can grow bigger or smaller at will.

As a student, I also had superpowers on my side. Firstly, the library staff of the Education Faculty library, who I’m pretty convinced are made entirely of magic and awesome and sparkles. When you’re stuck, they are there to help you out. They make finding the books and articles you need as easy as possible for the time-poor part timer. Secondly, the course teaching staff. When I had to explain that my usual approach of discussing writing was to identify ‘wow words’ and subordinate clauses, my supervisor, the wonderful Zoe, was there to guide me through the nightmare, and helped me turn my thesis into something cohesive and logical.

It was a tough journey for both of us, but by the end of August, Kamala had grown into her role of Ms. Marvel and was kicking butt all across Jersey City, and I had completed my MEd, becoming in the process a better teacher, a more analytical reader, and a time management wizard. We both felt 10 feet tall, and ready for anything.

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