Alice York, 23, is studying for a PGCE in French. The course is living up to her expectations, she tells Dan Poole

"I did a four year-course in French and music at the University of Sheffield and then had a gap year to go travelling. I decided to do the PGCE in my last year of university and went to lots of careers fairs and read loads of leaflets from my career library, as well as looking on the Training and Development Agency (TDA) for schools' website. I wanted to do something where I was doing some good and making a difference to someone's life. A state school isn't a profit-making organisation - it's there to help.

I wanted to do the PGCE in French and I already knew a bit about Bristol because I came to an open day before I did my degree. I've always fancied living here, and Bristol has a good reputation for the course. I applied before I went travelling in January 2005, had the interview and got the offer just before I left.

During the course you spend two-thirds of the year in schools and one-third in university. At Bristol, you only spend two weeks in university at the start of the course and then you're straight into your first school. You're not teaching 30 children straight away but you're introduced to teaching bit by bit. You do some observations for one or two weeks and then you start taking over parts of lessons. By the end of your first placement in November you should have taught 15 whole lessons on your own. You get a lot of support, mentoring, tutorials and help with lesson planning.

The entire spring term, from the start of January until end of March, I worked full-time in a school. I was given a lot more independence - and a lot more work to do! I had seven of my own classes that I took over full-time in January, and I taught them right the way through the term. It shows you what it's like taking your classes through a scheme of work and assessing them yourself, which was really intense!

I wasn't surprised by the amount of independence we were given because we'd been doing the course since the start of September and by that time I was ready for it. I knew from the start that it wouldn't be long until we were in a school, because they like to give you a taste of what it's like as soon as possible. It means all your lectures become relevant because you've seen it in action.

We don't have exams but we do have continual assessment, assignments such as essays, projects and seminar presentations. You also have lesson observations and the school teachers write reports on you.

I've had ups and downs since starting my PGCE. There are some points where the amount of work gets to you - there aren't enough hours in the day! Sometimes in my first term I was having to get up at 6am to drive 40 miles to my school. That's one of the problems, being put in schools miles away because there aren't enough to go round in Bristol.

It can be tough but you've got to fight your way through it and most people say that your PGCE is as bad as it gets. The children give you a tougher time because they know you're a trainee. Your NQT year, the first year of teaching, is also supposed to be hard but after that it gets a lot better so you've just got to keep the end in sight.

I want to go straight into teaching when I finish my PGCE so I'm applying now for teaching jobs and starting to get interviews. I would like to go to France and teach one day too. It would be a totally different experience but I think I have the qualifications to do it."