It can be hard to progress from a Higher Level Teaching Assistant (HLTA) to a qualified teacher. Here's my experience and advice if you're looking to make the transition with a PGCE. Using the support and guidance available to you will help you stay on the right path.

I worked as a TA then an HLTA for years and it took some time before I made the step towards being a qualified teacher. Though I was confident with the curriculum, as an HLTA I worked mainly with Foundation groups and my greatest worry was controlling behaviour for whole classes, especially when I often found small groups challenging enough.

There are various ways to get into teaching such as School Direct, Teach First, or a PGCE. I decided to take the PGCE route, though School Direct may be appropriate for someone already familiar with a school. Before the course began, I gained some brief experience with whole classes doing cover supervisor work through an agency. During my TA/HLTA years I’d seen some poor attitudes and behaviours towards supply teachers — I thought if I could handle that I could handle anything. My first ever day as a cover supervisor, despite being very nervous, was a positive experience. The day started with communal reading and to my surprise when I told the class to settle down and take turns to read, they did. I figured out that where there is a good routine, the students are likely to keep it and it’s best to try to stick to it as much as possible. If you find out from staff or a trustworthy student what the routines are, even those who play up, deep down, appreciate that you help them continue with it.

Make the most of your PCGE placements

During my PGCE year, I’ve found my two placements very useful. Your experience can depend on how well you get on with your mentor and whose classes you are teaching, but remember every experience will serve you one way or another, even the negative ones. I wasn’t always very good at receiving feedback, partly because I found feedback could sometimes be contradictory, for example, one teacher might tell you one thing and another the opposite. People have different styles and they will inevitably guide you in that direction. Nevertheless what I found was that feedback can still be useful to reflect on later. You may not like someone’s style of teaching, I learned to try not to judge them — often there may be behind the scene reasons for a teaching style you may not be aware of. You can learn something from everyone and eventually you are going to develop your own style.

In case your observations don’t go too well, you may find you’ll need to make sure that you’re collecting enough evidence about meeting the standards. Try to find someone who will support you. For example, on some occasions, when I was teaching and there was a supply teacher or a teaching assistant in the classroom, I gave them the sheet with the teacher standards and asked them to tick the ones they saw me meeting as well as asking for feedback, and I filled these in my portfolio.

You may need to be assertive about making sure expectations are realistic. For example, if your KS4 group has not made progress within the few weeks you taught them, having data that shows that progress had not been made in the previous 4 years either may be needed to back yourself up. Always do your best, but you cannot solve everyone else’s problems all the time.

At times you just need to focus on one day at a time — if you think too much about what’s ahead of you, you might sink. There are many approaches to teaching and if you don’t agree with your mentor’s or trainer teacher’s approach your PGCE placement or your NQT year may not be the best time to argue about this. I have come across trainees who nearly failed in one school and after being moved to another they were doing fine. So do seek help if things aren’t going well.

Look for ways to save you time

Planning and preparation are essential but don’t reinvent the wheel. Rather than spending hours and hours creating your own PowerPoints, use the myriad of resources readily available and consider adopting them. Having a good starter activity, not too difficult and fun, is very helpful in settling classes down. One of the best pieces of advice I received was to have a new start every day. Don’t carry a bad experience with a lesson or class over to the next day. You’re going to have some bad lessons while you’re training, and while some people have a natural talent for behaviour management most people develop it over time. While there are many different tactics, one of the main things is to develop your own confidence and calm, even when you’re not feeling it.

Look after yourself

You’re very likely to have very little life outside your work during this period, but make sure you reserve some “me time” and look after your health. Even though it’s tempting to eat junk food, and cut out exercise and sleep, this will have a counterproductive effect. Look after yourself and believe that you can make it.


Interested in teaching through Zen Educate? Find out more about supply teaching in the UK or read reviews from teachers who teach through Zen Educate.