6 tips for surviving the trainee rollercoaster

Taking the step up from TA to teacher is an increasingly popular route to QTS. Here one trainee gives some advice

Krishna Sanal

Teacher training: How to survive the trainee teacher rollercoaster

Change is tricky. Our lives are shaped by "befores" and "afters", as we measure time by either passing or approaching milestone events.

One seismic change I made was when I went from lecturer to teaching assistant (TA). From the front of a university lecture hall to the middle of a primary school classroom; it felt as though everything needed to be relearned.

But that drastic change is about to be replaced by another life milestone, as three years later, I'm now at the front of the class, having swapped my TA lanyard for a trainee teacher role.

Despite my experience of career changes, I'm still finding that this new challenge has come with surprises.

How trainee teachers can face the challenges

Here are some of my realisations, struggles and ways to overcome them.

1. Feeling like an impostor

Children understand far more than we give them credit for, and they certainly understand the pecking order at school. It is only natural and expected that they take their regular class teacher more seriously than the TA-turned-trainee teacher.

Solution: Give it time

Keep in mind that when you change roles and move into being a trainee teacher, it's not just a new role to you, it's also new for the students. They have always known you in a certain capacity. Give them enough time to get to know you as the teacher. Be the adult in the room and own it.

2. Reverting to comfort zone

Don't sink into the comfort zone: during the first few months, I tended to naturally gravitate to the back of the room just to feel comfortable in a role that I played for a long time.

Solution: Push yourself 

Falling into old habits and returning to the TA role is detrimental to your own self-image – but not just that, it also confuses the students. Stop. Unless you believe you belong in the front, the children won't.

It is uncomfortable in the beginning, you won't have all the answers and you will look to the partner teacher a lot for back-up, but you'll get used to it.

3. Putting too high expectations on yourself

Rome was not built in a day: a terrible habit of mine is to compare myself with those who have been walking the walk for decades. I have the good fortune to be working with people who have experience that equals my age. But comparing and expecting to be as good as them wasn't helping me.

Solution: Acknowledge the negative talk and seek out mentors

The negative talk in the head and the self-bashing isn't healthy. Patience and openness to learn from the experts in the profession are what shape a new teacher. Utilise their experience wisely. Have lots of conversations. Ask leading questions about their practice and philosophy. Most will only love to help.

4. Not asking questions

You might be afraid to ask questions out of a concern that people will think less of you. After all, you've already got lots of school experience – surely you know the answers already?

Solution: Be ready to ask a lot of 'whys'

I was lucky that my mentor gave a disclaimer at the very first meeting we had, where she told me that I would be asking a lot of "whys" as part of my learning and understanding of the teacher thought process.

The more you ask, the more answers you get. The more answers you get, the more you see patterns, purpose and similarities in practice. There is no such thing as a stupid question. It's all in the learning.

5. Finding my own teacher persona

Now I'm no longer the TA, do I know who I am as a teacher? I've worked supporting a class for such a long time, I'm not sure I even know how to be a teacher!

Solution: Magpie!

Don't be afraid to steal – personally. I like the word "magpie". It makes stealing sound more acceptable. The point of any and all teacher observations is to look for things they do that are impactful and to reflect on their applicability in your own classroom and setting.

After every observation, you should ask yourself: "Why was it a good thing to say, do or use? What impact did it have? How would I use this with my students?"

The teacher training rollercoaster

From TA to teacher is truly a ride. Almost a year in, the adventure is just beginning for me. Always remember, you may not be as good as the qualified teacher in the room, but you are not expected to be. Not yet.

It will all come in time. You just need a sure path to get there by the end of the training year. So smile, enjoy, ask questions and stand with pride.

Krishna Sanal is a trainee teacher at an international school