What I learned through Teach First and what teaching has given me

Three ambassadors (alumni from the Teach First graduate programme) explain how taking on the Teach First challenge created career opportunities they might never have dreamed of.

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The Teach First training programme does much more than help you answer the question, 'Will teaching be a good career for me?'

Why go into teaching?

Sixteen years after visiting a Teach First stand in search of a free pen and notebook, William Lau admits the teaching profession has him hooked. Goodie-bag secured, he scoped out a vague career plan: train and work as a teacher for two years, switch to IT consultancy and a high salary, then step back into teaching before slipping into a comfortable retirement.

His best friend’s parents, both teachers, laughed at this idea when he pitched it to them. ‘They’d known me since nursery and said, “Once you start, you’ll be teaching for 40 or 50 years,” and I didn’t believe that at all,’ smiles William. ‘I thought teaching would be an easy option, for one, which it’s not, and two, I think they knew I would get hooked by the profession.’

Economics graduate Anisha Patel wanted to work abroad and travel after finishing her degree at Exeter University. ‘I knew teaching would give me that option,’ she says. Teach First recruiters connected her with past alumni who offered positive insights that encouraged her. ‘I applied for a Teach First summer programme and from there was offered a graduate job,’ she says. She found her cohort to be intelligent, motivated people, many of whom had already completed corporate internships that might have led to other well-paid graduate jobs. ‘I was expecting some ambivalence about teaching but they were very passionate and driven about it,’ she says, adding that it helped confirm her choices.

Even before graduation Joe Treacy had a fair idea of the challenges associated with the teaching profession. ‘It was a family tradition and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go into it, if I’m being completely honest,’ he says. Joe planned to focus entirely on his business degree at Liverpool University before giving headspace to career paths, but, intrigued by Teach First after a friend signed up, he approached a stand at a campus careers fair to find out more. ‘I knew it was a prestigious programme,’ he says. ’I knew Teach First married opportunities outside the classroom with a very important mission.’

What the Teach First experience is really like

Spurred on by the facts and figures surrounding educational inequality in the UK, Joe immersed himself in the Teach First training. His first post was in a deprived area of east London with children who spoke English as a second language, or not at all, in the case of some recent refugees.

’Teaching is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,’ Joe admits. ‘For some high-achieving people, their training with Teach First will be the first time they will have failed. Success comes through self-reflection and learning to dust yourself off before trying again,’ he says.

Anisha’s first teaching post was in Portsmouth. ‘I was really interested in women in education, especially in the developing world… and the deprivation for girls and some ethnicities,’ she says. Instead she discovered white boys from working-class backgrounds were the significant underachievers, which was something of a revelation. As she started her Teach First career her trainers, coaches and mentors proved supportive.

‘I was lucky, as tough as it was my head of department was a good mentor who has since gone on to become the head teacher of the school. I also had a very supportive network,’ she says.

Joe emphasises the hard work and high levels of commitment needed to make the Teach First grade, but underlines the satisfaction gained at the same time. ‘I really enjoyed teaching children how to read – it’s a lovely life skill to give to someone. I really did feel that I was making a difference to them and in turn, I reaped the benefits of Teach First because I ended up doing my masters at the same time,’ he remembers.

Gain high level skills

Joe, who left the classroom for jobs in education-related fields and organisations, counts presenting and communication among the many skills he gained from Teach First. Speaking to audiences of hundreds of people, doesn’t faze him. ’You learn to build relationships across ages, backgrounds and social groups, from six-year-olds to governors of the school, to colleagues and your headteacher – who is like a chief executive – to parents from different cultures,’ he says.

William agrees. ‘I probably wouldn’t have developed high level communication skills if I gone along a more corporate route,’ he says. ‘The range of people that I would have met would have been a lot narrower. Teach First has made me reflect more on life, because you meet people from all parts of society.’

Anisha loved standing in front of pupils, but though she went from teaching into management consultancy (and then back to teaching) she admits she still feels uneasy about presenting in business settings. That said, she receives compliments about her communication style and abilities. ’You don’t realise the skills you develop in teaching!’

Moving on in your career

Anisha says that developing relationships, maintaining boundaries, time management and organisation all translated well in a business setting, but during the pandemic Anisha’s career turned full circle. After missing out on an opportunity to work abroad in business, she contacted her Teach First network. She credits her past Teach First experience and the organisation’s reputation with securing her a role, first at Accenture and then at an English school in Dubai.

Joe, who held pro bono roles on educational committees and summer projects, as a school governor, an educational advisor and on the Southwark school partnership board, left front line teaching but has never lost his network. He worked with professor Dame Alison Peacock, chief executive of the Chartered College of Teaching, and he helped set up Oak National Academy – an online teaching programme devised for children who were falling behind in their education during the pandemic.

‘The gap between children from low income backgrounds and their peers was widening through the pandemic and I couldn’t stand by without getting involved,’ says Joe. In recent months those lessons have been translated for Ukrainian children fleeing the war in their country.

William has stayed in teaching but as something of a polymath. He has authored books, created educational computer science games and taught break dancing. With a first class degree in computer science and business at Warwick University, he was recently appointed assistant headteacher at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) school. William’s childhood experience and professional skills are perfectly aligned in his latest role since his own education was interrupted because of a tumour that required treatment from infancy to late teens. He also oversees the purchase of new technology products for the hospital school.

‘Teach First serves children who are at educational disadvantage, perhaps because of financial or social difficulties. Here, we are providing for pupils whose education has been interrupted because of their medical needs. There’s a parallel – you should still get access to a really good education if you’re born with an illness or if you become ill,’ says William, who was limited to copying lessons from a classmate’s exercise book when he was young and in hospital.

Seeing pupils go on to their own careers is a reward in itself, William says. ‘They are essentially living thousands of lives I could never have lived, doing things I could never do. A small part of me thinks I could have become a lawyer or doctor, or been a film director, an animator or done special effects, but pupils I’ve taught now do that, so there is a small part of me there. It doesn’t matter what they go on to do, it’s just wonderful to stay in touch and see how they’ve grown.’

Apply today to a Teach First programme

Inspired by these stories from Teach First ambassadors? Consider making an application to the Teach First teaching programme, or one of its taster programmes.

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