It’s been just over 2 years since I became a graduate and entered the big bad world of work.
I start a brand new job today and the journey here hasn’t been particularly easy (if you haven’t guessed from my previous posts and the overriding theme of this blog). I thought I’d reflect on one particular job, and the path that has taken me to where I am now – Teach First.
I get asked a lot about Teach First, mainly by people who are thinking of going into teaching or have heard snippets about the programme and want a first-hand account of what it’s really like.
Whenever I talk about Teach First, I always begin with a disclaimer of: ‘This is my experience, no one else’s and everyones varies. I had a bad experience, you may not, but equally, I would never want anyone joining the programme without having a real idea of what to expect.’
Teach First was quite simply the hardest year of my life. I’ve never felt like I’ve put so much in to feel so battered and bruised by being an unqualified teacher and the fatal PGCE year. Now, I’ve heard people say their PGCE year was the hardest year they’ve ever had – I completely sympathise. I’ve also heard people say their NQT year was the hardest year they’ve ever had – again, I totally sympathise! Now if you add both those years together, you get Teach First.
Teach First is simply the art of pretending you know how to teach 150 kids at a time, having a 70% timetable while also completing a post graduate degree in education. If you throw the possibility of OFSTED landing on your doorstep with no notice, you’ve pretty much got it.
On top of that, I was placed quite simply in the middle of nowhere with 2 fantastic human beings who between us, just about keep each others sanity in tact. I also attempted to learn to drive because being in the middle of no where proper sucks. I failed 6, yes 6, times. We also got in a major dispute with our landlords that cost us £150 each and convinced one of my housemates that she was never going to rent again – I don’t blame her at all.
Teach First has its pros and its cons. I’ve tried to lay them out simply here:
– You are part of an educational movement aiming to tackle educational inequality in the UK.
– It has been proven to make a significant impact in intercity schools over the past 10 years. The theory works (kind of).
– You are fast tracked through the PGCE process and you will learn faster how to teach than any other route into teaching.
– You don’t have to pay £9000 for a PGCE
– You are trained with a bunch of likeminded individuals and will make friends for life.
– In the right school, you have the potential to progress through your school faster than any other NQT.
– You will work with some of the greatest kids in the world and you know you are putting you are breaking your back for the kids that need the help most.
– There is always the potential that you will end up in the middle of nowhere. The West Midlands was my 5th regional choice, and then I got placed in Telford. I had to google Telford because it’s not your first thought when you think of the West Mids.
– There is always the potential that your school have employed you for all the wrong reasons. E.g. You’re a cheap teacher. They may pretend that they believe in the TF vision but in all honesty, you are cheaper than any NQT and that’s why you’re there.
– From Day 1, you’re 100% in a sink or swim position. I remember one of my best friends from my placement school, Kayleigh, was doing the Schools Direct programme at the same time I was doing TF. She came into my first ever class because she was bored that day and I was so thankful. I remember she said to me, ‘so you’ve actually never been in a classroom on your own before?’ I was 100% on my own to fuck up as much as I’d like to. It was crazy. Anything could’ve happened and the whole time I just pretended to know what I was doing.
– You need a good mentor and that’s not guaranteed. I had 3 fantastic mentors throughout my time at TF. The problem was, while the first one was fantastic, she did not have the time to mentor me. I remember when she came back after Christmas and told me she was going to pass me onto a really experienced member of the department, Sue, and I was so thankful. However, I had gone a full term (probably the most essential for having a good mentor) with a mentor who did not have time to mentor me. It was a bit of a nightmare. My third was the person I sat next to in the office, Michael. He gave me daily pep talks and had caught me crying a fair few times that I always count him as my unofficial mentor.
– Doing a PGCE at the same time as teaching means your holidays are not your holidays. In fact, your evenings and weekends aren’t yours either. I wrote more words for my PGCE essays than I did for the whole of my English degree. I don’t know how I passed it, but I did.
– The Teach First ‘vision’, means there’s a lot of buzz words thrown at you particularly at Summer institute which makes you feel all fluffy and like you matter and you’re going to make the difference for every single one of the kids you teach. In my first year, I think 50% of the kids I taught probably resented that they had me as their teacher because I clearly didn’t know what I was doing half the time. The other 50% liked me because I was young and occasionally put music on in class. Don’t be fooled – the impact you actually make will more likely come in the 2nd or 3rd year of your teaching career.
– It’s not for everyone. Just because it sounds fantastic and draws you in with all these ideals does not mean that it is for you. The best thing my mentor ever told me was ‘Teaching isn’t for everyone, and life is too important to be taken seriously ‘ (the second part is stolen from Oscar Wilde). I’ve found a way to fulfil the TF vision without making myself miserable.
My last job targeted the same schools that TF do, aimed to raise aspirations and target schools who are likely to fall into special measures. I loved it and regained my mental health during that year. The job I’m about to start, equally aims to tackle educational inequality and give everyone a role model to look up to and to aspire to be when they’re older.
I love the path I’ve taken because it has taught me so much about myself and what I want to do as a career but it has also taught me a lot about the education system and where it needs work in supporting both the pupils and the teachers who literally are breaking their back to do what they do.
Wish me luck with the new job, and if you’re thinking of going into teaching, good luck to you to!
Positive of the day: I start my new job today for an educational charity I’m super excited to work for!