Join in, stand out
By James Darley, Teach First
Teach First is a ground-breaking initiative to address educational disadvantage by attracting high-calibre graduates into teaching in challenging schools. Now in its seventh year, Teach First has evolved into a powerful movement for grassroots social change. Alongside the impact of its participants in schools up and down the country Teach First is also forging a new generation of highly motivated, inspiring leaders – talented people who are engaged with its mission of educational transformation. Participants on the programme spend their first two years training, qualifying and working as teachers in some of the country’s toughest schools. During that time Teach First supports and guides them, both as teachers and as evolving leaders, ready to take up influential careers in education, industry and commerce, public service and not-for-profit.
The Teach First programme begins with an intensive summer institute, preparing graduates for the challenge of entering the classroom and teaching real lessons to real students. It’s an unimaginably tough challenge. One early participant, Pedram Parasmand, described his early classes as an ‘exercise in crowd control’ while others recall the suspicion and distrust they felt from groups of students for whom education had become something simply to be got through. Teach First is about changing that and giving children who face all sorts of social and economic deprivations the opportunity to shine and to fulfil their potential. It’s a daunting task and every Teach First participant has their stories to tell of classroom chaos. ‘The biggest challenges are always going to be about the behaviour, says Amit Lahon, now an Analyst at Accenture. ‘You have to understand, that teaching is about leading – you are the authority in the room and the kids look to you as a model of how to behave. You are responsible for what’s happening and where it’s taking you all.’ Finding your teaching voice is a difficult but essential step, as Holly Rose, now head of learning at a new Academy in London, confirms: ‘You have to learn to be yourself because if they sense that you are self-conscious or false then they’ll take you apart.
Leaders beyond school
But Teach First is not just about the classroom. It’s about leadership development and the classroom is just the first place in which that leadership is put to use. Throughout the first two years of the programme, participants benefit from a wide range of leadership and management development opportunities, from classes and seminars to mentoring and internships. Teach First is supported by over 80 of the UK’s most prestigious employers. They agree that the leadership and communication skills required in teaching have direct parallels in management careers. Jo Owen, a former partner with Accenture and Capgemini explains: ‘Early in their careers most people learn technical skills: auditing, dealing, programming. These are not the skills that are needed to succeed long term. Future leaders learn early on the tough skills of managing people, leadership, initiative and entrepreneurialism. Teach First helps graduates gain these skills – skills for a lifetime that lead to the top.’
A movement gathering pace
Teach First’s combination of leadership training, network building and above all social change clearly resonates with today’s graduates. To date just under 2,000 high-calibre graduates have signed up for the programme and committed themselves to two years in the classroom, changing lives and making a difference. Over 175 secondary schools in the East Midlands, London, North West, West Midlands and Yorkshire have welcomed participants, and Teach First is the third year of their ‘Primary Schools’ pilot. The UK’s high fliers have also taken note. In just six years Teach First has risen to 8th place in The Times Top 100 graduate employers, and with targets of 700 recruits for 2010, it is now one of the UK’s largest graduate recruiters. Other recruiters increasingly recognise the benefits of classroom experience and the quality of Teach First’s leadership development. ‘The participants are of exceptional quality,’ says Selina Green of HSBC. ‘Key strengths are their communication and interpersonal skills, motivation and ability to pick up projects quickly and deliver results.’
But while the employers may be enthusiastic about Teach First’s leadership output, it is the mission that preoccupies participants. ‘Even as an inexperienced teacher,’ says Sid Djerfi, an early participant who is now with Teach For All, ‘you can bring two very important things to the classroom – an appreciation of how education can change the trajectory of a life, and a passion for your subject – the kids find that very compelling.’ ‘My greatest achievement,’ adds Holly Rose, ‘was saving a boy from permanent exclusion. He’s now reintegrated back into the school, he’s won prizes and really turned himself around. For me, that’s what effecting real change is all about.’ It’s that opportunity to really make an impact that makes Teach First so special – and the chance to be part of a group of inspiring people united by a common goal.
James Darley is Director of Graduate Recruitment at Teach First.
You can read more about Teach First and the experiences of participants on the website, by clicking 'apply now'.