I am now approaching the end of my first year in Teach First and throughout the year I have had many people ask me the pros and cons of getting into teaching this way. It is a complicated answer. One which is only further complicated by the changes that Teach First are making for the new academic year in 2017. I can, therefore, only speak from my experience of doing the programme from 2016-2017 which has been a bit of a wild ride!
Firstly, I think it is important to mention that I have not had the easiest year with Teach First which has, of course, effected my views on the programme. I shall therefore start with the negatives and get them over with! Across this academic year, I have had 2 months off teaching for mental health (currently how I am starting this blog); I have not always had adequate support due to the high teacher drop-out rate in my school; the school itself is failing resulting in low morale from other members of staff; and my year partner is another Teach First participant in her first year (As much as we work brilliantly together #dreamteam it is still the blind leading the blind!). My experience therefore may not be entirely reflective of the programme as a whole, but I want to portray my experience honestly and openly as I possible. I feel that this sort of information was not available to me when I first joined and started my first year in the classroom.
- There was a lot of conflict of interests between my school, Teach First, and my University partner. It became difficult to prioritise whether I should spend my time lesson planning, uploading evidence to my online portfolio or reading for essays! I had the demands of being a full time teacher plus I had to upload three detailed lesson plans and evaluations once a week (on forms which differed to my schools planning proformas). I also had to upload a weekly reflection and upload evidence (photos, pupil work, emails) to show that my practice meeting all the Teaching Standards to ultimately get my QTS.
- The Half Terms are not your friends. I had a 4000-5000 word essay due the week after each half term/ break which often ate through my holidays as the essays demanded so much reading in order to complete them with Masters-level-flair!
- The 6-week training course was not enough! 6 weeks and taa daa you are ready for the classroom! It was good at lulling me into a false sense of confidence but ultimately made me realise why people do undergraduate degrees or PGCEs to become qualified teachers! Training at the Summer Institute sure gave me a lot of ideas for behaviour management techniques and flashy ways to teach different subjects. But I was not taught how to effectively lesson plan; differentiate for SEND or higher ability; to write reports or SEN provision plans; or even how to try and apply the flashy ideas to schools with stubborn teachers and children that were seriously academically behind! Arguably, no training programme can truly prepare individuals for the realities of teaching but, from my experience, Teach First still remains a course for Secondary Participants and spends too long teaching theory and not practicalities.
- You spend a lot of time out of class. Throughout my application and training with Teach First, the idea that I was giving children consistency in order to help solve educational disadvantage became a sort of mantra. Yet the realities of the programme take you out of your class SO much! Regardless of my time off for mental health, every participant gets a day out of class for PPA and NQT time per week (time to plan; observe other teachers; stock up on chocolates for the times you cry in your cupboard); we had to undertake 4 solid weeks in an alternative Key Stage; a solid week in a contrasting school; and 12 days out for Call Back Days across the year (additional Training from your university eg: Cross-Curricular planning). I feel I have hardly been in class this academic year and it shows in the unsteady behaviour of many of the children in my class. They sure hate supply teachers!
- There can be a lack of support from your school. Due to teacher drop outs and the general demanding nature of a school in a disadvantaged area, members of SLT do not have the time to help the unqualified teacher when a child is scaling the school fence. Those weekly mentor meetings get interrupted by a child head-butting a wall or another teacher crying. I spent a lot of my time this year just giving it a go in the classroom. That was difficult for a self-proclaimed perfectionist. It is only now that I give less of a sausage and know that one bad lesson, one bad day or even one bad week makes very little difference and is expected at this stage in my career.
- Money, money, money. I think this could be the only year in my life that I am pleased to be earning a Teacher’s wage. But, compared to student life, earning approximately £18 grand and renting my own flat has been pretty peachy!
- You learn on the job. As much as I have complained about the lack of training and sometimes the lack of support from within school, learning how to be a adultly-looking-adult with a bunch of weird and wonderful children has been one of the most rewarding experiences. We have been learning, and making mistakes, together. I have not been stuck in another lecture room learning about abstract theory and ideas that may or may not be relevant in the classroom. I’ve been living it and learning from my experiences every day. Sure the Teach First route throws you in the deep end. And the deep end has sharks. And you have no life jacket. But you learn to swim. From reading and talking with other first year teachers; the first year in the classroom (regardless of your training route) is “Survival year”. The feeling of being overwhelmed is always going to happen.
- At the end of the day I enjoy being a teacher. I see myself as a teacher. Not a student. Not a trainee teacher. A fully fledged, biscuit eating, cold-coffee slurping teacher. The route may or may not have been the “right way” into teaching, or the easiest, but I’m in the classroom interacting with children far sooner that I could have ever expected!
- My goodness what a blast from the past it all is. Magic Key Books! Still in school. The travelling Book Fair! Still coming to schools with the same foldable shelves. The giant TV on the trolly! Still going strong.
- As a short gal, I am finally considered to be rather tall by being a Primary School Teacher.
So, as I approach the end of my First Year with Teach First, would I recommend it as a way into teaching. Yes. I am a teacher and I ultimately enjoy myself in the classroom and with the children in the school, which is what it should be all about! Would I have recommended it half way through the year, no. As much as its rewarding, it has been fudging difficult!