Considering routes into teaching: TeachFirst

In many of my previous blog posts, I’ve been recording my journey as I work towards pursuing a career in teaching. One of the biggest problems I’ve faced so far is what level I’d like to teach at, although I think I’ve finally settled on secondary level. Yes, I know. Mad. But I think I’m ready to embrace the challenge (I hope – don’t hold me to this. I’ll report back in three years time and let you know if I still feel the same). Just as I seem to have resolved one conundrum, though, another one has developed and is irking me just as much: what route into teaching is best for me?

The general plan I’d formulated about how I was going to become a teacher was that I’d graduate from university and then simply go on to take a PGCE. A few weeks ago, however, after heading Spring Job’s Fair, what struck me the most about the event were how many educational organisations there were present. It was so overwhelming! I spoke to lots of different representatives and the most common question I was constantly being asked was “Have you thought about what route into teaching you’re going to take?” I was slightly bewildered as to why they all kept asking me this, I remember thinking ‘How many routes are there?’

I recall one conversation I had that that afternoon really well, and that was with two representatives from TeachFirst, a social charity in the education industry. They were incredibly friendly and talked to me a lot about their own experiences in the classroom, which I found fascinating; I love talking to professional teachers and learning about their backgrounds in the profession and how they trained. As I was listening to their anecdotes about the pains of trying to engage Year 10 mathematics class first thing on a Monday morning, I couldn’t help but be in awe of them slightly, their confidence and self-assurance. They also spoke to me about the opportunities they pursued beyond teaching, working as part of the broader TeachFirst network, and they gave me some leaflets and booklets containing information about the charity in general, which I was grateful for.

Reading through some of the pamphlets later that day, it dawned on me that there are routes I could take that are either highly theoretically, university-based, or ones that contain a mix of both academic elements and practical experiences. TeachFirst’s Leadership programme interested me a lot because it involves getting involved in the classroom from the very outset, with only six weeks prior training, to obtain qualified teacher status (QTS) at the end of a two-year placement. I came across an application to take part in a taster programme that had been designed to give you a flavour of what their Leadership Programme entailed, so I applied and a few weeks later I found out that I was successful in gaining a place! I was very excited. It felt nice to receive some positive, uplifting news after weeks of worrying over exams and essays.

Last week, then, I travelled to London to spend the day taking part in a jam-packed day full of workshops and discussions, held at TeachFirst’s head office. As I was travelling all the way from Sheffield and had to be there by 10am, I stayed over and did a bit of touristy stuff the day before. You know, the usual malarkey: museums, markets, a night at the theatre. What is it about London that makes you want to spend so much money? I’ll never understand it. I also cannot justify my spending roughly £8 purely on breakfast. Yes, £8. Please don’t frown at me like that, I know, ok. I am as appalled at my behaviour as you are. I don’t even remember what I ordered! At the time I felt rather smug, but I’m afraid my bank account has been severely wounded by my profligacy. Woops, sorry – I digress…

I was very impressed with how highly structured the day was, and also how useful all the sessions were to me; even if I chose not to pursue the Leadership Programme, I will have gained a lot from this event that will definitely benefit me in the future. In one session, for instance, we were split up into small groups and each allocated a subject (i.e. English, science, history), some props, and then we were given 30 minutes to plan a 3-minute lesson. It sounds easy, but, really, it was incredibly difficult trying to develop a plan that would allow us to cover all the material we wanted to in such a short amount of time. This is the sort of thing that comprises most teachers’ responsibilities, and so I recognised that it is important to be able to adapt to change with flair.

The most useful session for me was the ‘Upskilling Workshop’. The objective of this session was to help us identify our own skill set, and understand areas that might be weaker so we can develop on these, with the hope that this would allow us to flourish as we advance throughout out careers. The session involved a series of themed discussions, which we were briefed on and then had to elaborate on as a group. Whilst we were doing this, two TeachFirst ambassadors observed us and took notes on what they thought were our most common mannerisms and behavioural qualities. I hate people watching me, so I felt a bit on edge at first, but after a while I stopped noticing they were there. In one discussion, we were given a list of attributes that make a good leader and we were asked to decide, between us, a rank, representing the most important qualities to the least, and then present it back.

When we were given our feedback for this session by one of the ambassadors, I was astonished by what he and others in the group seemed to think about me. I don’t enjoy talking about myself, I feel like I’m boasting, or being very obnoxious. Anyway, one comment he made following his observations of the discussions was that people seemed to want to listen to me. Although I didn’t talk frequently like a lot of the others, he said that when I did offer a contribution it so radically altered the dynamic of the group discussion that everyone valued my opinion. I didn’t really know what to say to that. It was very kind of them to say such a thing. I recognise that I am not an extroverted individual, and that my presence may not fill the room, but this piece of feedback provided me with so much reassurance and alleviated my anxieties relating to this issue a great deal; there is no such thing as the ‘ideal’ personality in teaching.

I had a wonderful time at the TeachFirst taster day. I was a little sceptical at first when I realised it a lot of it was going to be group work tasks and presentations, but I enjoy pushing myself and undertaking enterprises that push me outside of my comfort zone. Nevertheless, I am still going to remain open-minded about other possible routes into teaching; I have time, so I will continue doing my research and I’ll update you with any other amazing breakthroughs I come across.


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