Teach First: My Experience

I was in my second year of university when I first heard about Teach First. Initially, I was interested in Corporate Responsibility, having been involved in volunteering with young people, and co-ordinating a project with students in a special needs secondary school. However, I quickly realised that Teach First offered a fairly unique opportunity: to gain leadership skills in the education sector. After researching the programme, I was resolute that it was the kind of scheme which would give me excellent experience, from which I would have a broader base of opportunities compared with other graduate programmes.

Teach First Assessment Centres

In all honesty, the assessment centre day was what really convinced me that this was a scheme I wanted to be involved with. The staff were friendly and welcoming, and I have to say there really is a ‘Teach First’ identity which saturates everyone involved. It feels, in some ways, without sounding sanctimonious, more like a ‘movement’ than a graduate programme. Everyone involved really identifies with the mission of the scheme: “To address educational disadvantage by transforming exceptional graduates into inspirational leaders in all fields.” Although we sometimes mock the grandiosity of the message, it really is evident that if you want to be on Teach First, you have to believe in it, and really, first and foremost, want to make a difference to these kids, in whatever way you can.  I wanted to do exactlythis: help improve the education of young people; it is a disgrace to me that wealth is such a directly contributing factor in educational outcome.

Why Teach First?

The opportunities Teach First offer you are wide-ranging. Firstly, they provide unerring support during the two-year programme. It is really, really difficult when you first start teaching in a challenging school. By far probably the toughest thing you will ever do. Teach First as an organisation is brilliant – when I have needed help or have struggled, they have been there. You will have a great network of tutors, leadership development officers, mentors, ambassadors, fellow teach first-ers who are always on hand. I have also found that a lot of companies respect Teach First. Nearly all schools who employ Teach First teachers are really passionate about the programme, so further teaching opportunities are often readily available. Companies in the education, third, or business sectors also all hold Teach First in very high regard. I undertook a summer project with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer through the Teach First summer project programme. I have also been linked with a coach who works for Bentley, and he has given me a series of coaching sessions towards my professional development.

After ‘finishing’ the Teach First Leadership development programme, around 50% of Teach First-ers continue to teach for at least another year. Many also pursue careers in educational policy, the third sector, business and there also seems to be a fair proportion who either work for, or set up their own social enterprises. As an ambassador (alumni) group, Teach First are a powerful force as they can help link you with connections for careers which may be of interest. For example, another Teach First-er in my school has been accepted onto the Price Waterhouse Cooper Graduate Audit programme. Teach First has ‘sponsors’ such as McKinsey and company, Credit Suisse, Accenture, Deloitte and many more, who all employ Teach First ambassadors.

Teach First – Recommended

As a post-university option, I would wholly recommend Teach First. However, it is also extremely challenging. Teach First schools are challenging schools, in a variety of ways. The first year on the programme was, without a doubt, the most difficult thing I have done; late nights working, challenging student behaviour, difficult to deal with parents, and a never-ending stream of marking and planning. Nothing can particularly prepare you for ‘being thrown in at the deep end’. Although you improve quickly, each day is different, and therefore difficult to predict. These must also be judged alongside the many benefits of working in a tough school; getting your first Christmas card, seeing your kids pass their GCSE’s, being, sometimes, the only adult who is ‘there’ for these students. I feel a great attachment to all of the students I teach, and they are so rewarding to work with, and so inspiring. They make me laugh, every day, they do brilliant work, they try really, really hard, and all of them, deep down, want to do well. There is not one kid I have taught who doesn’t want to do well. But they need great teachers to help them do that. Of course you should apply, but only when you are ready to deal with those situations. Sometimes I question whether going immediately from a comfortable lecture-theatre in York to a classroom in Merseyside was too tough a transition.

Teach First Application

If you do apply, then bear the following in mind:

  • You don’t need school experience, but you need examples of when you have shown leadership skills.

The programme is all about developing graduates’ leadership qualities. You need to be a leader in the classroom, and these are the transferable skills that will be priceless when you complete the two years. Therefore you need experience of leading people. I co-ordinated a volunteering project with young people who had special needs, as well as undertook an internship with a charity.

  • You need to want to teach. Unfortunately some people use Teach First as a ‘way in’ to other professions.

It can provide this, but don’t forget, you will be teaching for two years. You have to see yourself as wanting to teach, and wanting to be part of a movement to help address educational disadvantage in the long-term. You are also making a commitment to a school for two years. Teach First employ you on the basis that, wherever you end up, you do something to ‘help’ the movement.

1.  If you are at university, can you rise to the challenge of going straight back into the classroom? If not, you could always ask Teach First to do a deferred entry. Apply, go and have some fun, get work experience or travel before you start.

2. Be prepared for lots of hard work, but at the same time, lots of fun. You will make great friends during your training and on Teach First, but you will also face a lot challenges!



alice mumbyAlice graduated from the University of York with a degree in English and Philosophy in 2010. She is      currently in her final year of the Teach First Leadership Development Programme, having completed a PGCE in her first year. Through the programme and her time at university she has also completed internships at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and York Cares, part of the Business in the Community group.

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  • This was a very insightful read, and also quite exciting as we both studied the same degree at uni. I’m currently in the middle of my application for Teach First so I’d love to hear more about your success with this graduate scheme. Thanks for sharing your experience on this blog, it’s been very helpful!