Another Teach First student speaks out

There was a lot of pompous and self-congratulatory tweeting yesterday about Teach First. Much of this was generated as a result of this article in the TES which failed to analyse in any meaningful way Wigdortz’s rhetoric and the output of the considerable spin-machine that is Teach First. Sadly, we can expect more of this as I suspect the BBC will do no better in the forthcoming TV series on BBC3 that will follow (starting on the 9th January).

In the real world, I have commented regularly on the emails I receive from students undertaking the Teach First programme and the academics who work on it. These are often not happy tales. Many correspondents are frightened to speak out about their experiences for fear of retribution. Some of you will remember this student from a month or so ago who found the programme a ‘sheer endurance test’ which was based on a ‘terrible idea’ of unqualified teachers teaching some of our most vulnerable children.

Another student got in touch in September 2013. For that person, Teach First was ‘superficial, only caring only for its shiny image whilst using emotional jargon to arrogantly set them above other teacher training programmes. In reality they hardly touch the surface of the real issues in educational inequality’.

For generally, the Teach for America movement has come under tremendous criticism in the US.  For Katie Osgood, the only proper response is to encourage students to quit the programme; but perhaps most powerful of all was the the voice of young black student, Rachel Smith, whose poem pleaded for qualified teachers for the most impoverished students:

It’s time we rebuked these self proclaimed saviours and put our faith in the true educators, the ones who expect masters degrees and double majors and not the ones just trying to do the black community a couple of favours. 

In light of all of this, it was sad to hear from yet another Teach First student over the holiday period. This student has given their permission for me to quote from our correspondence and I do so below with thanks to the individual involved:

It is actually quite difficult to gain perspective on my experience so far – I am currently on my second year of the programme and whilst it has been very rewarding, it has been an unbelievably stressful experience. I have been lucky enough to take to it well and have a lot of confidence in my teaching ability – I was seen by Ofsted in XXX of my first year and did very well which gave me some validation in terms of my career choices. However, if I am honest I cannot with confidence say that it is Teach First as an organisation that has directly influenced this.

The support and training we have received from the Higher education provider for the PGCE was wonderful – I had two tutors from a University who were fantastic at helping me improve and also fantastic at improving my situation at work, which has been fraught to say the least. However, these individuals were not technically employees of Teach First and if I were to be perfectly honest, I would say that any training put on by Teach First directly that I have had has not been useful, and has often felt like a frustrating waste of time.

Teach First can’t seem to decide if it is a teacher training provider or a leadership development organisation, and as a result it doesn’t manage to do either effectively. Across my 15 month experience there has been a marked lack of training that directly addresses the classroom or the students. Instead we have drawn out sessions where we discuss diffuse concepts with little conclusion or consequence. 

My current feeling about the programme is that somewhere along the line, it has been successful in improving my capability as a teacher. In that respect I have no regrets about the last 15 months. However it is unquestionable that with the budget, facilities and minds this charity possesses, a lot more could be done which actually has measurable effects on the students.

I’d like to thank this student for getting in touch and being brave enough to speak about against the prevailing positive rhetoric about Teach First. The key issues here are no surprise to me. I would encourage any of you who are working on Teach First programmes as academics, or students on the programme this year, to get in touch with me directly and tell me about your experiences (good or bad).


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