| Interview by Hélène Guild | October 2020 |
After Cambridge you decided to apply for an unusual job. What is the TeachFirst programme?
Cecily Guild: TeachFirst is primarily a teacher training programme aiming to train teachers and school leaders to go into schools in low-income areas of the country. There is a persistent problem that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to get good GCSEs and go on to higher education, and TF hopes that by training new and enthusiastic teachers to enter the profession, this cycle can begin to be broken. ‘A fair education for all’ refers to the TF mission that every child should have the same chance of success at school and beyond, regardless of their background.
How did you apply?
I am taking part in the Leadership Development Program (it has actually since changed to be called the Training Program) which lasts 2 years. I applied in October in my final year at university, but applications stay open until about May, and the application process involved online tests and ‘CV’ style questions, then an assessment day at their office in London. I had my place confirmed before Christmas, but you don’t find out your specific school until much later (about June).
Tell us about the type of training you got and how ready you felt when you started the first term of school?
As part of the LDP you have to attend 5 weeks of training, referred to as Summer Institute, in June and July before you start in school in September. During these 5 weeks there is a mix of sessions at university (everyone is enrolled for a Post Graduate Diploma in Education that you receive after the 2 years), sessions run by TF themselves, and School Centred Learning (where you are placed in a school for 10 days to begin some real teaching episodes!). Where you receive this training depends on which region you have been placed, but mine was based in Nottingham and we stayed in uni halls throughout the 5 weeks which was great fun. It’s a chance to meet other people starting the program at the same time as you, and this network of friends continues to be super important throughout the 2 years.
How much support (from your school or from the organisation) do you get once you are a teacher?
I have 3 specific people responsible for my development during the program: my Participant Development lead from TF, my university tutor, and my mentor at my school. These 3 people each observe me once a half term and I can get in contact whenever I need extra support or guidance. I also have weekly meetings with my mentor in school, who is my head of department. These people have so far been extremely supportive so far, my uni tutor even gave us all his text number and is very quick to reply if we ever need anything.
You chose to teach Geography. Why is it so challenging? Why is it so rewarding? Does Geography inspire the pupils to travel or to learn more about different countries?
Geography had always been my favourite subject at school, and I found it particularly great because of how broad and varied the course was. Even at primary school, geography covers so many different topics and I do believe that there’s something in Geography that everyone can find interesting! The main challenge I have found so far is the lack of geographical knowledge my students have when they arrive in year 7. At primary school they cover very little geography content so we really have to start from scratch- continents, oceans, countries in the first lesson! I feel responsible for giving my students a more accurate view of the world and awareness of the diversity of place and space on our planet.
The majority of my students have never been abroad so I am constantly introducing them to places and concepts that they have never encountered- this can be both rewarding and very challenging! One of my students thought in September that Milton Keynes was a different continent…! I hope to inspire a curiosity about the world, although I am also very aware that lots of my students are not (currently) in the position to be travelling or going on foreign holidays.
You didn’t choose where you would be teaching. How is it to live somewhere where you didn’t know anyone, far from home and from old friends?
Whilst you can specify a preference for where you are placed, there is an element of unpredictability in this and signing up for the program you have to be flexible and open minded to the idea of relocating. I have lived in London all my life but was placed in the East Midlands and now live in Northampton and teach in a school nearby. I had never even heard of the town where I now work but the whole moving process has been an adventure and I do not regret it at all.
During Summer Institute I met people that would later become my housemates and very close friends. I live with 5 other TF trainees and down the road there are another 4 who live together so we have a nice big group! It is difficult sometimes being away from my family and friends but I can easily come back to London on the weekends and as a teacher you get nice long holidays! I also think that moving away has forced me to throw myself into the whole experience and I am sure I have been more successful because of that!
It is early days, but how do you think teachers like yourself can have an impact where the system has failed?
All of my friends on the TF program have an enthusiasm and optimism that I am sure can only be a good thing when entering a new profession. Whilst we are aware that these 2 years (and beyond that) will be challenging, and some days are definitely harder than others, I love my subject and believe strongly in the importance of a good education. I was very fortunate to have a very good education and teachers who inspired and supported me, pushing me to achieve at school and then going onto higher education.
University seemed like an obvious next step after sixth form, but this is not the case for thousands of young people. It is well known that there is a recruitment and retention crisis in teaching, and in my school I have experienced this first hand with many many teachers leaving even since I started in September. Teaching can be emotionally exhausting, and bad behaviour and high teacher turnover can contribute negatively to teacher well being.
How difficult is it to make it to University when you are not supported at home or at school?
I was very lucky to have parents who were very supportive throughout my school years, showing an interest in what I had done at school and helping me at home where they could. They themselves had been to university so going onto higher education was an idea I was familiar with. A high proportion of students I teach now do not have family members who have been to university, making this option seem alien and inaccessible. Without a strong support network at home and at school it can be very difficult for students to be as ambitious and realise their full potential.
If you leave teaching in two years time how do you think this experience will help you applying for any jobs?
Even after 5 months teaching, my confidence and resilience have grown an extraordinary amount! Going back to school day after day, particularly to classes that have been an absolute nightmare has been tricky but it is very rewarding when you have good lessons or make mini breakthroughs with students. I am responsible for over 300 students in 11 different classes and I’m sure this experience will be invaluable in any career. Straight out of university, very few of my friends are granted such responsibility so whilst it can sometimes be daunting, I am constantly reminded of the crucial role I play in school each day. Regardless of the fact I am only 22 or a trainee, my colleagues grant me the respect of any other member of staff.
What do you love most about teaching?
Some of my funniest moments are definitely with year 7 who have an unbridled enthusiasm and love telling me random anecdotes and stories throughout the lesson. Whilst we often get very side-tracked I am conscious not to squash their keenness! If they are genuinely interested in a topic I love answering all their questions- and we had a particularly great chat about climate chance and Greta Thunberg’s school strikes. Whilst some days I wish my students would strike from school and give me some time off…there are moments each and every day that remind me why being a teacher is so very important.
Interview by Hélène Guild