I did not really enjoy my own education, but realised just how fortunate I had been to have had all the opportunities I have had throughout my life. I came across an article about Teach First and the work they did, and was impressed by what I read. The challenge of learning to teach while working in challenging circumstances really appealed to me. But the main reason was simply that teaching genuinely does make a real difference to children’s lives. A year on and I simply love teaching.
Before joining Teach First I was serving in the British Army. During my service I badly damaged my spine which saw me having to leave. My military friends were surprised that I wanted to become a teacher but my family were extremely supportive.
Although I had served and travelled in a number of countries around the world, I arrogantly thought that what I had seen and experienced abroad gave me an insight into how things were in this country. I simply did not see how bad the problem of educational disadvantage really was.
My time in the Army has helped me in the classroom enormously. Teaching is often extremely tiring and demanding but my previous experiences highlighted that things could always be worse, and to simply keep on going and stay positive when things got hard; at least I wasn’t carrying rucksacks up a hill in the scorching heat!
The most important lesson I learnt from the Army was that everyone has a talent and a positive feature. Everyone in the Army has an important role no matter how small. The same applies to teaching – no pupil is simply 'stupid' or 'naughty' – all have positive features and something positive to contribute. My aim is to ensure that every pupil has the chance to shine, and at some point feels a sense of success and pride.
I was used to working as part of a team and this helped when I entered the classroom. When I met my class for the first time I saw 30 seven year olds staring up at me, and I quite simply had no idea what to do! But my military experience helped me to remember what I had been taught at Summer Institute and not be too proud to ask for help when I needed it.
One of my favourite lessons was when one of my pupils who was trying to thank me for staying behind after school to listen to him read said: 'You're not really a bad teacher Miss Flanagan.' It took a while for him to realise I was actually a Sir and not a Miss!
The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is keep smiling. Don’t ever give up. If something doesn’t work just try something else and keep on going until you find what works.