I did a three-week placement with Goldman Sachs during the Leadership Development Programme, working on a project around a staff survey that they were doing. Afterwards they offered me a job.
Teach First definitely has some currency at Goldman Sachs and I'm guessing it does with other employers as well, because it makes you stand out a little bit. People are interested in it and the stories you have to tell. I think people also have a sense of how challenging it is to be a teacher. A lot of people say to me, “Wow, I could never have done what you did.” So I think it definitely has helped me in my time at Goldman Sachs. I think it's partly the skills you bring – the cool, the calm, the ability to talk to people, to present yourself.
At Goldman Sachs there are two things that people particularly comment on. The first is people say to me that I’m calm. I think when you’ve been faced with a classroom of 30 Year 8s, you learn to keep calm to make sure that you can get what you need to done, even if there’s a challenging situation or you’re actually freaking out a little inside. The second is that people say, “Wow, you’re so good at presenting. It seems to come so naturally to you.” Well, I actually spent two years of my life presenting for a good six hours a day to quite a demanding audience, so I’ve had plenty of opportunities to develop that skill.
I guess joining Teach First was important to me personally because I didn't get into our local good secondary schools. My mum then put me into an exam for our local independent school. I got to go there and had an incredible education, but if I hadn't done that and hadn't got the bursary I would have gone to a pretty terrible school. I realised how important education was for me and that every child should have a chance to get a good education, not just because you’re lucky enough to go to a good school.
The first year of Teach First is the most challenging thing I think I’ve ever done in my life, especially coming from university in Oxford. I arrived in a school on an estate in South London and was thrown into an environment that was unlike anything I had experienced before. It took me quite a while to get used to it.
Addressing the challenges is about empathy but also about having high expectations. One of the boys in my Year 9 set – a bottom set – was in and out between us and pupil referral units and when he walked in he didn’t give you any eye contact. He just slunk in and threw his bag across the table. As a teacher you have to ask yourself what has he been through this morning before he’s even got here? But at the same time, you have to find a way to say, “Actually, that’s not okay. I wouldn’t let anyone else throw their bag, and I’m not going to let you do it.” That’s an example of the kind of challenge of working in that environment.
I think you carry that ‘teacher’ persona a little bit into whatever you do afterwards – a professional face which makes you feel like you can go over to anyone and start talking to them and interacting with them. To anyone considering the programme, I would say go for it, stick at it and enjoy it as much as you can.