Joe Graffham | Teach First

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Joe Graffham

  • Studied: Politics and English language, Aston University
  • Now: On the Leadership Development Programme, teaching English, London
Joe Graffham

With Teach First there are so many opportunities open to you, you just get used to that mentality of “Shall we try this?” and “Let’s give it a go.” Even just standing up in assembly in front of 200 kids – I never would have thought I’d be able to do that and enjoy it, but part of the Leadership Development Programme is about building your confidence.

I started up a government and politics A-level course at my school this year. Only a month into my first year on the programme, I spoke to the head of sixth form and said I’d love to do it, to take on that extra responsibility. And now I’ve set that up with a fellow Teach First ambassador. We aimed for about seven or eight students but we’ve ended up with 19. It’s great, until it comes to marking! I’m glad the school put that level of confidence in me, and that I had the confidence to try it. In some jobs it would be, “Let’s have a think about that” but with Teach First you have that level of confidence to say you want to try something new.

I really want to work my way up to middle management and become a head of department. There are so many sister organisations set up by people who’ve done the Leadership Development Programme, and as someone who’s done the programme you have access to this network to develop skills for your future career.

I recently organised a trip to the Houses of Parliament for a group of Year 8 and 9s. It was like a new world to these pupils, who are so loud and confident in school. It was the first time many of them had been on the Tube, even though we’re only 25 minutes away from central London. One girl in particular was asking such amazing, thoughtful questions to the tour guide. She just soaked everything up. It was a key moment for me. It made me realise that education is not only about Shakespeare, but about broadening their experience, their cultural capital. Some pupils said it was the best day of school they’ve ever had. Even now, some are saying they can’t wait to study politics at A-level.

Stuff outside the classroom makes the difference. If I didn’t have the pupils’ trust, I wouldn’t be able to sit down and teach them “Romeo and Juliet” for seven weeks. Before I started the programme I worried about things like, is my knowledge of grammar going to be good enough? But one thing I’ve learned is that the subject isn’t necessarily paramount. Of course it’s important, they need to know English, but it’s also about everything outside the classroom. You can only get pupils to learn if you take a bit of time – coaching the Year 10 football team or organising school trips, and even asking how they are in the corridor. This is the most important thing.