I'd always wanted to help people, and because in politics you make decisions that affect people's lives, I thought it would allow me to have the biggest impact. As time passed, though, I got the impression that it was more about self-promotion than it was about helping people. That didn't sit easily with me, and I could no longer see a future for myself there.
A friend from school, when I told him I’d applied for Teach First, said to me, “You hated school the first time around…?” But it really did fall into all the categories – a dedicated career route that involves helping people in a fundamental way, with their education and their life chances.
I chose Teach First specifically as I think it was the dedication, and the idea that it wasn’t just trying to change a classroom or a school, it was a movement to try and change education in this country. And, as a career changer, it was very appealing because I had rent to pay. The fact that I could get paid to train was hugely attractive.
My overriding memory is of the first time I closed the door, with my first class. It was a group of Year 7s. I’ll never forget it, thinking, “Okay, Summer Institute’s done now, all the thinking and the talking, the dreaming of being Mr. Keating in ‘Dead Poets Society’ is done and I’m faced with this group of young people and I’m teaching them English.” That was a daunting moment, but it was quite exciting.
I think I might have fibbed to them and said that I’d been teaching a lot longer that I had been so the pupils were unaware I was different, and the staff were really supportive. They know you’re training, they know you’re there to help the kids, and honestly I got so much support. I had someone in my department who had joined through Teach First the year before, and he provided a wealth of knowledge, a real source of comfort in difficult times.
Compared to my last job, I laugh a lot more now. Whilst it can be very difficult I get the sense that I’ve managed to find the thing that I didn’t find in my previous career, which is making a difference to the lives of young people. I think that sense of fulfilment is what makes it so special.
When the school first suggested doing Educating the East End, I thought, “You’re bonkers, why would we do this?” But pupils from these types of schools are often typecast by the media – they’re portrayed as being hoodies, rude and obsessed with selfies and bad pop stars. Really they’re interesting, aspirational, wonderful young people. I felt that the chance to promote them in that light, as what they really are, isn’t something I could turn down with any good conscience. As a society we’re letting them down, and we need to do more for them and for the wonderful profession of teaching.
If someone were considering changing their career to teach, I would say do it. It was the single best decision I’ve made, applying to Teach First, and now I can see a career in front of me that allows me to be successful for helping others, and that is just the best feeling in the world.