The Teach First Cymru Opening Ceremony was held last week and I was asked to share my experiences of my 2 years on the programme. It was an honour to take part in the evening that saw outstanding performances from pupils at Hawthorn High School along with some inspirational speeches from others who work in the teaching profession. Here are those reflections I shared:
Beth sy’n gwneud stori dda? What makes a good story? It’s a question that’s preoccupied my thoughts as far back as I can remember. As a child I thought Enid Blyton told the greatest stories, and, as a teenager it was Shakespeare, Atwood and Orwell. Then, as a young journalist in my early twenties it was the people in their communities with interesting things to say. At present, along with a huge amount of support from my school and Teach First, I attempt to be an author who guides young people through their life-stories. Every story needs a good plot with hope that the central characters can challenge the impossible. It’s seeing these characters in my classroom - that’s made the last two years so fantastic. It's no easy task to tell you all my highlights from the past two years in just a few minutes but here are a few standout moments of when I felt most proud of the pupils I teach:
I’ll start with Kieron whose negative self-talk about his literacy skills has reduced significantly and his ability to not only recognize persuasive techniques, but discuss them at length, had me (and him!) bursting with pride. Now, before I continue, I must tell you that all pupils were delighted to give their permission to be included in my reflections. This includes Megan and Martha, whose speaking and listening skills shone on BBC Radio Cymru whilst discussing their views on Brexit. Jenny and Daisy eloquently interviewed the First Minster on lowering the voting age for BBC Wales today. Whilst MAT girls received the opportunity to hear from their MEP Jill Evans in preparation for an assembly about the effect the Greenham Peace project had on empowering women in Wales. Alanya and Lily-Mae described both annual trips to the Hay festival as “the best days of their lives” following chats with some of their favourite authors. And, as part of the Sutton Trust Summer School scheme, Mathew, Emily and Isobel will be heading to Kings College London, Bath and Bristol in a few weeks.
The Innovation Series mentors and financially supports projects that seek to solve a problem identified in education. The scheme gave me support to lead a project, which gave pupils the opportunity to create a wonderful magazine as part of an intervention to address poor literacy skills. Furthermore, the Masters programme helped me evaluate the projects' impact and helped me further understand ways in which we can tackle educational inequality here.
Looking back at my time at SI over two years ago now, I can remember feeling overwhelmed by not only the many new acronyms but also the huge challenge of ending educational inequality. There are days where I still feel like this but my placement school and the Teach First network has continued to provide me with more resilience and fight than I ever thought possible.
During my third year as an English teacher and first year as a Teach First ambassador I’ll continue to surround myself with like-minded people who share the vision that no child’s dream should be written off because of their background. I’m staying at my placement-school, as I want to continue supporting some of the pupils I already teach and of course meet some new ones.
Here, I’ll also continue to build on the extra-curricular projects introduced during my LDP and introduce some knew initiatives. This starts with a Book Fair at the end of this term to raise money for the department, a visit to Westminster in September and many outings to University campuses. Many daunting leadership responsibilities are ahead whilst I continue to strive for excellence in my pedagogy. These are just some of my personal challenges but the truth is, challenges also face the educational system in Wales such as new specifications, the Donaldson curriculum and further changes that we aren’t even aware of yet. However, by listening and learning from experienced educators I’ll be able to armour myself to face what’s ahead, remaining resilient in order to make sure changes adhere to the unique needs of the young people that we teach.
As an ambassador, I’m committed to using my experience on the LDP to support the work of Teach First in Wales, ensuring it grows in a nation, which I know really benefits from our work. I want to help recruit inspiring graduates and career-changers to sign up to what I believe is hard but rewarding profession. I’ll exchange experiences with new participants and ambassadors over a cuppa for not only can I offer advise following my experience on the LDP but also learn from fresh ideas. As a member of the Cymru Action Network group, or CAN, there’ll be opportunities to ensure participants are getting the best support they need to flourish at their schools and look after their own well-being. Furthermore there are many fundraising opportunities available to all. Such as the London British 10K, which I ran to raise money for the charity, last Sunday.
To summarise, the Teach First experience so far has been full of plot twists and page-turners and I can't wait to see what happens next.