What is your role at Teach First?
I manage the assessment centre as part of the selection team at Teach First. My team and I are responsible for the selection of Teach First participants across the UK.
What were your reasons for applying to the Leadership Development Programme (LDP)?
I completed the Leadership Development Programme between 2009 and 2011 as a science teacher in the East Midlands. My reasons for applying to the programme were quite personal; I was diagnosed with dyspraxia as an adult and, looking back, I struggled with both time management and organisation throughout my education - never finishing an exam paper and finding it hard to understand why I constantly left my homework at home or forgot what lesson I was supposed to be in.
As a teacher on the Teach First programme, I was placed in a school in which more than 40% of children were considered to have Special Educational Needs. I worked with many children with additional needs and was struck by the affect that this label had on their confidence and aspirations. Many were surprised to find out that their teacher had a learning difficulty, too, and had gone to university. I tried to use my experience to inspire them to believe in themselves. I became the SEN Representative for science and researched my students’ needs so that I could design appropriate resources to support them and make them see that learning could be fun. My experience made me aware of the importance of Teach First as a transformative movement to address educational disadvantage by recruiting teachers with the power to motivate and inspire children at such a critical juncture in their lives, leading me to my current role in recruitment.
What were your concerns when applying for the role?
When I applied to Teach First, I did not initially disclose my learning difficulty as I was aware that planning and organising were key to the role and I was unsure how this information would be received. I could not have been more wrong as both Teach First and my school were supportive of my needs when I made them aware of my diagnosis. Where necessary, I was permitted extra time on my PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education) assignments and my school arranged a visit for me from an occupational therapist to ensure they were making reasonable adjustments. As a result of this I was given my own classroom, rather than the seven different classrooms that I had been teaching in prior to the assessment. I keep to a very strict timetable and I found the structure of a school day helped me to stay organised. I’m sure my pupils thought the giant timers on the whiteboard were for their benefit but they were invaluable for ensuring my lessons ran as planned.
How do you manage your disability at work?
My current role involves a high level of organisation, the assessment process runs like clockwork and I am responsible for a large team who ensure that the day runs smoothly for our candidates. My experience on the programme has helped me to develop strategies to structure my time and I have become incredibly efficient at planning and working smart. Most of the time, I manage without needing any further support by ensuring I keep to a rigid timetable, updating my calendar and setting myself alarms as reminders. I can be a little clumsy and my team are aware that I will have days where I walk into doorframes and trip over bins, but I have always been able to laugh at that side of the condition and it helps to foster an inclusive atmosphere where my team are comfortable discussing their needs.
I started at Teach First as an assessor in their selection team two years ago. At first, I struggled to type up the candidates’ notes as quickly as my colleagues as I type one-handed because I find it difficult to coordinate both hands in synchrony. Ensuring that notes were typed within a short timeframe between exercises was a challenge. However, I made my manager aware that I was dyspraxic and received support and encouragement to improve my typing time. Now I am up to speed and it is quite a conversation-starter, giving me the opportunity to talk about my disability with new starters who notice my rapid one-handed style. I have since been promoted to my current role and now ensure that new assessors are able to overcome the varied demands of the role and feel comfortable discussing their areas for development.
What do you enjoy about your role?
I really enjoy my role. I meet fantastic people every day who apply for the Leadership Development Programme for a variety of reasons and I find it incredibly rewarding to think that I play a part in placing inspirational teachers in schools in challenging circumstances. Teach First is a fantastic place to work and I feel very privileged to work for an organisation with such an important vision for the future.
Why would you recommend the Leadership Development Programme?
I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in applying to the Leadership Development Programme to disclose their needs on the application form, prior to attending our assessment centre. The assessment process strives to be inclusive of any needs and we frequently make reasonable adjustments to ensure our candidates are able to perform to the best of their ability. Please see our notes under the “disability” section for a full list of these.