5th February 2010 at 00:00
Ex-Teach Firster Shira Rubin is the creator of the Learn2Lingo website, which uses video conferencing to link language students with teachers all over the globe

How did you get into teaching?

I was in my final year at university and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I hadn't consciously chosen teaching, but I enjoyed a broad range of subjects so Teach First seemed a natural fit. I thought the programme was well-designed to help you develop as a teacher. It was probably the best decision I have ever made.

Why did you choose Teach First?

I really bought into the notion of training to achieve. I wanted to do a job where I could make a difference and the challenge of working at an inner-city school appealed. The programme also looked as though it put a lot of weight on training and development. I had a fantastic mentor, and although it's a two-year programme the support doesn't have to end there. I'm now on the ambassadors' board; I still enjoy being involved.

Did you enjoy teaching?

I loved it. I enjoyed being in the classroom, I enjoyed the creativity and I enjoyed working with young people. I find them inspiring and I enjoyed being challenged by them every day. Obviously there were low days when I lacked confidence, but I'm glad I stayed in the same school for three years. My third year was when I started to grow in confidence and feel part of the school.

Why did you leave teaching?

I came up with the idea of Learn2Lingo towards the end of my third year of teaching. It was difficult to leave the classroom but I wanted to take up a new challenge. My brother and I had a friend who was taking Spanish lessons. She had paid for a 10-week course but kept missing lessons because she was held up at work. We thought it would make sense to have lessons on the internet, then you wouldn't have to trek across town and you wouldn't have to do it when you were tired after work. Even though I was a science teacher, languages seemed a good place to start because that is where the idea came from.

What is Learn2Lingo?

It makes use of video-conferencing, which is a great tool for learning. You can access a teacher anywhere in the world, in any language, and bring them into your home. If you are in a large city such as London, you might have access to lots of language teachers, but if not you probably don't have that luxury. Although we're based in the UK, it is a virtual home so we have teachers in many countries teaching in many different languages. People can use it to learn a language in their spare time, or schools can use it to help pupils practise conversation.

How did you set it up?

The website is live two-way streaming. It took a long time to build and it was hard at the beginning. I was on my own for a long time and I pretty much did everything. I had been used to being in a classroom and having close relationships with teachers, but suddenly I was alone and I found that difficult. We got some funding last year from the British Business Angels Association. I hadn't imagined it would take two years to set up, but we are starting to get a team together, which is exciting. My role is managing that team. I have learnt a lot about business.

Was it a bit of a leap in the dark?

Yes, but that was part of the excitement. It was a risk, but I believed in the concept and that it could work. That is what drove me on when it was just me and a laptop. I knew I would soon be working with teachers and I had to keep that in mind, which is tough over a long time.

What skills have you brought over from teaching?

With teaching you use so many skills that are essential to business. You have to manage yourself, you have to manage a team. There's problem-solving in a team, building relationships with other people, having objectives and meeting them. Teaching is all about strategy and taking a class through a strategy, and it is the same with business.

Would you ever return to teaching?

I want to stay in education. A perfect job would fuse the two: business and education. I want to go back into the classroom as there are many skills I could bring with me.

What will you do next?

I'm having dreams about what might happen now. We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do, but it is starting to become successful and there are lots of different avenues. Learning is just one aspect of where it could go, although the fact you can have a lesson in your home with someone across the world is great.

What would you do if you were Schools Secretary for a day?

Schools should have a lot more flexibility to do what they think is best. It's very important they get good results, but every lesson doesn't have to be geared towards results. Pupils should enjoy learning throughout their life and school shouldn't just be a means to get good grades.


2007: Managing director, Learn2Lingo

2006-2007: Head of key stage 4 science at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language College

2004-2005: Science teacher at Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language College, Islington, north London

2001-2004: BSc in natural sciences at Birmingham University.

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