Schools - Keen, green and wearing lucky socks

10th January 2014 at 00:00
TV series follows travails and triumphs of Teach First recruits

Oliver Beach is taking notes from a book called Teach Like a Champion. Before his first day in the classroom, he puts on his lucky leopard print socks.

Claudenia Williams, meanwhile, is eager to begin a job in which she can change lives. "I'm looking forward to someone saying, `Oh, Miss, I love your lesson,' " she says. "Or, `Oh, Miss, you've made my day.' "

Mr Beach and Ms Williams, one suspects, are going to be eaten alive. They are two of six new recruits to Teach First, the British scheme based on Teach For America, which gives bright young graduates six weeks of training before sending them to work in challenging schools. The recruits all agreed to be followed by cameras for a year, as part of a new BBC Three documentary series called Tough Young Teachers.

"Young people are making a big difference and are working really hard and are having a real-life impact in Britain," says Fiona Campbell, the show's executive producer. "There aren't many worlds of work where that's going on. So it was a bit of a dream for us."

The documentary shows Mr Beach and Ms Williams as they begin their jobs at Crown Woods College in south-east London. On his first day there, Mr Beach plays classical music as his students walk into their business studies lesson. The students smirk at one another. "Yeah, they hate it," Mr Beach concedes. "But what matters is that it's consistent."

One year on, he is unfazed by the fact that his new-teacher naivety will be broadcast to a national audience. "It's good to see growth," he says. "Weirdly, before I started teaching, I thought it would be a really fun idea to film myself after each week, just to see my own personal development.

"The guy I am now, from the guy I was in 2012, is massively different. You have to learn fast. You have to learn about yourself really quickly, because there's a lot at stake."

Chloe Shaw, who is shown during her second year as a Teach First trainee at the Archbishop Lanfranc School in South London, agrees. "I'm a million times more confident," she says. "I never thought I'd be able to stand in front of 16-year-old boys and assert myself."

Archbishop Lanfranc, the programme's narrator informs us, was built on a landfill site and is slowly sinking into the rubbish. This, lest there be any doubt, is a metaphor.

"It makes you realise how lucky you are to have parents who support you in your own education," Ms Shaw says. "Because a lot of kids don't have that. I really like my mum now."

Mr Beach interrupts. "Ultimately, the reason we went to school was to get good grades," he says. "And the reason these kids go to school is the same. I don't think the setting is important. The goals are the same."

In the first episode, Ms Williams delivers an ego-boostingly successful science lesson to Year 7 students (aged 11-12), followed swiftly by a disastrous Year 8 lesson, which leaves her in tears.

Mr Beach, meanwhile, calls up a student's parents to praise good work, well done. "I could never call a mother and say, `Your kid is awful,' " he tells his mentor. The mentor does not look up. "You will," he says.

But Brett Wigdortz, founder of Teach First, is unconcerned that such scenes will deter people from enrolling in the scheme.

"We've consistently been saying, `This is the most difficult graduate job you could sign up to,' " he says. "We want people who have a lot of skills around leadership and resilience, and who will stick it out. I think, when they see a challenge like this on screen, they'll want to get involved."

Mr Beach agrees. "I didn't think I'd love it this much," he says. "But I do. Now, I can't imagine doing anything else - despite my 6.15 alarm clock this morning."

The first episode of Tough Young Teachers aired on BBC Three on 9 January and is available on BBC iPlayer.

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