Teach First

If you can manage a class of tired teenagers then there’s not much in the business world that will faze you

Soo Mi Do joined Teach First in 2009 to teach maths in London. She now works at PwC where she is continuing to help give young people from disadvantaged communities the skills and opportunities they need to progress in their education and careers.

I arrived in the UK aged 13 not speaking English and, while I wasn’t at an educational disadvantage myself, it certainly gave me an insight into how important education is for social mobility, and how out of reach it is for some people.
Teach First was an opportunity to have an impact, where you mattered and where what you did mattered on a daily basis.  For me, it wasn't just about going into the classroom and tackling educational disadvantage for that time.  It was about having a vision and meeting people who shared the same vision, whether that was within or beyond the classroom after the two years.
As a teacher you impact the lives of your students in so many ways. Some of that’s to do with teaching the subject and getting them to engage – and that can mean one student reaching an A grade or another reaching a C. I was delighted to have my Year 8 top class attempting GCSE questions and passing at C or above, but it can also be about behaviour and attitude. I put a lot of emphasis on things like punctuality and politeness. We wouldn’t start a lesson until everyone was there, so it was pleasing to hear that students were running to make it to my lesson on time. 
One of the biggest impacts you can have is to expect more and to show that you believe in your students. My Year 8 class told me they expected me to be gone by Christmas. They saw themselves as low performing, low-potential, badly behaved kids in a rubbish school – why would anyone stay? But each week you come back and keep asking for more from them and you chip away at that perception. I was contacted by some of my former students three years after I taught them and invited to attend their prom night. They felt I had influenced their school careers and wanted me to be there. That’s a special feeling that you won’t get anywhere else.
Since joining PwC I’ve helped to launch an initiative called PwC Classrooms, which is helping 60 students across 10 schools, selected by their socio-economic profile, to enhance their work readiness and gain access to professional opportunities. We have about 200 volunteers – some Teach First ambassadors, others not – and we provide mentoring and coaching over two years, including eight full days at our offices, where students learn some of the softer business skills, such as team-working and professional behaviour. We want to encourage and inspire them to work in professional services, but also to offer skills and training they might not receive in school.
Teach First gave me a lot of the skills and experiences that I draw on during my daily work, particularly around being level-headed and calm under pressure. If you can manage a class of tired teenagers then there’s not much in the business world that will faze you. I think as a teacher you learn to be in tune with your audience, to listen properly and build trust, and to handle pressure and be reflective. All of these qualities are part of what I do now.
I’m now a Chartered Accountant at PwC, working in external audit and rick assurance. I came across PwC during my first summer on the Leadership Development Programme and applied to do my Summer Project there. I liked it and was fortunate enough to be offered a full-time place off the back of the internship. I had decided that after two years I would be ready for something new again. That’s one of the great reasons for joining Teach First – it leads to so many other opportunities, and you can always return to teaching in the future.
Hear more from Soo Mi