'Teach First made me a better engineer'

Three engineers tell us about their time on the Training Programme, and the chance it’s given them to make a difference to the lives of disadvantaged children.

Physics graduate John McClean taught science on our Training Programme before spending four years in aerospace engineering at Rolls-Royce. Now completing his PhD and working on two planetary science missions, John continues to support Teach First as a mentor on our Futures Programme:

“As any Teach First trainee will tell you, making progress with classes - particularly the challenging ones - is one of the most rewarding parts of the job. I'm most proud of teaching two Year 10 classes who were initially a tough bunch but ended up self-motivated, eventually running parts of the lesson themselves. My colleagues in the science department, a supportive school, mentors and tutors and the camaraderie in the Teach First cohort all added up.

“After the programme I worked at Rolls-Royce in various aerospace engineering roles in the UK, Canada and Singapore. One of the highlights was working on the development of the company's latest jet engine, the Trent XWB, and seeing it come to life and fly for the first time. My experience on the Training Programme made me a better engineer: You can apply almost every aspect of lesson planning to presentation and meeting planning. And you have a wide range of experience to draw upon to get the best out of your working relationships.

“I'm now at Imperial College working on two planetary science missions called InSight and Mars 2020 while completing a postgraduate degree. Although I'm no longer teaching, I mentor students in Teach First schools who are applying to university for the first time.

“If you choose to leave the classroom after finishing the Training Programme, interviewers will ask you about Teach First and it allows you to give highly specific examples of times when you have had a personal impact. And you’ll call upon many of the skills developed as a teacher at unexpected times during your career.Aeronautical engineering gives you technical skills but this programme gives you the ability to work with people."

teacher with pupils

'The Training Programme is a great opportunity for a STEM graduate'

Ned Martorell studied aeronautical engineering before teaching science on our Training Programme. He met his current employer, Thales, while on our programme and now works for them as a research engineer:

“I was first attracted to the Teach First mission. It really resonated with me – the idea of making a difference from the first day in the classroom and giving kids the same opportunities I had.

“The Training Programme is a great opportunity for a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) graduate. From my personal experience, it’s a good complement to the technical skills you learn at university, which you may be more naturally good at. Four years of aeronautical engineering gives you technical skills but the Training Programme is an unparalleled way of developing the ability to work with people.

“Communications-wise the programme is unequalled. Having taught for two years, one thing you get good at in teaching is how to get concepts across in an engaging way. I think being able to communicate well is going to have a big impact on my career. It also taught me the value of reflecting. During the programme you keep a journal, have meetings with your mentor and reflect on what went well. It’s stuck with me and I don’t think it will go away. If I’m not enjoying what I’m doing, or if I have a problem, I’m quick to act on it. I’m good at identifying gaps in my knowledge and where I can improve.

“I did a Summer Project with Thales during the programme, and it directly led to a job offer. I’m now a research engineer at Thales and at the moment I’m writing software for virtual reality. Soon I’m going to move into a systems-engineer role and the presenting and communication skills I developed on the Training Programme will be very, very useful. The role is about not only asking the customer what they want – the art is to ask the customer why they want that, to really understand it.

“It would be great to get more engineers into the classroom. That ‘tinkering’ mindset, of taking things apart and building them again, opens a lot of doors for pupils and can make them interact with the world in a different way."

Teach First pupils at a STEM fair
Reaz Baksh is a current participant on our Training Programme, teaching maths. The mechanical engineering graduate says right now there’s nowhere he’d rather be:

“Admittedly I hadn’t previously considered a career in teaching, but I realised towards the end of uni there was a serious lack of jobs in engineering I actually wanted.

“I applied to Teach First’s Insight Programme because I watched a show on BBC Three called Tough Young Teachers [which featured Teach First participants], and it looked like a challenge I wanted to take on. Doing the Insight internship meant I could have a taste of what teaching is actually like, which was invaluable, and I applied for the Teach First scheme off the back of it.

“Studying engineering, I learned about so many different things, especially how maths is applied in the real world. So, when I’m teaching maths, I can think of loads of examples of how it’s relevant to life, which combats students constantly asking, ‘What’s the point?’

“I just don’t think engineering graduates consider going into teaching. For me, though, I wouldn’t be in any other job. When I hear about my friends working at places like BP, Shell, or in banking, I never think, ‘I wish I could be doing that now.’

“I think the main difference with teaching is that you really enjoy going to work every day – it’s not your typical ‘turn up to the office, do your 9-5 and then forget about it’ kind of job. You’re having a huge impact on so many people, passing on everything you’ve learned over your years in education. I think that’s pretty amazing.”

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