Teach First ambassador Hanif Islam
Hanif Islam
Ambassador cohort

Now that I'm a teacher, I can say I've changed people's lives

When Hanif took a year off his accountancy job to teach English in South Korea, he discovered a love for the classroom. We spoke to him about his dramatic career change with Teach First.

[Disclaimer: This interview was conducted before lockdown] 


I used to have this thought when I was an accountant: when I'm on my deathbed, and I look back at my career, could I say I’ve done something fulfilling? Now that I’m a teacher, I can say I've changed people's lives.

I didn’t come from a privileged background. I grew up in east London with my mum and two older brothers. What resonated with me about Teach First was remembering the great teachers I had, how much I respected them, and how much they helped me get to where I am today. Now I'm teaching people I can relate to, and they can relate to me. 

I joined Teach First because it was a quicker route to the classroom. I knew it was going to be hard, but I also knew it was going to be the one where I learned faster. And I wanted to give something back. All teachers do that of course, but I'm proud to be helping the community my school serves. I feel like I'm really doing something with my life.

For the love of teaching 

I hadn't really considered teaching as a career until I decided to take a year off my job as a chartered accountant. I went to South Korea to teach English (which, for clarification, was before I joined the Teach First Training Programme). I wasn't working with disadvantaged children in this instance, but I enjoyed the energy of working with young people.

When I was in South Korea, I kept comparing it to my accountancy job. I didn't hate accountancy at all, but teaching just felt…more. More exciting. More interesting. Teaching is just more fun.

The kids were funny. They come up with great things to say and you always end up having interesting discussions. It was soon after this that I decided to come back to the UK and join Teach First.

The beginning of a new career

Summer Institute was intense, but incredible. It was great being around other likeminded people. You get to build a really good network there. By the end of it I had booked to go to Budapest with 12 other maths cohorts to celebrate this milestone. We're still really close.

As soon as I started in school, I discovered the first term was tough. Really tough. My school was brilliant, and the support they gave - and still give - is fantastic, especially my department. But those first few months really put me through the ringer!

The stress of the job

I'm fairly good at managing my wellbeing. If I ever feel like something's bothering me, I always do something about it.

But when I think back to my first half term as a teacher, I know there was a week where my wellbeing was really not good. I wondered whether I should drop out or carry on, because I was only four weeks in at that point. I thought: “if I carry on, I have to finish the whole two years – I can’t quit before that. I need to at least complete the Training Programme”.

I'm so glad I pushed past that barrier, because now I’m really happy in my teaching career. I know this is something I want to do for many years to come.

The courage to ask for help

I had my first migraine in the first few weeks of teaching. It was from lack of sleep, a heavy workload and spending hours and hours planning and preparing my lessons. I didn’t take the time to eat. And as a new teacher, I was also struggling with behaviour management.

I told my mentor about the headaches and that it was taking me ages to plan my lessons, and she gave me some amazing advice. She told me about her experiences and gave me tips on how to manage my time better.

A lot of teachers often think, “Why am I finding it so hard? No one else is.” But everyone gets to a point where it feels like they don’t know what they’re doing. The only way to get through that is with support from those around you.

The importance of supportive colleagues

When I was an accountant, if I didn't know what I was doing, I knew who to ask. But in teaching, there’s a lot of things you can’t control. And you can’t just stop everything in the middle of a class and interrupt someone else for advice.

The stress of teaching comes in peaks and troughs. The main thing for me is I get along with my colleagues really well, and my school is very understanding. That definitely helps.

My mentor is a very experienced teacher in my maths department. She’s really calm and patient, with both students and colleagues. We used to have weekly meetings, but then it switched to every two weeks. I wanted to keep it weekly because I really enjoy speaking with her. We spoke about a lot of things, both in and out of work.

My mentor has been there to support me throughout my Teach First journey. She’s someone I can really rely on and trust. She’s definitely part of the reason I’m still a teacher.

The reality of teaching

I try to make maths relatable and bring it into the real world as much as possible. If pupils understand the real-world applications of learning maths, or see how they're getting better at it, they start to like it. Because we all like things we're good at.

A few weeks ago, the assistant head told me one of my students couldn't make one of my lessons and was devastated not to be in my class. The student has never said that to me before – I had no idea she liked maths so much. It reminded me why I do what I do.


Are you thinking about changing career and helping disadvantaged children reach their full potential? Learn to teach on our Training Programme.

Or if you’re looking for new teachers like Hanif to join your school, find out more about recruiting teachers with us.

Copy to clipboard caution chat check-off check-on close cog-off cog-on down first-page home-off home-on info last-page mail minus mobile more next pdf person play plus prev question radio-off radio-on return search trail up filter facebook google+ LinkedIn twitter YouTube Instagram Share This TF_ECEF_lock-up_full col_RBG