Michael Slavinsky joined the Teach First programme in 2008 as a modern foreign languages Oxford graduate. After three years teaching, Michael spent seven years at the education charity, The Brilliant Club, as they grew from working with 18 pupils to over 10,000. But he missed the impact he could make as a modern foreign language teacher, so now he’s back on the frontline, teaching French and English. We spoke to Michael about why he decided to reconnect with teaching, and if it’s everything he hoped it would be.
What motivated you to head back to the classroom after a seven-year break?
I think that the most exciting things in education are happening within schools and school networks. There are schools across the country that are close to breaking the link between child poverty and educational attainment, and I wanted to be part of that. I missed the daily interaction with children of course. I also missed teaching languages which I think are in a bit of a crisis so, rather than worrying about it from the sidelines, I wanted to do something about it.
There are schools across the country that are close to breaking the link between child poverty and educational attainment, and I wanted to be part of that.”
Were there any transferable skills you developed in your role at the Brilliant Club that you now use in the classroom?
I still worked in education – at an education charity – so I feel my professional network from that role is the most powerful thing that I can apply to my new school context. I also built up my confidence in managing projects which has led to me taking on responsibility for our careers and enrichment curriculum at my new school. I can also speak with more credibility about life after school when my students talk to me about careers.
Did you have any concerns about coming back to the classroom?
The main concerns were about finding a school where I felt I could use my experience outside the classroom in a way to help students and support school improvement. I found that the professional network that I had built up through Teach First actually helped me find the right job very easily - staying in touch or getting back in touch with former Teach First colleagues and fellow participants was easy to do, and I made the decision quickly as a result.
What did you miss most about teaching?
The interactions with the students which are rewarding and challenging. Teenagers feel life so keenly – it’s a privilege to guide them along the way and discuss their concerns and feelings with them when they want to share. Personally, I feel like I am being very productive and get a lot done. The constant short deadlines each day keep me accountable and I enjoy the structure of the day. I really enjoy teaching French again and spending time thinking about my subject. I’ve also been given some KS3 English lessons to teach so enjoying that challenge.
Teenagers feel life so keenly – it’s a privilege to guide them along the way and discuss their concerns and feelings with them when they want to share.
Since being back in the classroom, do you feel you’ve been able to make a difference to your pupils?
This term a small number of students were struggling with their handwriting in my Year 7 class, so I set up a Handwriting Club where four of them were able to come and practice improving their writing. It has led me to read more about some specific learning difficulties. Another example was recently when I had an impromptu one-to-one with a Sixth Form student who has a lot going on at home and was able to help her organise her time so she felt less stressed. And just last week I took a group of students to their first ever visit to a university and discussed their life aspirations and how they could achieve them. What a great way to spend my working life!
Last week I took a group of students to their first ever visit to a university and discussed their life aspirations and how they could achieve them. What a great way to spend my working life!
What piece of advice would you share with someone who’s thinking of returning to teaching?
I would look for a school that recognises your relevant wider experience but also wants to support you to become a better classroom teacher. In my school, teachers are observed multiple times a week in a non-judgmental, supportive way. We have an open-door policy which means that I can pop in and observe my colleagues whenever I want, and then try out what I’ve seen in my own lessons. We use an incremental coaching tool developed by Josh Goodrich to work on granular levels of our practice and I feel my teaching habits are better than they have ever been after only one term back in the classroom. This tool has been transformational.
What has been your most rewarding or memorable moment so far?
My GCSE French group have got in the habit of learning extended passages of text off by heart and are starting to manipulate them and generate their own creative writing. Their motivation improves as they experience success. We also hosted a Careers Fair one evening for our students which was a great way of drawing in lots of people to come and meet our students.
If you have QTS status as a secondary teacher and are interested in returning to the classroom, our pilot Reconnect Programme can help. We’ll help you find the right role, provide training to get you back up to speed, and support you every step of the way. Find out more.