What I Learned About Teaching at the Wellington Education Festival

Last weekend I attended the Sunday Times Education Festival at Wellington. It was brilliant. Sunshine, nice grounds, hundreds of people chatting about edu-nerdy things. It’s basically my nirvana.
Busy enjoying myself I didn’t take many notes or feel particularly moved to write a blog about it all. HOWEVER, one event stayed with me all week for what it encapsulated about the true spirit of teaching. So I thought I’d share that part.
At lunch-time on Saturday I was lucky enough to be in the ‘street’ – a part of the festival including street-y food vendors and a soundstage. In total, about twenty people were milling around, with the majority of attendees still tucked away watching talks.
Out of apparently nowhere I hear two booming voices: “HELLO!”
It was two men stood on the stage. They were in England shirts. The night before, England had crashed out of the cup.
“We’ve come all the way from York. We left at MIDNIGHT, we slept in our car at 4am, we’re about to sing you a song about ENGLAND WINNING THE WORLD CUP even though THEY WENT OUT LAST NIGHT. But it doesn’t matter! We’re going to sing like that didn’t happen”
I was fairly suspicious and about to leave when they began. And they delivered one of the most incredible performances I have ever seen – especially given that it was delivered to twenty-people who were mostly interested in getting a hotdog a-sap. That the song was crushingly called “Bring it Home” didn’t matter; their enthusiasm was infectious.  I mean, England were already out. The performers had driven for about twelve hours AND YET – they performed as if in front of a 100,000-strong crowd. It was quite something. Not only did I watch it all, I even found myself whooping for an encore.
Among the small crowd I noticed blogging-headteacher John Tomsett, so I went to ask if he knew the group, given that John is also from York. He did. In fact, they  were two of his teachers and they had released the single for charity. He explained how the reason they drove overnight was because their Friday evening had been spent chaperoning the sixth form leavers’ party. Also, he said, they were now legging it back to York to perform in another gig at 6pm.

Look at that energy!
Look at that energy!

As the two ran (literally) to their car all I could think was: this is what great teachers do. By which I don’t mean “be in a band” but instead that they make people believe in outcomes even when they feel impossible. Great teachers put in the necessary planning, they spend the hours to get to the point where they can deliver something (in this example, driving: for most teachers, it’s planning), and then they deliver it with all their might even if only a few despondent individuals are present. Great teachers yank people’s brains with something so interesting or baffling or important that they find themselves wanting to know more. It’s what those guys did on the stage, and it was one of the best examples of teaching I saw in the whole weekend – among a stiff competition.
After lunch I watched a bit of David Starkey’s session. He knows his  Magna Carta. But, in teaching terms, he didn’t hold a candle to those boys.

Why People Are Wrong about TeachFirst's Name

One of the most common assumptions about TeachFirst is that its name is premised on the idea that participants “Teach First, Then Do Something Later”. It’s an annoying assumption though, because it’s not true.
Brett Wigdortz, CEO of TeachFirst, explained how the organisation got its name during the Sunday Times Education Festival this weekend.
Back when TF was but a twinkle in Brett’s eye he received much support from LondonFirst – an organisation, that still exists, and aims to ‘make London the best city in the world in which to do business’. Given Brett’s idea was to make London a great city in which to teach (this was 2002, and London faced mass teacher shortages), he thought it a good idea to call the programme TeachLondonFirst. As time wore on, the team realised TeachLondonFirst might one day want to expand into other areas and so they dropped the ‘London’ part. Thus was born TeachFirst.
The name is therefore not a hint to the programme as a stepping stone; it is not a claim that their teachers are the ‘first best’; quite simply it was pragmatically named after an organisation that never once had to deal with people saying “LondonFirst? Do you mean LIVE IN LONDON FIRST THEN MOVE SOMEWHERE ELSE? HUR HUR HURRR….”
Asked at Edu Festival whether he wished he’d picked another name, Brett admitted that it would probably be better if the organisation wasn’t called TeachFirst. But he also pointed out that the brand has strong recognition and it would be too difficult to change it now. Hence, we are where we are with the name – but that’s no reason for people to keep making the same (incorrect) assumption.