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.

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6 thoughts on “Why People Are Wrong about TeachFirst’s Name

  1. I fear Brett may have been *slightly* disingenuous here. There’s a range of internal documents from around the time of the inception of TF which clearly indicates that the ‘it’s for 2 years then they’ll go on to other careers (whilst supporting the educational ideals of the prog)’ thing was there from the start, and part of the business plan that was pitched to HSBC, Citibank etc. to get their support & the £0.5m Brett needed in 2001/02.
    The 2006 IPSE report is in the public domain and is explicit on this point (see page 2):
    Not that it matters, I think it is a good programme and this aspect helps widen its appeal to graduates and corporate supporters, which was particularly important in the first years of its operation. And, after all, it’s Brett’s party and he can shape the creation story anyway he likes. It’s just interesting.

    [BTW in the original business plan it was ‘Teach for London’ not TeachLondonFirst. And I’ve always been confused why some designate the programme as a single non-existent word – ‘TeachFirst’. The mystery of the missing whitespace…]

    1. TF do continually ask that people put the whitespace in but because I grew up using the website, the community forums, my email address, seeing the logo – none of which have a gap in the middle – then I simply can’t bring myself to do it. To me, I shall always identify as being a TeachFirster. (Note the capitals).

  2. This is meant as gently as I can possibly put it, Laura, but as someone who did teach first and is now doing something else (in education, I know), there is just a tiny bit of irony in you finding this assumption about Teach First annoying. I’m aware the statistics don’t look too bad overall but I also think that if one made a list of prominent blogosphere folk, and divided them into those still teaching, or not, the TFs might be a bit noticeable in the ‘not’ list. But as a ‘not’ who was trained long before Teach First started I don’t think that’s a problem, just bound to enhance the impression.

    1. I have no problem with people making the assumption that lots of people doing TF won’t stay in the profession (though the rates are actually pretty similar to PGCEs, especially once you control for age and type of school TFs go to work in). I am annoyed at the assumption about the name’s meaning. It is not what the name means. That doesn’t change regardless of what I now do.

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