CBS alum Jesper Bergmann looks back on his time in the Danish public school he went to. He liked going to school and remembers it as a nice and easy period in his life. But he also remembers that not every child in his class had an easy time with learning how to read and write or do math.
This is one of the reasons why he, along with fellow graduates from CBS, co-founded Teach First Danmark in 2013.
In short, Teach First Danmark is a non-profit organization that matches graduates from higher education institutions in Denmark with public schools with a high number of vulnerable children.
The two-year program is comprised of a full-time position as a teacher in a Danish primary school combined with a fully certified teacher training program, a ‘meritlæreruddannelse’, which graduates complete in their spare time in order to obtain a teacher’s degree.
During the course of the program, graduates work together with a professional teacher’s coach and exchange ideas with other graduates at workshops that support their development as teachers and leaders.
“One out of six students leaves the public school system without the ability to read, write or do math well enough to complete additional education. This is one of the biggest problems in Denmark, and one of the main reasons is the socio-economic background of the families. It’s partly a question of luck, and we don’t think it’s fair that luck is a determining factor for whether you get an education or not,” he says.
Since 2015, Teach First Danmark has received more than 2,000 applications from recent university graduates who want to be part of the program, and now they’ve just teamed up with CBS as a Growth Partner to spread the word about Teach First Danmark as an alternative career option.
“Teach First Danmark fits in with what we want from this partnership: to expand the palette of career options for students. In this case, making a difference to socially and scholarly vulnerable public school pupils and at the same time build up professional and leadership competencies,” says Troels Jørgensen, Special Consultant, who is responsible for Growth Partnerships at CBS and continues:
“We’re thrilled that CBS can be a small part of making a huge difference to young people through our partnership with Teach First Danmark. CBS’ goal is to have even more focus on diversity in our partnerships and Teach First Danmark is a good example of that.”
Awarded ‘Teacher of the Year’
At Bavnehøj Skole in Sydhavnen, 9.Z’s class teacher is Vibeke Greby Schmidt. She holds a BSc in International Business from CBS and an MSc in Risk Management and Financial Engineering from Imperial College Business School, and she’s been a public school teacher for two and a half years.
When she graduated from Imperial College Business School in 2016, the consulting company Bain offered her a full-time position, but Vibeke Greby Schmidt wanted to do something else. She wanted to change the world for the better.
The feeling when a child that used to hate school suddenly enjoys learning is unbelievableVibeke Greby Schmidt
“I grew up in Hellerup, went to gymnasium in Gentofte, and my network mainly consists of people with a university background. So when Bain offered me a contract, I thought I’d be a better consultant if I became a teacher first,” she says, when I meet her in 9.Z’s classroom.
Vibeke Greby Schmidt signed up to the Teach First Danmark graduate program in the summer of 2016, and was hired as a full-time teacher at Bavnehøj Skole in August 2016 to teach math, French, English and electives in presentation techniques and entrepreneurship. After only two months, she became the class teacher of 9.Z.
“It’s hard work and a lot of responsibility, for sure. I’m not only a teacher, I’m also a coach and friend to the students. It is so much fun, and the feeling when a child that used to hate school suddenly enjoys learning is unbelievable,” she says.
Vibeke Greby Schmidt explains that Bavnehøj Skole has a lot of children from families with social-economic issues. This is sometimes reflected in the standard of math, reading and writing skills among pupils at the school.
“I try to call the pupils’ parents just to praise even the smallest thing to maintain their child’s motivation for going to school and doing well. Particularly in times when there’s not that much to praise,” she says and explains that motivating pupils is one of the greatest tasks. And it seems to pay off.
“I thought this job would be more about my professionalism, but it’s about believing in the young adults and showing them that you really want to be their teacher and you have ambitions on their behalf. One of my pupils increased his grade point average by 350 percent, and some of my students actually nominated me for Politiken’s ‘Teacher of the Year’ award, not because I’m good at math, but because I believe in all students, also the ones that have given up,” she says.
Vibeke Greby Schmidt not only got nominated for Politiken’s ‘Teacher of the Year’ award in 2018, she actually won one of the awards, Særprisen.
The key is drive and motivation
Jesper Bergmann got inspired to start up a Danish branch of Teach First when he did an exchange in North Carolina as part of his BSc in International Business at CBS back in 2007.
“My American classmates, who were about to finish college, talked about Teach First as something very prestigious. Only the best graduates were admitted to the program, and I thought it sounded super cool to make it attractive to teach people in need and really seeing and recognizing teaching as leadership,” he says and explains that the program exists in 48 countries including Sweden, Afghanistan and England where it’s extremely popular.
However, it wasn’t until 2013 that Jesper Bergmann together with his co-founders established Teach First Danmark, and in 2015 they admitted the first graduates to the program.
The program welcomes people with everything from a BSc to a PhD. You have to send a motivational letter, a CV and a transcript of your grades to be considered. Based on this, some are invited to do different admission tests before a decision is made on who’s admitted to the program.
“You don’t have to know what children in the fourth grade need to be taught, we’ll help you with that. But you need drive. You need to be good at building relationships. You need to have analytical skills and be good at communicating. And, of course, you need to be able to motivate others,” says Jesper Bergmann.
Do you know how challenging it is to teach math to students in second grade?Jeppe Heilmann Revsbæk
Teach First Danmark’s graduates apply for the same jobs as other teachers, so aren’t they taking jobs from other teachers who are more experienced?
“As it is today, we have a shortage of teachers, especially at schools with more vulnerable children and we focus on math and other subjects that are needed the most, so we can help the school and children in the best possible ways,” says Jesper Bergmann.
Making schooltime meaningful
The day that Jeppe Heilmann Revsbæk had his last exam in the BSc in International Business and Politics, was also his first day on the Teach First’s program. That was in the summer of 2017, and since then he’s been teaching students in math, German, history and social sciences at Skelgårdsskolen.
“You learn to be extremely flexible. When I within two minutes switch between teaching math in the second grade, and German in the seventh grade, I have to communicate in a completely different way. Do you know how challenging it is to teach math to students in second grade?” says Jeppe Heilmann Revsbæk on the phone, while he’s on the way to a meeting with other Teach First graduates.
When Jeppe Heilmann Revsbæk did his exchange, he was in doubt whether he wanted to continue down the business route. He knew he wanted to work with people, so the Teach First Danmark graduate program looked like the perfect opportunity.
“Teach First Danmark is an ambitious program that gives you leadership skills. I thought that the idea of helping students to break the negative social cycle sounded interesting and a good way of making a difference,” he says.
Apart from improving his German, Jeppe Heilmann Revsbæk has learned a lot about what motivates students to even go to school. A factor that’s crucial for students if they want to move on in the educational system.
“The kids in second grade are happy to go to school – but only if you as a teacher makes it an interesting and safe place for them to be. Especially as some kids get older and progress through school, some don’t get the point of going to school at all, even though they have to, and if I can change that, and make learning meaningful to them, I think, I have succeeded,” he says.
Teach First Danmark shouldn’t be necessary in the future
With the new Growth Partnership, Jesper Bergmann hopes that even more CBS graduates apply for the Teach First program, just like Vibeke Greby Schmidt and Jeppe Heilmann Revsbæk. Not only to get the skills required as a teacher, but also to make a difference.
My biggest wish is that we close down Teach First Danmark at some point
“Think about it. There’s always at least one teacher you remember because they meant something special to you. You can be that teacher, and I think that in itself has value,” he says.
For the moment, Teach First Danmark covers the Copenhagen Metropolitan Area, Kalundborg and Aalborg. But Jesper Bergmann hopes that Teach First Danmark will become unnecessary in the future.
“My biggest wish is that we close down Teach First Danmark at some point. That would mean that all children in Denmark have equal opportunities to fulfill their potential, and that we as an organization have contributed to solving the problem of inequity in education in Denmark,” he says.