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LIFE LESSONS: Claudenia Williams, 23, is one of the familiar faces of BBC Three’s new show Tough Young Teachers

FOR ONE of Britain’s top black graduates, giving up the dream of a career in the City for the challenging task of inspiring young people through science was a no-brainer.

While many of her peers may have shied away from the daunting prospect, 23-year-old Claudenia Williams, of west London, was determined to be more hands-on in motivating the next generation.

And so the former head girl volunteered to be filmed for a year as part of BBC Three’s fly-on-the-wall Tough Young Teachers, alongside five others, as they took their first foray into teaching.

Williams, who studied psychology at the Russell Group’s University of Birmingham, is enrolled in a programme for outstanding graduates who want to try teaching, run by the charity Teach First. It fits into successive government plans to help raise standards in schools by attracting top talent to the profession.

In less than a year, Williams – listed in Powerful Media’s Future Leaders magazine – was promoted to head of Key Stage 3 science at Crown Woods College, in Eltham, southeast London.

She said: “At university, I was head of Birmingham’s Ethnic Minority Association and I wanted to put on a careers conference. My [twin] brother who was ACS [African Caribbean Society] president told me about Teach First. I contacted them and fell in love with their mission. I was already working with young people on a programme called Stepladder and it showed me this is what I wanted to do.”


Breaking the news to her parents was “hard”, she admitted, having done internships in the City almost every year since the age of 17.

Williams explained: “My parents had their heart set on that. My dad expressed on film that he couldn’t see why I was becoming a teacher as he thought children [in Britain] can be ungrateful but he now understands. My school was not dissimilar to the one I am teaching in now. My teachers put me in a position where I had choices, and I want to do that for my students. You have to be in it to win it, so to speak.”

Paying tribute to her parents, Williams added: “My dad [who came here from Jamaica] has always been a hard worker. I have seen both my parents work really hard to provide for us and to show where hard works get you. They have supported us through everything we have chosen to do. They raised us to be independent individuals and to not be afraid to stand out from the crowd.”

It was even her mum who played a “huge role” in encouraging the talented young graduate to do the show. “She said if you do this, people will be able to see your journey. You will reach more people, and it has been true,” Williams continued.

“I have had a lot of positive feedback and people messaging to say they want to become teachers of work with young people. It has had its ups and downs, but it’s important that people see that. I think especially for people who look like me, the underlying message is: if she can do it, so can I.”


Despite the often bumpy road – including the situation with pupil Alfie whom she pulled up for drawing a rude cartoon in one of her lessons – and struggle to strike a balance between disciplinarian and detachment, Williams says she is now more relaxed and enjoying herself as she builds relationships with “the kids.”

She added: “I did not expect to feel as emotionally attached to my job as I do. Last year, a good day or a bad day would really affect me. It dictated when I went to bed, when I ate, if I ate it all. Teaching is not a nine to five job – it really is a vocation. It creeps into your evenings and holidays. You become a teacher, you can’t pick it up and put it down.”

Williams has now started an extra-curricular science club to entice pupils to engage with the subject that still faces challenges in attracting girls and pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, despite offering great career potential. She also hopes that as a black and female science teacher, by just being visible, she can help break the mould.

By enrolling in the club young people are charged with starting their own science projects which will be judged by experts and the head teacher towards the end of the year.

“I don’t want to put a label on it, I just want to make science more attractive to everyone. If pupils can learn to get excited about science now and keep coming back to do more, that love will stay there until they’re 18,” added Williams.

“I think it’s good for all my children to see a black science teacher, or people of all races in different positions, because they might not have any other point of reference. Whether or not they can achieve the same thing should not even be a question.

“Race should not be seen as a hindrance. Before anything though, you have to be a good teacher. That plays the biggest role.”

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