Volunteer TeachingVolunteering is a meaningful and fulfilling way for individuals to share their time and talents with an organization, group of people or even an individual. The number and variety of volunteer opportunities has grown significantly as more and more nonprofit organizations across the globe have recognized the importance of engaging people from all walks of life in their mission. In the U.S. alone, approximately 62.8 million people volunteered their time between September 2009 and September 2010 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor).
Volunteering, however, is not just limited to those in the U.S. It is carried about by people all over the world in local classrooms to city food banks to fine art galleries. Whether people choose to stay in their local community or trot across the globe to a remote village in a foreign country, one of the most popular ways people are volunteering their time is as a volunteer teacher. In my experience, most organizations that I have found that offer the opportunity to volunteer teach do no require a teaching degree or even teaching experience. While both of these are of course helpful to both the teacher and his/her students, they are not required for those who wish to give freely of their time and talents. Whether you are a recent graduate looking to take a gap year or a mid-career professional looking for a meaningful way to spend a well-earned vacation, volunteer teaching provides people of all ages and walks of life to get a glimpse into the education system of another place and share their own experiences, talents and skills with a new group of students.
As with any venture in life, volunteer teaching has a number of benefits and things to consider for both the volunteer and the organization hosting the volunteer. Some of the benefits for organizations that open themselves up to welcoming volunteer teachers, include, but are not limited to:
• Reaching more people through expanded programs, services and manpower: Nonprofits often lack the funding to support a large staff. By taking on volunteers, nonprofits expand their footprint and reach in the communities they serve. With more volunteer teachers, more classes can be held and consequently, more students and learners can be reached and positively affected by the organization’s programs.
• Freeing up primary teachers to focus on bigger picture: With an extra set of hands, feet and eyes in the classroom, primary or main teachers are freed up a bit to focus on other tasks that take a lot of time but maybe haven’t been given the proper amount of attention due simply to lack of available time, such as finishing course or lesson planning, collecting aids or materials for special lessons, organizing a field trip, etc.
• Having access to a rich and diverse pool of talent, skills, and experience: Volunteer teachers can come from all over the world and all walks of life. They can be male. They can be female. They can be young. They can be old. They can be married. They can be single. They can be working professionals. They can be retirees. Volunteer teachers bring a breadth of talent and expertise to the classroom that the organizations and students otherwise may not have access to.
In addition to the advantages organizations receive when taking on volunteer teachers, the volunteers themselves also receive many benefits including, but not limited to:
• Taking advantage of a great opportunity to give back to communities, either locally or in another country, and feel like they are truly making a difference in the life/lives of others.
• It provides volunteers with a window into another community, another culture, another group’s unique struggles and triumphs.
• It allows those without much work experience to gain some “real world” experience working as a member of a team and an established organization. In addition, it allows prospective teachers to get an idea of the classroom environment and all the u.s.and downs in an average day/week/month/term. It provides seasoned teachers to share their love and knowledge of teaching with more students and even teachers in a new environment. Along the same line, it allows volunteers to learn potentially new approaches to teachers and education.
• Volunteers get to meet new people from all walks of life who share a common interest in advancing education throughout the world.
• It provides volunteers with intellectual, even sometimes spiritual growth.
• Teaching in another place, whether it be an inner-city public school classroom or an outside “classroom” in an african
village opens volunteers eyes up not just to what various forms education takes in other countries but may also help them appreciate what they do have in their home countries/home bases. In addition, it could help volunteer teachers get new and fresh ideas on how to plan and deliver lessons.
While there are many advantages for both organizations and the volunteers themselves, there are also some things that both should be aware of when volunteer teaching. For the individual, some potential difficulties include: being treated as less-valued member of the organization or within the class because they are the “volunteer” and not the “staff.” In addition, if a volunteer is working alongside a permanent teacher, there is the potential for differences in personality and teaching styles, which really could be a problem with how to design and deliver lessons. Because volunteering is a temporary position, the volunteer may not feel like they fully belong or are a part of the organization or that their efforts may not be fully recognized or appreciated. Further, volunteer teaching opportunities are generally short-term in nature. Because of a truncated timeline, volunteers may not be able to get to all the things they planned or may not be able to see the end or completion projects or initiatives they have started. Finally, another potential issue for volunteers is that their role may not be totally clear. Are they to actively teach? Are they to plan every lesson? Are they to provide the supplies? Are they to create tests? What are the parameters of their responsibilities?
Some potential areas of concern or at least consideration for organizations taking on and sending out volunteer teachers include finding and securing qualified, capable volunteers who are ready to commit a volunteer placement and who will not run out or cut their term short, which most severely affects the students. Another consideration for organizations is the costs
associated with adding and training volunteer teachers. Lastly, some other considerations are the extra time (read: money) associated with training and tending to volunteers as well as making sure that permanent staff members do not feel threatened by or frustrated with the presence and constant change of volunteers.
There are numerous ways and organizations that will help people interested in volunteer teaching. If individuals are looking for a volunteer teaching placement locally, a good place to start is networking with friends, contacting churches, schools
or community groups, as well as local non-profit organizations. For those looking to secure volunteer teaching placements abroad, some great places to start include: The Global Volunteer Network, Cross-Cultural Solutions, and World Teach.