Why Volunteer? (To Gain Experience Working with Kids in Schools Before You Apply for Teacher Education Programs, Obviously!)

Let’s not pretend that everyone has altruistic motivations for volunteering.

I mean, of course we all want to do good things and help communities and help children build literacy skills (right?), but everyone’s time is precious. The kind folks at the Writers’ Exchange understand this and are flexible in helping to create a schedule that works for volunteers, especially the kind of volunteer that is going to university. I am very grateful for this.

When I walked through the doors of the Writers’ Exchange, I had no idea what was in store for me. All I knew was that I wanted to be a teacher and needed a jumping off point. What I received was so much more than an entrance into the world of teaching.

Within moments of my first day in the classroom for my first in-school project with the Writers’ Exchange, I started to develop strategies in classroom management, intervention, learning modifications and adaptations that are still very much a part of my teaching practice. A lot of my skills were developed on the fly, while under the guidance of the classroom teachers and WE staff. I knew that no matter the situation, the WE staff were there to encourage my own personal development, while still maintaining a level of independent learning. These would turn out to be very important skills in my future coursework in the SFU Professional Development Program (the PDP is SFU’s teaching program).

The PDP has not been easy. The more preparation you can bring to the table, the more manageable it becomes. I was with WE for four years and during that time, whether I realized this or not, the experience volunteering at WE has lessened the anxiety a new teacher feels when entering the world of the practicum and the module.

At the start of the PDP, the new student is thrown in with a bunch of strangers and asked to commit, learn and take chances together. They are expected to put all differences aside and work together to help build a community of educators that translates into a passion for real-life community building within the classroom. My time in various classrooms and settings with WE helped me to flourish in this area. Volunteering at WE helped to develop coherent interpersonal skills and to develop relationships with a diverse group of adults and children. I cannot imagine a better place for integration into the world of inclusivity. This inclusivity is at its core, what teaching is all about. I realize this is getting a bit wordy, but I’m an English teacher (sorry about any grammatical errors!).

For my short practicum, I used leadership and compassion to help guide personal learning in the English classroom. I used the lessons I learned from the Writers’ Exchange and directly applied them to my own practice. I do not know what my long practicum will look like, but I will soon find out. What I do know is that I am much better off by having my experiences at WE under my belt. The staff and the organization that is the Writers’ Exchange are special. They do important work within a diverse set of needs and skills. The people are humble, kind and funny. My only regret is that I couldn’t give them more of my time.

If you have any interest in becoming a teacher, VOLUNTEER!

If the above reasons aren’t enough to convince you to spend some time with WE, they write really good reference letters and they usually have snacks.

By Ryan Hoben