Volunteer Teachers: Should Volunteers Gain Teaching Qualifications Before Teaching in a Developing Country?
I am currently living in Vanuatu, where I am volunteering as a primary school teacher in a small, community-based school. While I am not a registered teacher in my home country, I do have experience in early childhood education, a Certificate in Adult Teaching and I am studying for TEFL qualifications through ITTT. I am privileged to be working alongside five local women; none of whom are qualified teachers and two of whom never finished high school.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Kerri P. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Lack of Local Professionals
Given the lack of qualifications amongst local teachers, it’s easy to suggest that any well-meaning volunteer could take on a teaching post. Many village or community-based schools view English speaking volunteers as experts in education, regardless of their skills, experience or qualifications. They do not expect or require volunteers to have teacher training and are simply grateful for new ideas and an extra pair of hands. In many cases, volunteer teachers are put into positions of authority and are charged with training local staff in the art of teaching.
So, if local schools don’t expect or require volunteer teachers to be qualified, is it necessary for would-be volunteers to undertake training or gain teaching qualifications before taking on a placement in a developing country? I believe the answer depends on the reason a person is volunteering in the first place.
If a person is motivated to volunteer solely because of the experience it offers them, then they may deem it unnecessary to gain qualifications that are not required in their host country. However, if a person is motivated to volunteer because they genuinely want to make a difference and contribute to a developing community, then it makes sense to be as prepared as possible for the role. This does not mean that every volunteer teacher needs to have a teaching degree, but I think it is important that all volunteer teachers gain some level of qualification or experience before stepping into their teaching role. This will not only make the experience easier and more enjoyable for them, but they will also, in turn, provide more value to the children, school, and community in which they serve.
Range of Courses
Gaining teaching qualifications and experience does not need to be expensive. Many online courses provide useful learning at an affordable cost and the TEFL course through ITTT is one example of this. Depending on their country of residence, would-be volunteers may also find relevant courses and workshops available in their home town or city. While these courses may not be specific to teaching English, community colleges or polytechnics often offer short courses on group facilitation, adult teaching, and resource development. All of these courses provide useful learning for a would-be volunteer teacher.
Spending time in a classroom at home will also help a would-be volunteer get prepared for their role abroad. While the classroom environment and culture may be different from the country where they wish to teach, observing a teacher in action provides many opportunities for learning. How does the teacher manage challenging behavior, group dynamics, and varying skill levels? What games or activities do they use to warm up the class? Are there any resources that might be useful to replicate or adapt for use overseas? Spending time in a classroom at home gives volunteers a chance to practice teaching in an environment that they are familiar with. This helps to build confidence before heading away on their volunteer placement.
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In summary, while volunteer teachers do not always require qualifications to teach in developing countries, it is certainly useful to do some preparation. Gaining relevant skills and qualifications will not only make the teaching experience easier and more enjoyable for the volunteer, but it will also make their teaching more valuable to the community where they are working. There are many ways a would-be volunteer can gain qualifications and experience and the more options they explore the better.
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