Volunteer Teaching: Valuable or a Waste of Time?
Volunteer teaching can be a great way to start your career in teaching English as a second language, and while it is very rewarding it can also come with its own set of challenges.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Hailey K. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
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I have been living in Ecuador for ten months. I started taking the TESOL course as a way to support myself if I decide to extend my time here. To gain some real-life experience as well as putting some of the TESOL techniques into practice, I offered to volunteer my time at one of the local schools and assist with teaching English. Having this experience has truly brought to life the practicalities of many units in this TESOL course. For example, I have seen firsthand the difficulties in dealing with a large classroom, the tendency to want to speak the native language to speed up explanations, as well as how quickly the students can become bored if you as the teacher doesn't have a variety of activities that will stimulate their interest.
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The reward of volunteering is that you are truly there with the best of motives, and the students are aware of this. Because I am not doing this for pay, there is no required amount of hours that I work and I think this also contributes to having a more positive experience. When there is no sense of "duty," or obligation felt, you tend to enjoy your work more and you also feel appreciated by the staff and students alike. Finally, because I am volunteering, there is always a teacher present which can provide a feeling of security since you know that not everything is dependent on you and your teaching. Having someone with a range of knowledge and experience can be a true asset.
However, having another teacher present can also present challenges. Because they have more experience, it is easy to feel a lack of confidence when they are watching you teach. There is also already have set curriculum that you are expected to follow which can present challenges if the methods is not something you are familiar and/or comfortable with. It also limits your ability to create your lesson plans which is a big part of teaching and something and something in which would be useful to gain experience. Being a volunteer also means I am working with a variety of classes on different days so it can also be difficult to develop a rapport with the students since I am not with the same group every week. Finally, because you are "free labor," you may be pressured to volunteer more than you had originally planned. I had to learn to be firm about the hours that I was willing and able to be present.
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Despite the challenges, I feel that volunteering to teach English is a worthwhile endeavor. Volunteering has helped me realize many things about myself as a teacher. I have learned that I enjoy working with younger students. They are eager, humble, and a lot of fun. I have also realized that, especially when I am first starting, a smaller group will be easier for me to be able to keep my students on track as well as interested in what they are learning. I will also need to find a balance between being kind and having a rapport with my students while still maintaining discipline in the class. I think it has been invaluable to have this experience and to be able to learn things, both about myself and about the process of teaching, before I try to embark on a career. I would recommend volunteering to anyone interested in trying to teach English.
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