I have just applied to be a volunteer with VSO . It is only a general enquiry at this stage, no commitment. I am already thinking ahead to what I might do after pre-sessional work this summer. I would aim to leave the UK around 1 October and travel overseas to teach, possibly in Ethiopia. I am not adverse to volunteering, having previously been a nightshelter worker on and off for four years in Cambridge and having started my teaching career by helping out at an orphanage in Tanzania. Whilst I was a sabbatical officer at Anglia Polytechnic (Ruskin) University, I encouraged other students to volunteer in various ways and promoted the benefits of doing so, not least the ‘work’ experience that can be gained. I attended a volunteering conference run by the National Union of Students and attended student-run events in Liverpool and Preston. Volunteering can look great on a CV, of course. Other benefits of volunteering include the positive impact on those communities you work with, the positive feeling you get from doing good things and what it can do for personal confidence.
According to VSO’s Education Page:
You’ll be working alongside local colleagues, helping them develop their teaching methodologies and practices. That might mean helping teachers across several schools to build their confidence in the classroom. It could mean working with education authorities on curriculum development and school management. You might even work to make sure teachers are better valued, developed and supported.
I am currently volunteering with Norfolk and Norwich Mind, the mental health charity, an area close to my heart, at The Forum, in Norwich. It is more than just a stop-gap between jobs, as I wish to continue doing it once I am back in paid employment, if that is possible. I am also helping out at a community church in the city’s King’s Street. Both classes I would describe as informal and ESL/ESOL. That is, they are free English classes for Speakers of other Languages who have found themselves by choice (being a full-time student at the University of East Anglia) or due to other factors living in the UK. These other factors include coming to be with a spouse who is already living and working in the city or being migrant workers, refugees or asylum seekers. There is an overlap between the two classes as some of the students attend both, as well as there being one other volunteer who helps out at both. We currently have a healthy number of Russians, a married couple from Syria, a couple of Iranians, a couple of Turks, a Lithuanian, a Pole and several from Taiwan and China, to mention just a few, but not by name.
If you do not know what the differences between ESL and EFL classes are, or why there might be a distinction, check out this transcript of an #ELTchat from 27 February 2013. It is not the first time I have taught lower levels, but (mostly) the Mind class is my first time to teach refugees/asylum seekers. Their priorities and needs are different from your average university student. They have more straightforward, day-to-day language needs. They are not studying textbooks and are not being taught to test or to pass an exam. Flashcards are something I have been using a lot of, so far, along with lots of gesture, mime and modelling the target language. That is, when I am leading the lesson. Pronunciation is also important at this level, especially for one student who is partially deaf. It is certainly giving me back my slightly misplaced confidence, following my return from China last October. In fact, I feel supremely confident once more. The additional benefit is that it has provided a way back into ‘work’ – I will use this experience as a springboard to doing pre-sessional this summer, which will probably be at UEA INTO, thanks to the contacts I now have, although I am not ruling out Sheffield or other UK institutions.
If you have any experience of teaching refugees/asylum seekers, I would interested to know in the comments box below.