5 ways volunteering helps a teaching career
Volunteering at a school not only can show that you’re passionate about teaching, but it can also make you more marketable as an educator.
“Teaching is one of those professions that fundamentally helps others,” says Tony Valley, a retired public school teacher with 30 years of experience and an instructor in the master’s in education program at the University of Phoenix Oregon Campus. “Volunteering is a great way to build skills that lend themselves to that attitude.”
Valley describes five ways volunteering can help your career as an educator:
It serves as a job audition.
“If you volunteer at a school, have a day and time that you can be there consistently because you will set up a situation where people realize they can count on you,” says Valley, who has been an elementary school principal and a school district human resource director.
Valley notes that he often hired volunteers who demonstrated they had the time and dedication to be good teachers — and that didn’t just mean in the classroom as a teacher’s assistant. Worthwhile experience also can come from working as an after-school leader, library aide or playground assistant, he notes.
“Treat [your volunteer job] like an audition for that school,” he advises.
It broadens your cultural awareness.
International volunteer services, such as the Peace Corps or WorldTeach, let you help a community while gaining valuable skills and perspectives, Valley says.
As an example, he points to a former colleague’s volunteer work at a Mexican migrant labor camp. The woman focused on agricultural issues but simultaneously sharpened her Spanish skills and learned about the cultures of the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Puebla.
That helped her define a better curriculum when she became an educator in Oregon because many of her students had emigrated from those regions of Mexico and primarily spoke Spanish.
You’ll learn to build student relationships.
Valley recommends becoming a volunteer student mentor, particularly at such organizations as United Way, YMCA or YWCA, or Boys & Girls Clubs, to fine-tune your skills.
“What you’re doing in these volunteer positions is listening to the kids and trying to model good character, appropriate behaviors and homework skills, which all good teachers are expected to do, ” Valley says.
Classroom issues will be easier to handle.
Whether you’re a sports coach, Sunday school teacher or scout leader, you’ll tap personal talents to engage kids. You’ll also handle discipline issues and adapt to varied learning abilities, which you’ll need as a teacher, Valley says.
“Volunteering for these kinds of activities is like a microcosm of the classroom,” he says.
Career goals will become clearer.
Valley pursued his master’s degree in education intent on being a school district administrator — until he volunteered for his son’s kindergarten class. What started as a weekly volunteer commitment ended with Valley choosing to become an elementary school teacher.
“Volunteering can also help you decide,” he notes, “whether a particular grade level or subject is truly what you want to do.”