Volunteering put me on the path to becoming a teacher - and enhanced my employability

One of our fantastic volunteers, Amy, describes how she's gained as well as given on our Talking Together English language training project.

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I have worked as an English language mentor on two projects working with ladies from a range of ethnic minority backgrounds. My role required me to work with fellow mentors in order to share ideas and create a final lesson plan which would assist the mentees to reach their personal goals. This could be to improve their speech, reading and/or writing.

Each mentor was assigned a small group of mentees. The duration of each programme was six weeks, which included a two hour session per week at a local community centre. One of these weeks is allocated for an educational trip and lunch. In my first project, my colleague organised the trip. In my second project, I took the lead and organised the trip, ensuring it was within the budget and timescale TimeBank had set us. This gave me the opportunity to take ownership of the trip and act as an ambassador for TimeBank.

The Pen Museum and Jimmy Spices were the places we decided upon and we had a thoroughly enjoyable experience. When I approached The Pen Museum to try and arrange a time for us to visit, I explained the background of TimeBank and what Talking Together Mentoring aims to deliver. They were excited for us to attend as they were very keen to reach out to new groups of people.

In preparation for the trip, I created questionnaires to help gauge the mentees’ understanding of the objectives for the day. This could be: asking for prices of bus fares, asking questions at the Museum or Jimmy Spices.

The final week of the course was a celebration week where we indulged in food and drink and were awarded certificates of completion. 

From my perspective, voluntary work is a choice to help those who are vulnerable. It is not a paid job where you are bound by a contract to work certain days and times. It requires selflessness and a degree of compassion. I am very passionate in my role as an English language mentor and recognise I have a responsibility towards the mentees to provide them with the assistance they require.

It was very heart-warming to see that spending just a couple of hours a week with these ladies helped them grow in confidence and develop their skills. The main barrier I identified is their self-belief and lack of contact with English speakers. I reassured them that they should not be scared of making mistakes because that's how you learn. If you have self-belief and are determined, you are able to reach your goals with a little guidance and practice.

In my approach to volunteering, I was very self-disciplined, organised, determined and committed. I ensured I set time aside each week to gather materials for my lesson plan. In my first project I consistently spent an average of five hours each week planning for the sessions. I worked hard to create my own resources by including a lot of visuals as many felt overwhelmed by textual resources.

I built up the tasks from the base idea to develop into more abstract ideas. My creativity was enhanced each week by doing this and the mentees were able to get more out of the sessions. A supervisor observed one of the sessions and I was pleased that she recognised my hard work. She commented: “The quality of the resources you have created and the professionalism you have shown is second to none….” 

I have developed on both on a personal and professional level as a result of my volunteering. My motivation was both altruistic and intrinsic. Initially I did not believe I was capable of constructing a lesson plan with different tasks and successfully meeting the objectives of each session every week. I did not have a firm plan to go into the teaching profession before this experience. Because my hard work and professionalism were recognised, I was offered a second project to work as an English language mentor in a different area of Birmingham. 

I feel a high level of job satisfaction in my role and have thoroughly enjoyed my time working with the mentoring groups and my fellow colleagues. The project has helped reach out to ladies who may feel intimidated to attend a conventional college to gain the English skills they so urgently require to help them in their daily lives. Many of them are from disadvantaged backgrounds and have young children and cannot afford to pay fees for English courses. Talking Together helps to give these ladies hope so they do not feel overlooked and feel able to progress with their English in a setting where they feel comfortable to learn.

After my experience as an English language mentor, I have decided upon a career teaching English to adults. After I graduate, I intend to progress to a post graduate certificate in education in Post-Compulsory Education and Training, specialising in English, Literacy and ESOL at Birmingham City University. It is simply amazing to see that my voluntary placement has turned into a passion of mine and helped me transform as a professional and as a person and this will inevitably enhance my employability. 

We've now expanded our Talking Together project to London so if you'd like to get involved, take a look here.