Extra-curricular volunteer time hard to come by

The issue of teachers and extracurricular activities is of course a topic of conversation in BC now. Teachers are struggling with ways to fend of the attack on their hard-won collective rights. Some are considering, long and hard, and with considerable strain, the removal of our volunteer work at the school. The idea is that this would cause the public to put more pressure on the government to deal with teachers fairly.

This post is not about the merits of this strategy.

As the conversation took place in the #bced Twitterverse, the general topic of teacher volunteering came up and some were questioning why fewer teachers are giving their time. I don’t really know if this is empirically correct, but I would say anecdotally that we have a lot more community volunteers helping out with coaching than I remembered from the past. Keith Rispin provided this look, and I thought I would add my own observations as well.

To start, I do volunteer at my school. In terms of direct volunteer service to students, I run the Free the Children student leadership group.

I think it is important for people to understand that there are also a variety of volunteer jobs at a school that don’t involve students. I volunteer a lot of time as a teacher-leader,  organizing professional development, sitting on various committees, chairing the local Computer Using Educators group, and being a member of an on-again, off-again education book club.

I also volunteer on a community board of directors, and support my children’s activities as a casual volunteer. Of course, I also support my husband’s volunteer work with the sailing club, the local historical society, and the cross-country ski club.

In spite of all this activity, I still wish I could volunteer to coach or run a drama club. I simply can’t.

Teaching has changed. I am oversimplifying to a degree, but as a teenager, my Social Studies education involved a lecture, in which I took notes, and textbook assignments in which I answered questions. I remember the odd poster project, or model project, or essay assignment. This is also what my teacher education prepared me for.

These days, as a Social Studies teacher, I do a lot more preparation than I was trained at university to do.

When confronting a topic in Social Studies, I do a lot of work. This is not a comprehensive list of actions I take, but can give you an idea of the time I need to invest.

  • What is my big picture or essential question and what resources (stories, current events, movies, documentaries, websites) can I use to leverage understanding? The text book won’t cut it, for a variety of reasons. It takes time to find these additional items. By the way, here is a link to a blog post that I wrote recently on the death of the textbook.
  • What key terms do I need to teach directly, and how? I make flash cards, word walls, word sorts, games. Vocabulary/terminology is a huge issue for a lot of students.
  • How can I build some simulations of these key ideas so students can identify with the concepts?
  • I teach a very diverse group of students. It is not unusual to have multiple-year differences in reading and writing ability. By multiple, I mean a range from as low as Grade 3 to students reading at the college level. How can I assist students who cannot read to access the material? I create texts that are accessible, or photocopy pages of textbooks so students can highlight rather than write. I scour stores for books which cover the material but do it in a more visual way.
  • I maintain a website so students can access assignments online and parents can see what is going on.
  • I spend a lot of time on twitter finding and trying out Web 2.0 tools for students to use for researching and showing their work.
  • Assessment has also changed a lot. Where in the past we might have tick, tick, ticked our way through chapter questions only, now we do much more work on formative assessment procedures that assess skills such as critical thinking, note-taking skills, analysis. As a result, our summative assessments are more complex. In between those, we are generating learning intentions with students and teaching them to assess their own work.
  • My goodness, I could keep going for some time on all the things that go on in my day. Also, I am not yet as good at some of it as I would like to be, and there are strategies I have not begun to incorporate, but look so promising.  Ongoing professional development is huge. This year, I have added the goal of blogging 365 days a year and hanging out on Twitter. Fabulous, but also a time-consumer.

So, yes, I do think school has changed, teaching has changed, and teachers are deeply involved with all the above and more. This ain’t your Mama’s old high school, kids, and it is not even the high school she started teaching at 20 years ago.

By the way, take the time to thank anyone who is giving their time in your school and/or community as a volunteer.  They are modelling the best of what it means to be an engaged citizen, working to make the community and school a wonderful place to belong.

One thought on “Extra-curricular volunteer time hard to come by

  1. You make a crucial point in this post. School is not like it use to me yet people expect teachers to still be this romanticized version of a teacher who’s day has gone by.

    Kids are not the same, parents are not the same, expectations are not the same, work environment is not the same and the world is not the same, so it only makes sense that teachers are not the same.

    Times are a changin and we are in for a rocky ride in the world of education. Lets just hope they don’t come out with some legislation that turns us into indentured servants.

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