Case Study – John Mason

“Learn Together Cymru is a potential solution. Its role in uniting wants with needs is why Volunteering Matters matters to the individuals, schools and communities with which it works…”

Introduction

Five years ago, at the age of 60, I retired from teaching after a 20-year career. Prior to that I had had a career in IT, concluding as a senior executive with a leading financial institution. Having obtained a number of professional qualifications, none of which were a qualification for teaching, I became a “Mature Student” and obtained a First-class Honours degree in Business and a PGCE. Subsequently, I completed a Master’s Degree in Education.
Volunteering?

Retirement is wonderful, but after a while I came to realise I needed to do something more rewarding than reading and gardening! But what, and how? Use my skills and volunteer!

I could phone around local schools and offer my services. But to whom would I speak? What help might they need? I’d probably need to write a CV, or how else would they know what I had to offer. I might have to make several calls, with no result. I decided it would prove a potentially thankless and tedious task and inertia won the day. I didn’t bother – it seemed too difficult.

Volunteering Matters

A few months later whilst waiting in my doctor’s surgery, I noticed a folder marked “Volunteering Opportunities” on the table and decided to take a look. Having noted a couple of phone numbers, I made contact with Volunteering Matters.

An email promptly arrived with an application form attached which gathered all the pertinent information about my skills and experience. They also asked for referees.

Within a few weeks, I was invited to the next available training seminar at their premises. In my time I’ve participated in many such gatherings, most provided by “experts” and County Advisors. This was up there with the best of them – clear, concise, to the point and relevant. Although much of the content was familiar territory for me, it was new material to most of the other attendees. The coverage of literacy, child safeguarding and the rôle of the volunteer were especially well done. It was evident I’d found a professional organisation with which to work.

Shortly afterwards, I was contacted and a meeting arranged at my home to discuss my specific ideas for volunteering, and to complete a CRB check. I’d forgotten that one! Not as easy as it might seem to do independently. Here it was done online and the certificate arrived just 3 days later.

An email arrived within just a few more days putting me in touch with a primary school in Barry.

It could not have been more perfect!

The skills I had to offer were what they were looking for. I was introduced to teachers in Years 2 & 4 and easily made arrangements for the following week – we agreed on 2 days, Monday and Tuesday, between 10:30 and 15:00.

On my first visit I was welcomed by the Headteacher and thanked for giving my time. The teachers in both Year 2 and Year 4 had tasks and pupils in mind and all the resources needed prepared and ready. The children were wonderful: keen to learn, enjoying the novelty of someone new (and enjoying checking where I drew boundaries, but in a playful way) and providing me with the stimulation of having a purposeful task to complete.

I continued with this arrangement for several weeks (and subsequently added another day per week, for a month or so, to help with a specific need). If anything, I felt even more welcome every time I visited. The staff have come to know me and treat me as one of them. It has been so gratifying to be able to contribute to what is, to my mind, an outstanding and committed team.

The greatest reward for me, however, has been the children. Apart from specific groups, amounting to around 35 children in total, I’ve also been able to move around the classroom and step in if a child is looking for help. They have come to know me and, I think, like me. If the teacher says, “Group X, you’re working with Mr Mason this morning,” they are enthusiastic. I’ve also been able to work on a one-to-one “tutorial” basis with individual children to help with something with which they are struggling. Friendly waves and, “Hi Mr Mason” as you cross the playground is as satisfying as knowing you’ve helped academically. One or two Year 4 children have proudly brought me work they’ve done at home – stories or artwork – to admire and discuss.

Recently, I have been also working with groups of More Able and Talented (MAT) children on targeted skills – a cluster that, as I know being a retired teacher, need to be helped to move forward more rapidly, if only a teacher can find quality time. That’s a challenge whilst needing to assist other children who need support to complete a task.

MAT pupils can absorb so much, so quickly, that every minute spent with a small group is invaluable to them. One can adapt the session based on their specific learning needs. This has been a wonderful and rewarding way to spent my time.

It is almost impossible to express how much this opportunity has benefitted me, and, I hope, the school and the children with whom I have worked. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who asked, and to recommend they contact “Learni Together Cymru” for reasons I have set out below.
Why “Volunteering Matters” (VM), Matters

Making Contact

It’s one thing to want to volunteer and to be able to do it. Who do you contact? What do they need? A school needs help with reading, maths or a special project. If a stakeholder (parent or governor, perhaps) isn’t available or suitable, their good idea goes to waste.

VM brings these wants and need together.

Ensuring Suitability

How does a school have any idea who this potential volunteer is? How will the volunteer react to being asked to be CRB checked?

VM removes these misgivings. They take references, check claims made about skills and do the Police checks at no cost to the volunteer or the school. The school can accept the volunteer with a high degree of confidence that they are suitable to work with their children.

Classroom Readiness

The benefit to a school of a volunteer is adding value to lessons. A class teacher has asked for help because of how busy s/he already is. Now issues of Child Protection and Safeguarding must be addressed, the principles of Literacy and Numeracy learning explained and many other little details. Is it worth the effort and does s/he have the time?

With VM, training is provided, again at no cost, so the volunteer is ready to go (well, almost) and both teacher and volunteer can enjoy a positive outcome from Day 1.

Back-up and Support

For many volunteers the classroom can be an alien environment. Children behave and are treated differently to home. Rules, routines, lesson plans and timetables can be mysterious. Reward and sanctions schemes can be complex to the uninitiated. Teachers and LSAs may unintentionally make assumptions about a volunteer’s understanding which might lead to minor mis-perceptions and mistakes.

VM’s coordinator is an invaluable asset to the volunteer (and, perhaps, the school) as a source of advice and guidance; someone who has the time, patience and experience to explain and resolve these potential (albeit rare) difficulties and maintain a mutually positive solution.

Wider Benefits

Many groups can benefit from volunteering:

1. Seniors with skills to share and pass on, who in some cases may be living alone and welcome or need the social interaction.
2. School leavers, shortly job seekers, who would benefit from an extended period of work experience to enhance their employability and their CV.
3. Graduates (or gap-year undergrads) who might consider a career in teaching but have doubts (the press hasn’t been kind over recent years). By volunteering, they can find out, first-hand, how rewarding a career it can be (I did this when changing careers and chose teaching over my previous 1st choice). There is a teacher shortage!
4. Schools and teachers who have a heavy workload may have innovative ideas to improve Teaching and Learning, but do not have the human or financial resources to implement them. This leads to frustration and stifles school improvement.

Learn Together Cymru is a potential solution. Its role in uniting wants with needs is why Volunteering Matters matters to the individuals, schools and communities with which it works…

John Mason

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