We created an environment where people from different cultures were happy to sit next to each other, chat, and share food

I can now officially say I'm a teacher! says Sarah who describes her first volunteer teaching experience with our Talking Together English language project.

A couple of months ago when I was partway through my TEFL certification, I decided it would be a good idea to get some local teaching experience as well, before moving abroad to teach. And luckily I came across the perfect opportunity: a volunteer teaching position through one of TimeBank’s mentoring programmes, Talking Together. 

TimeBank is a national volunteering charity, doing all sorts of great work throughout the UK. From mentoring programmes to youth projects, its work is invaluable to the community. Talking Together is a Government-funded volunteering project, taking place across London, Birmingham and Leicester. It offers language courses to long-term UK residents who have little or no English language skills. 

Within a week of applying, I had met with the project coordinator, been on a 3-day training course, and was teaching my first class! I must admit, I was scared at first! Prior to this, I had never stood up in front of a group of people to even give a presentation, let alone teach a room full of students! It’s something I had carefully avoided for the whole of my adult life, for valid reasons such as stage-fright, self-consciousness, and of course, sheer terror. But within 15 minutes of teaching, the nerves had gone and I was actually enjoying myself! 

Due to the number of people who had volunteered for the Talking Together project, we were paired up and then assigned to different schools/community centres. Most courses ran for six weeks, with classes being held twice a week, for two half-days. We were given a detailed curriculum so we knew what to teach, and this also included a lesson plan for each module. Whilst these lesson plans were useful, I decided to follow the lesson plan structures from my TEFL course (which were very similar anyway) and so this was actually a great way to put my TEFL studies into practice! 

Being paired up worked really well, as it not only provided some moral support, but also flexibility if one person wasn’t available to teach on a particular day. I believe most pairs organised it so that they each took the lead and taught alternate modules, while the other person could be utilised as a teaching assistant. 

Before starting the course, I didn’t really have any expectations as to how it would go, or how I would feel about it. But after the first few weeks I developed a real enthusiasm for teaching – I looked forward to preparing my lessons, and loved standing up in front of the class! And by the time our last lesson rolled round, I was quite upset that our course had finished. 

They say that teaching is rewarding but up until a few months ago, I didn’t really believe it. But to see your students’ confidence and ability grow each week is such a lovely feeling. We also passed quite a big milestone about halfway through the course – the students, who were from lots of different countries and cultural backgrounds, started to voluntarily integrate with each other, after keeping themselves relatively segregated initially. 

Now I know this might not sound like a big deal, but to have created an environment where these cultures that don’t normally mix are then happy to sit next to each other, chat, and share food was just amazing! 

Overall, my teaching experience with TimeBank and Talking Together couldn’t have gone any better. My confidence has improved massively, I’ve learnt a lot about other cultures, and I can now officially say that I’m a teacher!

If you'd like to volunteer on our Talking Together project in Birmingham, take a look here