Ellie Lacey: What volunteering means to me
Posted on 12 Feb 2015
I’m Ellie, and I’m in my third year of studying History at Oxford, looking forward to graduating (fingers crossed!) and starting my teaching career with Ark Teacher Training. The route to getting here was never obvious, although nothing seems clearer now than my ambition to teach. I also have no doubt that the most important factor in making this decision was volunteering with young people. I hope that reading my story might encourage other students to go for it – sign up with that charity you’ve been getting emails from, or apply to be on a committee. At the very least, you’ll have the satisfaction of helping others, but chances are it’ll improve your life in ways you can’t predict.
"The pupils’ energy while I was volunteering gave me a new way to appreciate my degree, and I was never more enthused than after a tutoring session."
While Oxford is an incredible place to study, it can be a strange place to live. The combination of beautiful buildings, students rushing around in gowns and the never-ending stream of tourists can make it all feel a bit surreal. Add to this the (admittedly cushy) bubble of living in college, and I’m not surprised that I started to feel a bit claustrophobic. At the start of second year, I decided that it was time to branch out, and find a new way to experience the city. I stumbled across Schools Plus in an Oxford Hub email, and it immediately appealed, arranging for student tutors to go into local schools and take part in a variety of teaching projects. I sent off my application, and after attending a selection workshop, was allocated to tutor in History at the Oxford Academy.
After my first session, I knew I’d love Schools Plus, but I couldn’t have known how much it would add to my university experience. After a tough morning in the library, I’d usually have thought the only thing to brighten my day would be an especially good College lunch menu, but I found getting away from the city centre and meeting people outside of university even better. The Oxford Academy pupils’ energy gave me a new way to appreciate my degree, and I was never more enthused than after a tutoring session.
Inspired by the benefits that I’d seen in Schools Plus, both for me and for the pupils I tutored, I applied to be on the committee. As Recruitment Officer, I was responsible for organising the Freshers’ Fair, which was a great challenge! I also loved getting to know the committee – in fact, meeting such like-minded people made me feel much more at home in Oxford.
"By mid-second year, volunteering with Schools Plus had totally changed my attitude, making me realise that nothing excited me more than teaching."
It was also while giving a presentation for Schools Plus that I heard about Ark Teacher Training. The idea of teaching had always been at the back of my mind, even at school, but I’d almost thought it too ‘obvious’ – like another, unexpected thing would come along that I’d have to experience before I could ‘settle’ for my long-term career. By mid-second year, volunteering with Schools Plus had totally changed my attitude, making me realise that nothing excited me more than teaching.
I still wasn’t at all clear how I was going to get there. Researching training courses, I’d found the different options really confusing, and didn’t know what would suit me best. I liked the challenge and immediacy of school-based training, but worried about lack of support, and wanted some of the theory that you’d get from a university course. When I spoke to an Ark representative, she talked me through the options, and explained to me how Ark’s ‘School Direct’ route worked. It seemed, for me, to have the perfect balance of theory and practice, and its ethos of alleviating educational inequality really struck a chord. I applied and was excited to be invited to a selection day. While I was really nervous, it was a lot more relaxed than I expected, and I enjoyed the chance to talk about my interest in education. When I got a place to train in a school I was really enthusiastic about, it made all of the stress of my degree feel worth it.
Mine is a story that I’m sure many people already share – having met so many passionate Schools Plus volunteers, it’s easy to see the huge impact that volunteering has in Oxford. But if you haven’t already started volunteering, I hope that this post might encourage you, especially if you’re feeling that something’s slightly missing from your university experience. Best of luck!
Categories: What volunteering means to me