It’s January (in case you’d forgotten!), and this means back-to-work and back-to-FELLOW. The couple of weeks before the start of the term are always a bit stressful. Will we have enough volunteers? Will they stay the course? A full-time volunteer coordinator at one of Oxford’s museums once told me that if a volunteer keeps coming for six months, it should be considered a major achievement. Some of our volunteers have been around for more than five years! As an organization, I think it’s fair to say that we consider ourselves very fortunate. That said, people do come and go – and sometimes we come perilously close to cancelling lessons altogether.
This year I’d like to concentrate on three main things:
- Securing a photocopier. This sounds like such a small thing – but it’s surprising how hard it is to find a local business that is willing to support our photocopying habits! We have some class sets of textbooks but, due to storage issues, these are often inaccessible to volunteers. A lot of teachers plan their lessons using materials available online, and some photocopying is inevitable. At the moment teachers avoid photocopying altogether, or pay out of their own pockets. It would be helpful if our learners could take away the odd worksheet to support their efforts to learn English outside the FELLOW classroom.
- Establishing beginners’ lessons. A couple of years ago we had a group of eager volunteers running lessons exclusively for beginners, but over time people stepped back from volunteering and we had to abandon the sessions. In recent months there has been a sharp increase in the number of absolute beginners attending our two regular evening classes, which are really aimed at A1/A2 and B1/B2 respectively. These new learners require special attention – and re-starting beginners’ classes will also allow the volunteers who teach our regular evening sessions to focus on A1/A2.
- Setting up a mentoring scheme. In my first stint running FELLOW, I organized a couple of student surveys to find out more about where our students come from and what their main study motivations are. The survey showed what the volunteers really knew already: for learners, attending FELLOW was as much about meeting people and socializing as it was about improving their English. Some of our learners have been in the UK for years, and new learners arrive every week; it would be brilliant to set up a scheme that invites learners to share their experiences and support each other in a more formal arrangement.
If you have any experience in the above areas – or you are based in Oxford and would like to volunteer at FELLOW – then please get in touch with me via the contact page on this blog, or the form on the FELLOW website.