Could you be a good volunteer?

As I mentioned in a recent post, it can be tough to recruit FELLOW volunteers. Although our core group of volunteers have been around for months (and years!), there are a lot of people who volunteer for a term or two before stepping back, as well as those who sign up to teach a session and then fail to turn up on the night (which of course makes the lesson challenging for everyone).

Our volunteers also have their fair share of issues and complaints – although I’m happy to say that most really enjoy the experience and do stay the course! Here are five qualities I think you need in order to get the most out of FELLOW – and probably out of a lot of volunteering schemes!


The most important quality of a FELLOW volunteer. If you teach at FELLOW, learners will be late. There might not be enough chairs for everyone. Some of your learners might struggle in ways you hadn’t anticipated when you were planning your lesson. You might have to pause your lesson for a moment because your students can’t hear each other over the noise of the other class. Another group using the premises may have misplaced the board pens. Basically – any number of things could go wrong. The important bit is not letting these things get to you! The learners take everything in their stride, and our volunteers do, too.

A short memory

Quite a lot of volunteers join us fresh from one of Oxford’s many CELTA courses, and are looking to exercise their new teaching skills before embarking on a career abroad. A seasoned FELLOW teacher’s advice would be: forget everything! Forget it now. Your class will have more than eight learners. Learners will come and go. It is highly likely that at least 10% of the class won’t achieve the lesson objective you set at the beginning of the night. But it’s all OK! Expectations at FELLOW are lower (they have to be), but that can be a good thing. There’s no pressure to perform, and you can be a bit more experimental than you might be in a private language school.

The ability to think on your feet

See point one! Sometimes, things don’t go quite as you’ve planned. If a learner doesn’t have a paper or pen, you might have to shift the aims of your next activity. If you want to do a listening exercise but can’t use the CD player, you might have to ask some stronger students to play the roles of Mark and Allie (obligatory New English File reference – I love you, Mark and Allie!).


It can take a brave person – or at least one with a foghorn voice, like me! – to quieten a room of fifty learners. It can also be tough to teach a group of learners who have questions about anything and everything; questions about grammar or language points that you hadn’t planned to answer.

The ability to relax

FELLOW is really a low-stakes teaching environment: we’re teaching general English to learners of all abilities who come and go as they please. If you can remember that – and not get hung up on comparing FELLOW to your private language school experience, or your CELTA – then you’ll be brilliant at teaching with us!


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