Considering the Role of Volunteers

I am an AVID tutor through my service learning course, and have recently done a good deal of thinking about my role in the program. Twice a week, I visit middle school classrooms and assist in AVID, which is an elective available to middle school students who have the potential to attend and graduate from college but may not have the support at home to do so. Students prepare questions about various topics from their other classes prior to each class period and as a tutor, it is my job to assist them in presenting their questions to classmates and ultimately reaching answers. This link will take you to AVID’s website for more information on the program.

Two weeks ago I walked into one of the classes a bit early, so the class change marking the beginning of my class’ period had not yet occurred. I walked in anyway and was greeted by two students – one boy and one girl – shouting jokes at one another. As I smiled at the students and prepared to greet them, one of them yelled at me, “Now you’re laughing at me!” He was referring to my smiling as I walked in, though I truly didn’t even know what the joke was to laugh at him in the first place. At first I began protesting his comment, but I stopped myself and began greeting other students. The student who yelled at me sat silently in his chair for the remainder of the class period.

The student’s outburst was not the problem. The problem was that the substitute teacher who was present did nothing to quell the situation. Perhaps worse, there was no mention of the incident when the teacher returned. I do enjoy what I’m doing in my role as tutor, but what I do in this role relies so heavily upon my having a positive professional relationship with the teacher.


A few of us went on the radio to speak on behalf of the volunteer office last spring.

Credit: Google Images

I mentioned that I visit two different classrooms each week. The second is at another school and is run completely differently. At the beginning of each class, the teacher has each student greet the tutor(s) by shaking their hand and asking them how their day is going. The students are constantly thanking the tutors for taking the time to be there to help them. As a result, I of course enjoy this class more because I go in knowing that each day will be a rewarding experience.

But is that a problem? Is it wrong for me to value the latter class over the former? I want to feel as though the work I’m doing is truly benefitting students, and if a classroom is disruptive then I leave thinking that I didn’t help anyone. What do you think is the role of teachers here?

I have never really thought of teachers as having a responsibility to create a beneficial atmosphere for volunteers. Instead, since I started volunteering a few years ago I have always considered volunteers to be lucky to be able to visit classrooms and offer as much help as they can. In my role as student volunteer ambassador, I assist the local school system volunteer office in recruiting student volunteers, and perhaps it is this work that has altered my perception of the role of volunteers. What are your thoughts? Do volunteers deserve to be considered more by teachers, or is this negative because it takes away from attention paid to students?

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