Volunteering and developing at the same time

BRAZ-TESOL, Brazil’s largest association of English language teaching professionals, needed a video that explained what it stands for, so I made one. My qualifications for making the video? None. Learning as I went, I ended up with something that has made me very proud.  Of course making a video when you’re not a professional is not a simple task, so it took me (what it felt like) forever to get it finished. I would get home from work and spend as many hours on it as I had spent on my day job for four days. Crazy, right?

Definitely.

As people say, however, there are no free lunches. So what do I get out of volunteering for BRAZ-TESOL Brazil’s largest ELT association, or before that, volunteering for BrELT, Facebook’s best community for English language teachers (in my admittedly biased opinion)? Or even volunteering as a Richmond Share writer?

The quick answer is: I grow.

“How?”, you ask. Here it goes:

  1. Volunteering can lead you to develop new skills.

Case in point: video editing, as I described above. And not only that, with BrELT I learned how to use Canva to make posters, for one. Interacting with design naturals such as Bruno Andrade and Eduardo de Freitas, I picked up quite a few tips that I can use in my own practice, as I plan my own presentations or class resources. Trying to help other volunteers organize the community and the association also taught me some organizational and management skills that I previously didn’t have and which I can apply to my day job or even my personal life.

2. Volunteering can help you learn how to talk to different professionals.

Communicating with people with different backgrounds and professional histories is not exactly second nature to everyone, at least certainly not to me. I see I still have lots to learn in this regard, but talking to (and learning loads from!) other teachers from all over Brazil has made me realize that the first step to successful communication with peers is to acknowledge just that: that we are peers; that, no matter where in our careers we might be, we are in it together; and that we all want the best for our students and education in Brazil, otherwise we wouldn’t be teaching in the first place (we are professionals who make money out of it and there’s no shame in that, but it’s not like we chose this profession because we had the ambition/delusion of becoming filthy rich at all costs). It may seem like the fact that we are peers goes without saying, but if you’re ever around Facebook threads, you must have realized by now how surprisingly violent communication among educators can get. And you’d be surprised how many conflicts we can solve just by being reminded of the fact that we are (supposed to be) equals who share a common interest and goal.

  1. Teacher communities and associations help you keep your ear to the ground and learn from others.

One thing that is blatantly clear to me is that all teachers have something to teach to other teachers. And because teaching is what we do for a living, I created a motto for myself: “Tell me how many teachers you know, and I’ll tell you how many development opportunities you may be passing by.” Plus, listening to what teachers are saying helps you have a broader view of the job market, opportunities, educational trends, etc. Also, you can learn how teachers receive some initiatives in a way you’ll never know in the workplace. After all, we can’t exactly be brutally honest in the workplace, now can we? On the other hand, sometimes teachers do speak their mind to people who are in the field but do not work directly with them.

  1. Volunteering can teach you a lot about yourself.

Because with volunteering you’re freer to explore different paths that perhaps your day job won’t let you, you can learn what really makes you tick as an ELT professional. It can also let you develop “talents” that you never even knew you had. For instance, I used to believe that I had no knack for leadership whatsoever. I still admire people who have top-down leadership skills because they are, to me, both very hard to acquire and still necessary in the world. I realized, however, I can exert leadership in a different, more grassroots way, and that’s also sorely needed in today’s world, even if you won’t really see magazines and workshops dedicated to that kind of egalitarian leadership.

  1. Volunteering can, of course, help you get your name out there.

Although most people assume that getting on in the career is the hidden motif behind every volunteer’s actions, that’s far from being the number 1 drive of most of the volunteers I know. After all, volunteers put in way more hours than the purported benefits we can reap. However, volunteering certainly does not harm one’s CV. And as you help other teachers and organize events, people start to remember your name, which can always lead to interesting opportunities, of course. 

  1. Volunteering can make you fall in love again with the career. 

    Wearing minder green at the BRAZ-TESOL Technology Seminar in 2015 — that’s where I met many ELT professionals I’m close to nowadays

If you’re in a bit of a career rut, feeling disillusioned or disempowered, volunteering can be quite magical. Think of what it means to be working exclusively with people who are so passionate for education that they dedicate some of their free time to improving our career in Brazil. You can’t help but to feel energized again! Well, at least that’s how it turned out for me.

If you would like to try volunteering and helping other English language teachers, BRAZ-TESOL needs you! You can hear more about it here and volunteer through this form. If you are not sure what BRAZ-TESOL is, please watch this video. If you know BRAZ-TESOL, watch it, too. Seriously, I’ll pull a Puss-in-Boots’ bright-eyed pouty face until you all watch the video I made, hehehe.

Natália Guerreiro

Natália Guerreiro has been a teacher since the year 2000 and currently works in Aviation English assessment and teaching for the Brazilian Air Force. She holds a CELTA, a B.A. in English & Portuguese from UFRJ, and an M.A. in Applied Linguistics from the University of Melbourne. She's been elected BRAZ-TESOL's Second Vice President for the 2019-2020 term.

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