By Roger O’Halloran
Palms Australia receives more requests for teachers than any other occupation; in fact more requests than all other occupational groups combined. Providing children the foundations for living life to the fullest is clearly important to parents the world over.
In most communities where Palms volunteers work, so much can be sacrificed to allow a family member to receive even a basic education. Graduating at any level of education bestows great honour on a family. It provides more than the utilitarian value of improving one’s competitive advantage in the world, but when an extended family depends on a single educated member’s income, the importance is amplified.
In school communities without trained teachers the welcome given to a volunteer teacher might prove dangerous for anyone tempted to a saviour complex. Palms placements, unlike short-term voluntourist placements, are not for those geared to satisfying their need to be needed. The significant investment in preparation, airfares, accommodation and support needs to provide more than a “volunteer” feeling good about helping children and an Instagram pic that tells the world.
A Palms assignment is for more humble and patient souls, who despite being qualified and experienced, are open first to relationships of mutual development. A community buoyed by having a teacher who wants to work in their school, is a great starting point for engagement that assists the guest to develop the networking, cultural awareness, language skills and a cognizance of community strengths on which one’s subsequent input will depend. The pressure of time to achieve outcomes in short-term placements is more likely to encourage paternalistic or patronising approaches that do not build authentic trust and thus fail to build a foundation for sustainable developments.
A school request motivated by wanting a volunteer teacher to occupy a space at the front of a class or five also can work against sustainable development. However, avoiding a 100:1 student teacher ratio does allow an immediate opportunity to improve educational developments. Thinking around educational opportunities being realised for children long after the volunteer teacher goes home can be secondary.
The role of Palms Programs and Placements Coordinator is to bring that possibility to the foreground. Scoping school placements involves discussion about mentoring local teachers, so that the useful skills qualified volunteer teachers bring, can stimulate and enable what development practioners talk of as endogenous development: growth from within the community. However filling an initial in-line teaching position with a class of students can assist the volunteer teacher to understand the culture and strengths of the school community and better appreciate ways by which opportunities for future generations might be made sustainable. This isn’t achieved by short-term voluntourists.
One new to cross-cultural volunteering in a community who previously has not hosted a volunteer needs to engage their people skills for at least six months before planning new tasks with local counterparts. In a stay of 12 months one may see local teachers adopting some of the introduced methodology. In the second year one can have the satisfaction of being a sounding board for ideas generated by local teachers from within the school community.
Palms have just submitted a DFAT Friendship Grant Application that will enable Christine Davids and Rhoe Price to encourage endogenous development in their valuable second year of their placements. If successful they will assist counterparts to develop classroom learning activities and school processes that fully engage students of various abilities and genders. The grant would also allow us to meet requests for two new volunteer teachers whose induction will be assisted by Christine and Rhoe. Teachers looking to revitalise their vocation over 12-months or two years should be pointed in here.