Volunteering for SAVTE
SAVTE has a long history of successfully attracting volunteers from all walks of life. The organisation provides volunteering opportunities for people across the city. The volunteers are trained to teach English to speakers of other languages (ESOL) across the city of Sheffield.
The majority of our learners are refugees, EU migrants, new arrivals, asylum seekers, and are mainly women. Learning English is a prerequisite for them to achieve their full potential and engage with Sheffield life independently and with dignity.
The volunteers are the backbone of our organisation. Without them, the needs of the most excluded and isolated ESOL learners in the city would not be met.
SAVTE volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. You do not need teaching qualifications or knowledge of another language as training will be provided. We are looking for volunteers who:
- Have good standard of spoken and written English
- Can work with people in a supportive way
- Are keen to gain teaching experience
- Want to meet individuals from varied cultures and backgrounds
- Have 2 hours a week to support an ESOL learner
After the course has been successfully completed, volunteers start to teach a learner on a one to one basis, support a tutor in a local community class, or facilitate a conversation English group. During your training and placement you will be offered individual support and tutorials from SAVTE’s friendly and experienced staff team.
You will have access to the resources library and photocopier, travel expenses are paid.
This is a great opportunity for volunteers to make a positive impact on the lives of some of the most isolated members of our communities.
We interviewed two of our volunteers who have been awarded with volunteer of the year and they shared some of their experiences with SAVTE. *Sarah started out volunteering as a one-to-one tutor in 2014 and then moved onto facilitating a conversation group around a year later and has been leading these weekly sessions ever since. She used to be a lawyer and then went on to teach law full time to university students, after this wanting to get involved in volunteer work. Martin began volunteering with SAVTE in 2011. Interested in literacy, he wanted to gain experience as a tutor. He now teaches two one to one learners on a weekly basis.
*This volunteer wanted to remain anonymous.
What do you recall of the SAVTE training process?
Sarah: All practical and essential topics were covered. It was not an intimidating process and it was a good level of learning – not too basic or too hard. The group you learn with created a good base from which you could have a discussion with. SAVTE helped me get set up, even now I can call them to help with anything or if I ever have any worries.
Martin: It was slightly challenging as there was quite a lot of material, however it was well done and laid out well. I found it useful to see the way the tutors taught us so I could then use them as a model for my own teaching.
What is the layout and setup of your classes?
Sarah: The conversation group is free to learners and numbers vary. There is usually around sixteen. There is a culture of respect in which everyone listens to one another. The learners are of different origins: Poland, Afghanistan, France, Iran and so on, and it is good for them to meet other people in order to socialise and develop their language. Conversation is a two-way process and listening to other speak is very encouraging for the learners. The sessions are learner-led with students coming up with their own topics which they feel will benefit them most, varying from education to health services to Christmas.
Martin: Well I plan my sessions by doing two things. I make use of government materials such as Excellence Gateway which are available online and have literacy and numeracy activities and ESOL units. It starts at entry level 1 and goes up to level 2. It is a structured way of building up skills, and the tasks are built around the community, for example how to apply for a job, write a letter or application form and so on. Secondly, as this information needs to be reinforced, it is essential for me to repeat these activities so that the learners can practice and learn it properly, and I help strengthen this information further by inventing my own tasks and activities.
What are the benefits for your learners?
Sarah: Along with my other sessions, the introductory session particularly builds confidence, and having to repeat these sessions when new learners join is always useful. I passionately believe in education as a way to provide access for learners, and so my conversation classes allow my learners to have a good grounding in English and have important access to jobs.
Martin: In Sheffield there is little provision for basic literacy levels. There are native English speakers who needed support and my sessions provide this. My learners both want to be confident at reading and go into community, adult education classes which are vocationally oriented. I am therefore working on getting them up to a level in order to join the next class which learners need both skill and confidence for.
Have you come across any hurdles or difficulties while volunteering with SAVTE?
Sarah: Only my own anxieties of not providing the best learning session that I possibly can.
Martin: Sometimes it can be a struggle getting my students to do the homework that I set them. I therefore have to encourage them and get them into the habit of it and setting homework which tests their abilities but not too much as they will not have supervision – designing it in a way so that they can practice without help. Another difficulty I have found to be is the language barrier. When learners have such a comparably low level of English it is hard to explain “easy” concepts. I have therefore had to use things such as pointing, hand gestures and visual resources to explain things. The ability to cope and handle this however comes with practice and experience.
What do you feel is the most rewarding thing about volunteering with SAVTE?
Sarah: Meeting and getting to know the learners. They have had adverse and difficult life experiences, and their positive outlook is very inspirational. I probably get as much out of them as they do me – I feel lifted every week. It is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, they are a good humoured and good natured group.
Martin: Doing something positive in a general sense. I resented society’s attitude to asylum seekers and empathise with those struggling with literacy which is a fundamental skill. I especially enjoy the creative process of designing and inventing my own materials to enforce learning.
What qualities does a volunteer need?
Sarah: Need to be firm and have rules implemented which is particularly important with large numbers. A good structure is important, the volunteer therefore needs to possess good organisational skills, and must also be flexible. For example, if more people turn up to a class one week, you need to learn to cater to this. They must have an interest in getting to know learners personally by learning names and valuing everyone’s opinion and taking a positive approach – if someone writes three words they need to be congratulated and encouraged. It is about being tactful with learners; dedicating equal time and focus to each, and so I spend time going round the group individually.
Martin: They need to be flexible, extroverted and eager to try new things.
If someone was interested in volunteering and felt it might be for them, what would you say to them?
Sarah: Go along to a session and observe it and definitely go for it if you think it’s something for you – you probably won’t be disappointed.
Martin: Go ahead! SAVTE provide a welcoming and helpful atmosphere for you to see if volunteering is something for you.
How to apply
Please fill out the Volunteer Enrolment Form, using the link below and post/email to (see contact us).