'Why become a volunteer for an IATEFL SIG?' by Rachael Harris

7th January 2022

I stumbled unexpectedly into IPSEN SIG in 2016, I say unexpectedly because after all, what did I have to offer a SIG? I’m no editor (I went on to be newsletter editor for a while), I’m not brilliant on social media (I’ve recently stepped down from the position of social media co-ordinator), in a nutshell – I didn’t think I would be of any particular use so I had never applied for any of the vacancies advertised in social media or on the IATEFL page.

Luckily for me, someone suggested I put my name down, so I did. While the benefits for the SIG itself have yet to be seen, especially now I’ve stepped into another role (more about that later), on my side of things I can definitely say that it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. 

In no particular order: I’ve made many wonderful friends, people who I didn’t know or had only vaguely crossed paths with at conferences, even role models whom I had admired from afar. I’ve had the opportunity of “working” with some brilliant people who have now become close friends, I say “working” because it was such fun. Now arriving at IATEFL conference (at least pre-covid) reminds me of that first scene in the rom-com “Love Actually”, where everyone is in an airport arrivals hall, hugging and kissing. Also meeting up in a volunteer position means that these people are from different places, have different jobs and different lives than myself, and so open my outlook a little further, too. These colleagues-friends not only make it a pleasure to get together but they’ve also had my back in tough times: while I was looking after terminally ill family members the team were there for me, not only picking up my jobs but supporting me, asking after me, being there when I needed them.

I’ve learnt so many useful skills and met some hither to unknown technology; tweetdeck, excel, slack, budgets, posters, emailing total strangers to ask them to do things, etc. It might all sound easy but it was all once out of my comfort zone. These new skills will come in useful at work, or can even be added to my C.V. if I decide to move on.

I have access to some great resources. Of course, all SIG members do, but being on the inside means we really see what’s available to all our members, proofreading book reviews for our newsletter has provided me with brainfood for months! All this access to learning has been really important to me personally, because one of the reasons I hesitated before becoming a committee member was the fear that everyone would realize that I had no idea what I was talking about and that I was the total opposite of an expert. Instead, I’ve been able to bring my (tiny, tiny) stone to the edifice we’re building together, and as I said, I have been able to take away so much.

I sleep well, keeping my little halo shiny, knowing that I have done a little something for the larger community! Seriously, I’ve always believed we should all do something for some form of association or charity, be it in the local school, village, or sports club, there are so many places we can help out a little.

One of the things that puts people off volunteering is the worry that you won’t have time, or the necessary skills however that is looking at it from the wrong perspective. Associations LOVE volunteers! They need them, they aren’t going to start nagging at them or telling them off, any association worth working for will be very grateful for anything you can do to help.

So, what are you waiting for? Take a look here and let me know how you get on, I promise that you won’t regret it!

About Rachael Harris

Rachael Harris (Joint Coordinator, IATEFL Inclusive Practices &SEN SIG) is a Special Educational Needs coordinator and she teaches English language, literature, and Media studies to primary and secondary students in Geneva, Switzerland.  She has published various materials in these fields. She is passionate about discovering how all learners learn best.

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