Those who can: teaching and guiding

Think teachers are too swamped with marking to volunteer? Think again!

Jenni McDermott, teacher and unit leader
22 April 2016

The ups and downs of guiding alongside a career in education

It's Monday night. I'm shattered, covered in paint and the pyramid my Year Three class is building is threatening to cave in due to the weight of wet, over-enthusiastically applied papier mâché. I take a deep breath, build a frame to support it from a collection of tiny primary school chairs, turn out the lights and close the classroom door.

It may not be a perfect solution, but the pyramid will still be there in the morning – and I'm required elsewhere. Tonight, 25 teenagers will be getting ready for Rangers and I need to be there. Volunteering alongside full-time teaching is tricky, but so very worth it.

My journey

I wouldn't be able to juggle these numerous tasks had I not had a huge amount of support, both from Girlguiding and from Teach First– a charity which supports those in teaching to get the best out of their students (and themselves!). Both organisations share an important commitment to the personal growth of their members and ensure that everyone - no matter what their background – can access education and exciting opportunities.

Growing up in guiding, I'd always been encouraged to take on leadership roles. Guiding fosters confidence and resilience in girls through the independent, problem-solving activities that it facilitates.

As a Guide myself, finding out how to perform CPR, putting on a charity music performance or fundraising for a community project in rural India helped me to discover what I was capable of. As an adult leader, I've been given the opportunity to experience many amazing things. From international experiences, to even the simplest activities which take planning, organisation and leadership, I've seen how resilient I can be.

Teach First has helped me build on these skills. The first year of teaching felt very challenging at the time, but looking back I can clearly identify the support and commitment Teach First and my school provided me with. I was assigned a Leadership Development Officer, who gave me constant support and regularly reminded me of how to embody my values as a teacher. The staff at my school were also supportive, allowing me to observe colleagues and providing me with extremely helpful, practical feedback.

This is why I'm still teaching happily three years later. I know that my experience on committees, leading teams and managing people will complement the next stages of my teaching career.

Guiding and teaching go hand in hand

Enabling other people to stretch and surprise themselves makes me happy. In my role as a teacher, I get to do this every day. But guiding gives girls a space to step out of their school personas, not worry about how they're being perceived and just have a go. Moments of personal growth seem to happen even more frequently than in the classroom. And guiding lights up my Monday and Wednesday evenings far more than marking exercise books in front of Netflix ever could.

Guiding has also developed my leadership style, organisation and ability to work in a team, all of which help me on a daily basis as a teacher. I'm the only teacher in my school brave enough to build a huge gold papier mâché pyramid in my classroom and allow the children free reign to decorate it!.

The next generation

I'm really passionate about education. If someone who loved the skills they gained in Girlguiding was looking for their next career move, I'd certainly point them towards teaching and Teach First's Leadership Development Programme. Anyone who enjoys the kind of guiding I strive to deliver clearly enjoys a challenge – and teaching certainly offers that!

Similarly, my own experiences have taught me that it is indeed possible – and hugely beneficial - for teachers to volunteer in Girlguiding. Through Girlguiding I've travelled to four continents, represented the young people of the UK at the European Youth Forum and trained hundreds of Guides in Tanzania. I love the unexpected moments in weekly meetings: the girl who excitedly told me at 10pm at a sleepover that she'd never stayed up this late before; the team who proudly asked if they could wear their first aid badges on their school uniform so that everyone would know they could help in an emergency.

If you're a teacher who struggles to keep in touch with the wider world then volunteering is a structured way of widening your horizons. It's flexible, rewarding and will give you an opportunity to do something different every week – I wouldn't give it up for the world.

Volunteer with us

Guiding is a flexible and fun way to support young women and access lots of fantastic opportunities. Discover the numerous benefits of volunteering with us.