Aspirations Week: How volunteering can make a career – Jo’s story

Jo Duckett is the Community Learning Service Manager of The Learning Place in North End. Volunteering unexpectedly changed her whole career path from working in an office job to adult teaching.

After her youngest child had started school and working part-time, Jo found herself with time on her hands. She looked at volunteering because it offered flexibility that is not necessarily available in the workplace. She also became curious and “a little bit nosey” about what was happening in schools, so she began volunteering at the school her children attended.

As a part of this volunteer role, she read one-to-one with children and led reading groups. Jo found that there was a huge difference in ability between the children even though they had all started school at the same time. Jo had her “eyes opened to a whole new world.” This led Jo to understand more about the struggles faced by parents and difficulties some adults face with reading.

Jo’s interest in adult literacy led her to take a course “Understanding Basic Skills” at Highbury College. As part of this course, she volunteered to work in an adult literacy class. Her experience volunteering in the primary school meant that Jo was matched with a family learning tutor for schools. Jo then earned more qualifications and was offered a job as a part time tutor, which eventually led to her current role.

“I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t started off volunteering in schools.”

Volunteering helped her gain experience, knowledge and insight to develop her career. As a volunteer, she found the work rewarding and knew that the teachers really appreciated her help in the classrooms. Though she faced some challenges such as behavioural issues with students, she learned how to be that authoritative figure to help keep the children safe on a class trip. She said, “I felt that I was learning as much from [volunteering] as the children.”

Jo believes that volunteering is an amazing opportunity and that to benefit from the experience a volunteer needs to be reliable and open to different possibilities. She suggests find an area of interest and approach the organisation direct to enquire about volunteering.

Jo said, “If someone had told me that volunteering would open up a whole career in teaching, I would’ve said you’re joking because I was just looking for something to fill a couple of mornings and curious to see what was going on in schools.”