It was shaping up to be a great Sunday evening. My wife and I were having dinner, without kids, with another couple. We love this couple, but because of family and that demon, Busyness, we do not get to chat with them as much as we would like. Inevitably the dinner conversation turned to our histories. I was surprised to hear a very familiar story from her.
It seems that when she was in college, in her last semester, she was doing her student teaching. She had always wanted to be a teacher. Unfortunately, within a few days of starting her student teaching, she knew it was not for her. She dropped out, worked for a year, and finally went back and finished her degree with another major. So, while I am very glad she finished her degree, I can wish that she had taken a Service Learning class along the way.
At ETBU, I teach this class every semester. Since it is an upper level elective, the students who usually take it are seniors. Their first question is almost always, “What is this class all about?” The short answer is that after students enroll in the class, they must find a place to volunteer for either 30, 60, or 90 hours during the semester. For many, it is exactly like the frustrating process of finding a job later on. Employers do not return calls, or respond to emails. They seem really annoyed when students keep asking about the volunteering opportunity. Or, the potential employers throw down gauntlets of procedures and forms which appear designed to discourage the students from actually working.
The students’ next question is, “Well, where do I volunteer?” I explain that the volunteering can be a career investigation in an area they are interested in when they graduate in a few months. A kind of “try before you buy” approach, I suggest.
Over the 8 years I have taught the class, the overwhelming response of students to volunteering has been very positive. Students who shadow workers for a semester have a very real understanding of what a particular job is all about. They know how to get the job they have seen modeled. They now have a reference in the area they want to work in and they have started networking. They can even list the volunteer experience on their otherwise very skimpy resumes.
When the experience is not positive, the students still come away with amazing personal insight. I well remember a student asking me to help her find a volunteer situation that worked with children. Together we found an after school program that allowed her to do just that. In the middle of that semester, however, she had the “Aha” revelation that she did not want to work with kids, ever. She finished the semester, but soon changed her major. She is now working exclusively with adults in counseling and loves it.
I really believe in Service Learning, and I often wonder why more students don’t try out prospective jobs through this program. Service Learning is part of my story as well. I began teaching at a junior college (so the pay was actually close to volunteering!) When I wondered about teaching at a Christian college, I applied to adjunct teach at Dallas Baptist. After a few weeks of teaching there, I was hooked for life. Eventually I found my way to East Texas Baptist, and I can echo Solomon’s words: I have found great satisfaction in my work and I see that this is also from the hand of God.