Volunteering in the UK as a School Assistant – Eilish’s experience!

Posted on the 11th December 2017

Hi everyone, I’m Eilish Sinclair and I am a 21-year-old spending a year in the UK as a gap student. I finished Year 13 in 2015 and as I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I spent a year working in retail. Halfway through that year I was lucky enough to have a holiday in the UK with my family. I knew right then and there that I most definitely wanted to return to the UK, get out of New Zealand, grow up and try to find who I wanted to become.

After the holiday, we discovered the daughter of a family friend was having a gap year in 2016 with an organisation called Lattitude Global Volunteering. I started to investigate the possibility of doing the same thing and it turned out to be the best decision I ever made and I would highly recommend you give it a go.

How did you find orientation, what did you do?

I found orientation really helpful as it was a great way to meet new people from all different backgrounds, ages and countries. We had a three-day orientation where we stayed at a very cool hostel called The Generator, in London. When we arrived, we had a free afternoon and night to recover from our jet lag. The next day we had a couple of sessions together as a group to discuss situations that could, or have, happened and how we would deal with it. After that, we had smaller workshops with different scenarios, which was really helpful. The Lattitude staff gave us a run-down of who to contact if something went wrong, what apps to use when you go into London, great websites to use for cheap tickets overseas and a whole lot of very useful information.

What is your volunteering placement and what do you do on a day to day basis?

I’m a Teacher’s Assistant at St. Christopher’s School in Hertfordshire. I had one timetable for the first six months and then it changed for the second six months. My schedule for the first half of the year (January to July) was:

On Mondays, I would go to the Montessori (we call it the ‘Monte’) pre-school, then I’d stay there as cover for the Monte teachers lunch break and then I would have the afternoon off.

Tuesdays were my boarding duty days so I’d wake the older children at 7:30am so they could go and have breakfast, then I’d give some of the children their medication and also their electronics and help them get to school by 8:25am.

I wouldn’t have to start work till 10:00am as that was the time I had to cover the Monte morning break. Once Monte break finished I would then test the Year 5 students on their spelling. I would have a quick lunch break before heading to the Monte for Lunch cover. At about 1:30pm, I’d finish there and head to Year 3 Science and ICT, where I would help the teacher by checking all the students knew what they had to do and how to do it.

Once school finished at 3:20pm, I’d go to the kitchen to get the box of after-school snacks and the students would start arriving at 4:00pm, so I’d tick them off the register. We have dinner at 5:45pm, and I had to make sure they all came to dinner as well.

When dinner was over, I’d check to see they all had their things for prep at 6:30pm and then I’d have a break. 9:30pm is bedtime, so before that, I’d make sure whoever was on duty would clean the dishes, and I’d take the electronic devices at 10:00pm. That was the time for me to remind the older students to get ready for bed, and then it was lights out at 10:30pm and I would clock off at 11:00pm.

Wednesday was a bit different as I had K group, where I’d photocopy homework and put it in their folders, then their book bags. I’d cover the morning Monte break and then have a big break in the middle of the day and then cover the Monte lunch break. Then I’d go to the Year 2 class, and I‘d help out with art. I loved Wednesdays because I also had after-school care from 3:30pm till 4:30pm and often I could help them with games or art projects.

Thursdays, I had the morning off followed by another day covering the morning Monte break and then I’d head to the Junior school to help out with Year 5 spelling. Mid-day I had lunch then would cover the Monte lunch break, then straight to the Year 4 art class, which was fun.

Friday, I would sometimes have occasional boarding duty, where I’d have to help the children get up, show up to breakfast and make sure they got off to school okay. During the day, I would have Year 1 PE class, where I’d help the teacher put the PE equipment out and then interact with the children, then help clean it all up. I’d cover the morning break in the Monte before returning to the Junior school and helping the teacher in Year 1 with some filing, photocopying and all sorts of other administrative things. I’d then eat a quick lunch myself, before heading off to the Monte for lunch cover. The day would end with me helping out with games for Years 3 and 4.

Sometimes I would have the occasional Friday boarding duty so I would go to the kitchen and get the boarders their weekend food and then just hang around and make sure they were okay. We also sometimes had weekend boarding duty which meant that we wouldn’t have to start till 4:00pm in the afternoon and finish at 10:00pm or 11:00pm, depending on which part of the school you were working in.

Lattitude School Assistant UK

The second half of the year (August-December) is a little different. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are the same in the morning and I don’t start till 10:00am, so I use this time to get a few things done, including admin work like photocopying, laminating, cutting and all sorts of other things.

On Mondays, I help at the Monte after-school care from 3:00-5:00pm. I help with the dishwasher and then I’ll usually sit with them in the TV room or I will interact with them and play a game. Tuesday mornings, I have boarding duty, then I cover Monte lunch break cover on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  On Friday’s, Saturdays and Sundays I have boarding duties. On Saturdays we go on a school trip and then on Sundays, we don’t start work until 4:00pm and finish between 10:00pm or 11:00pm, depending on which part of the school you are working in.

What is the best part about your volunteering placement?

The best part about my placement is I’m in a great location, about 30-40 minutes from London and just over half an hour from Cambridge. I’m also very lucky with my placement because it doesn’t take long to get into the town that the school is in. The best part about my placement is that everyone has been very helpful and I have learnt so much about how other people live and how to deal with people.

What skills have you gained from your placement?

The main skill that I have learnt while being at St. Christopher’s has been increasing my own confidence. My confidence had been knocked really badly at school and then during the year I worked in retail, so that has been built up gradually but quite a lot throughout this year. I have gained much more independence and I’m stronger in myself and I don’t feel afraid to say how I feel.

Travel Europe as UK Schools Assistant with Lattitude

What have you been doing in your free time?

In my free time, I have been going into London as often as I can, because it is very easy to get to and deserves its reputation as one of the best cities in the world. I have also started blogging and vlogging as living in the UK I am in the heart of this type of social media activity, so it’s very motivating to do it here. I’ve also been into Cambridge a lot to explore, and it’s one of my favourite places. I’ve had two trips to Ireland and during the long summer holidays, I went on a guided three-week trip around Central Europe and Italy. You need to save up before you come so you can spend your free time exploring both the UK and Europe.

Would you recommend Latitude?

Absolutely 100% yes. I would definitely recommend Latitude as they have been really helpful and it’s also good to know if you have any troubles or questions, they will help sort them. It’s just a really friendly organisation that guides and cares for you. They help you to have a unique opportunity to live and work in another country, with a 24-hour backup in case you need it, lots of great advice and meeting other people doing the same thing as you. It’s been the best thing I’ve ever done.

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